The Surprising Literary Inspiration Behind 'Anyone But You'

by 24USATVApril 24, 2024, 5:01 a.m. 30
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Rom-com fans, rejoice: Anyone But You has finally come to streaming. The sleeper hit, released theatrically in December, stars Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney and Top Gun Maverick’s Glen Powell (although rom-com fans may know him better from Netflix’s Set It Up). The R-rated enemies-to-lovers film became a surprise box-office smash thanks to a savvy social media campaign and rumors of an off-screen romance (which Sweeney called “obviously not true”). The film also stars Barbie's Alexandra Shipp, Brothers & Sisters’ Rachel Griffiths, Darren Barnet of Never Have I Ever, Michelle Hurd of Star Trek: Picard, and rom-com royalty Dermot Mulroney, also known as the object of Julia Roberts’ obsessive affection in My Best Friend's Wedding.

While movie studios haven’t invested in as many romances lately and options at the theaters have been dominated by franchises and spin-offs, fans were apparently eager to indulge in a light comedy, helping Anyone But You become a slow-burning hit. Director Will Gluck says that while many modern rom-coms have gone straight to streaming, Anyone But You benefited from being shown in theaters. “I think a big part of our movie was how people felt watching it with others in a theater,” he told the Hollywood Reporter.

There’s also the added bonus that the movie comes from an original script, but one steeped in literary references. More specifically, it borrows from the characters and plot of Much Ado About Nothing. And Shakespeare, of course, has been popular with audiences for over 400 years. Hard to argue with that track record!

Here’s what to know about the movie’s months-long rise and the Shakespearean references scattered throughout.

What is the plot of Anyone But You?

The story follows Bea (Sweeney) and Ben (Powell), who have a suitably adorable meet-cute in a coffee shop, involving a rule-following employee, bread for grilled cheese night, and a hand dryer aimed at an unfortunate wet spot, followed by a memorable date that ends in disaster. The two are reunited by coincidence on their way to a destination wedding in Australia, where Ben’s friend and Bea’s sister are getting married. Faced with Bea’s pushy family and their two exes conveniently waiting in the wings, in true rom-com fashion they decide they must fake a relationship to survive the wedding.

Is Anyone But You based on a book?

The plot of the rom-com is loosely inspired by William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, in which Benedick and Beatrice act out the now-stereotypical enemies to lovers trope, which has since inspired the storylines of countless romance books and movies. In both the play and the movie, an early courtship goes awry, leaving the pair waging a “merry war” of words. It’s not just the storyline that is borrowed from The Bard: The protagonists’ names, clearly, also take their inspiration from Shakespeare. Screenwriter Ilana Wolpert, previously best known for her work on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, took Shakespeare’s play and updated it into a modern romantic comedy.

“Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite Shakespearean piece, and I kept coming back to it at school, even throughout my studies in college,” Wolpert told her alumni paper. “There is so much farce, great humor, and so many great characters. It's about family and friendship, but also a battle of wits and genders. It's really a wonderful play. I always felt it would make an amazing movie.”

Sweeney and producer Jeff Kirschenbaum liked the script enough to start shopping it to studios with Sweeney onboard to play Bea. “Ilana took such a cool, modern twist on Shakespeare, I felt like I was reading an early 2000s rom-com,” Sweeney told the New York Times. “I loved wanting to be kissed in the rain, wanting to fall in love once I finished reading the script, wanting to cry, laugh, feeling all the feels.”

Sweeney and Kirschenbaum brought on Gluck, who had previously directed both Emma Stone in Easy A and Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in Friends With Benefits. Gluck re-worked the script before taking on the role of director. Both Gluck and Wolpert are credited as writers for the film, but Shakespeare’s influence is woven throughout, in ways both subtle and decidedly not.

At one point, as ScreenRant notes, Bea walks by a mural emblazoned with a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “Here’s much to do with hate, but more to do with love.” Later someone has written in the sand the lines “Bait the hook well; this fish will bite.” That comes from the second act of Much Ado About Nothing, where two characters are spreading the rumor that Beatrice is desperately in love with Benedick, who just so happens to be eavesdropping on the conversation. Anyone But You has plenty of its own eavesdropping scenes as characters humorously try to convince Bea and Ben to fall in or out of love.

At one point the camera pans to a bedside table where someone has been reading a book titled Men Were Deceivers Ever, which is both a novel by Patricia Veryan and a line from Shakespeare’s play. To really bring the point home, in the film’s final montage, as Natasha Bedingfield’s 2004 single “Unwritten” plays, Ben and Bea dance under a huge sign that reads, “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Where can you stream Anyone But You?

Anyone But You was initially released in theaters just in time for Christmas on Dec. 22. It was then released for rent or purchase on YouTube, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video. On March 19, Netflix announced that the film would be available to stream beginning April 23 for all subscribers.

A Netflix UK release date is yet to be confirmed, but the film is currently available to rent or buy in the UK via Prime Video and iTunes, per Digital Spy.

How did Anyone But You become a box-office hit?

Despite a trailer that ran in theaters before Taylor Swift's Eras Tour film, Anyone But You didn’t garner much buzz, critical acclaim, or box-office success during its first week. “I kept my expectations low and, in retrospect, not low enough,” Gluck told the Times about the film’s $8 million opening weekend. But that disappointing first week performance was not indicative of the film’s future.

TikTok was soon flooded with videos of fans reenacting the film’s credit sequence, dancing to and singing snippets of “Unwritten,” which plays a key role in the movie. Rumors of an off-screen romance between Powell and Sweeney helped create more buzz, which the actors’ friendly behavior on the publicity tour fed into even as the two denied their veracity. In addition to skewering the rumors during Sweeney’s Saturday Night Live appearance, the two stars created a TikTok video where they whispered to each other, a clip which racked up a reported 18 million views, far outnumbering the 10 million views of the film’s official trailer, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Soon the film was pushed into the top five at the U.S. box office, staying there each weekend through the end of January. In February, the film was re-released for Valentine’s Day with extra footage, per Variety. It eventually grossed over $200 million globally off what Variety reports was a $25 million budget.

Will there be a sequel to Anyone But You?

While no sequel has been officially announced, during Sweeney’s appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in February, the actor teased fans with the possibility that she might reunite with Powell for another romance.

“Fans are hoping for a sequel, do you think that maybe we’ll see a sequel?” Fallon asked her. “Maybe like, a high nine chance,” Sweeney told an enthusiastic audience.

Unfortunately, the studio may not be as excited by the idea. Tom Rothman, chairman and chief executive of Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group told the New York Times that they may have other ideas for the duo. “Not that we wouldn’t consider a sequel—obviously, we would,” Rothman said. “But I think maybe the healthiest opportunity is another original starring the two of them.” While the future may not hold an Anyone But You, Part II, perhaps Sweeney and Powell could be this era’s Goldie Hawk and Kurt Russell or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

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