Directed by Will Gluck | Written by Gluck and Ilana Wolpert | 103 min |▲▲△△△ | In Cinemas
Ah, that rarest of genres to get a release in cinemas these days, next to the Western: a romantic comedy. It isn’t hard to see what made the producers of this picture slaver: “Let’s put the two buzziest, sexiest up-and-coming stars and pair them up in a gorgeous, summery locale and watch the box office slay! It can’t lose!”
Instead we’ve got two attractive actors — I’m unconvinced of both their star credentials — left stranded by the a stale, unfunny script loosely inspired by Much Ado About Nothing, which it tries to remind us of its roots by inserting the odd Shakespearean phrase as text on the sets and locations. Sorry, literary pretensions aren’t going to save your movie.
Miserable law student Bea (Sydney Sweeney) and finance guy Ben (Glen Powell) meet cute in a coffee shop and have a spontaneous, spectacular first date — though we have to take their chemistry for granted because it’s all a montage. It ends the following morning with one of the most forced, implausible misunderstandings in cinema history that instantly has them hating each other.
It turns out Ben’s pal, Claudia (Alexandra Shipp, who’s a lot better than this role), and Bea’s sister Halle (Hadley Robinson) are getting married, which brings Bea and Ben together again. It’s a destination wedding, so they’re all flying to Sydney, Australia where Bea and Halle’s cartoonish parents (Dermot Mulroney and Rachel Griffiths) live, with an ex of Ben’s (Charlee Fraser) and an ex of Bea’s (Darren Barnet) present to complicate matters, along with Ben’s pal Pete (Gata, who apparently has a single gear: yelling) and Claudia’s parents (Bryan Brown and Michelle Hurd).
This isn’t a cast free of talent, so why do they all seem so uncomfortable? The first act is abysmal, completely failing to get us to care about Bea and Ben and their problems. Yes, the Australian beaches are fetching and the filmmakers make sure the lead couple, both clearly gym rats, disrobe on the regular, but this singularly fails to get us to fall in love with either of them. They’re complete assholes to each other and everyone else around them.
Of course, when the ensemble try to get Bea and Ben to dislike each other a little less, maybe even hook up, they’re on to it — our leads agree to pretend to be into each other for the sake of a civil, matrimonial weekend in paradise. This while the picture completely ignores the Richard Curtis Rule of Charming Romcoms: Make the supporting cast quirky, sweet, and funny so even if the leads are occasionally dull and behaving idiotically you still enjoy spending time in the movie.
Let’s get back to that issue of stardom. Since Powell showed up in Top Gun: Maverick, Hollywood is trying to make him the next Brad Pitt. He’s good in the upcoming Hit Man, but he’s no Brad Pitt. Right now he’s leaning more toward Michael Pitt, where a six pack isn’t a road to stardom. Sweeney was terrific in the first season of White Lotus, and impressed in the thriller, Reality, but half the time here she just seems checked out and struggling to commit to the line readings.
Who can relate to either of these characters? Yeah, sure, we want to see them naked and making out in the shower because they’re so good looking, but their selfishness makes them appalling. Worse, Ben used to work for Goldman Sachs, which leads to a few decent gags about all the drugs he used to do, but that’s still shorthand for Scumbag Wall Street Bro.
A plot twist about halfway in provides relief from the painfully artificial “banter”: our leads get stuck together on a buoy in the middle of the Sydney harbour and have something approaching a heart to heart. Powell and Sweeney are so much better at drama than the script’s efforts at wit, and it gives the audience an opportunity to give a shit about them. That helps us sit through a predictable, but pleasant enough third act and an ending that goes some way to provide a little fun, a cast singalong to Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten.”
But it’s still not enough for us to genuinely invest in this scenario. Hollywood romantic comedies in cinemas will stay an endangered species if they keep making them as clumsy and careless as this one.