This is the best thing to happen to rom-coms in 20 years
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It’s the trust fall that sparked a thousand “Oh, they f—in” memes (not to mention more than 28 million views on Twitter). Actress Sydney Sweeney, barefooted and effervescently giggly, doing a couch dip for her leading man Glen Powell, somewhere completely off-set from the rom-com Anyone But You which the pair finished shooting in Sydney last month.
Across endless paparazzi pics and Instagram updates (in the ocean, at a Swans game, on a tourist bus, at Taronga Zoo), the pair’s flirty chemistry was feverishly devoured by internet onlookers, so much so that Anyone But You – scheduled for release in December – has suddenly become among the most anticipated film releases of the year, with viewers eager to see how Sweeney and Powell’s off-screen connection translates on screen.
Look of love? Glen Powell and Sydney on the red carpet.Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
There’s just one minor issue to all this, though: both Powell and Sweeney have real-life partners, away from the on-set action. Or, in Powell’s case, had a real-life partner: just days after the trust-fall video went viral, People confirmed that Powell and his model girlfriend of three years, Gigi Paris, had split, while Page Six reported that Paris had suddenly unfollowed both Powell and Sweeney on Instagram (the “I just keyed your car and stole your records, bye” of the social media age).
Page Six have done Pulitzer-calibre work on the ensuing drama. Almost every news story they’ve published about Sweeney since ends with the words “amid Glen Powell drama”. “Sydney Sweeney, fiance Jonathan Davino go on date night amid Glen Powell drama.” “Sydney Sweeney, fiance Jonathan Davino match in leather amid Glen Powell drama.” I wish Sweeney and Davino got caught exiting a screening of Top Gun: Maverick: “Sydney Sweeney, fiance Jonathan Davino leave Glen Powell drama amid Glen Powell drama.”
For the pair, this might all be very uncomfortable. But for the movie-going public, this rich extratextuality, this non-diegetic heft (can you tell, I paid $12,000 in HECS fees to watch movies at university), is understandably exciting. Two incredibly attractive Hollywood stars – Sydney Sweeney, and Sydney Sweeney in a mirror – plus Powell, potentially hooking up on a job? The juicy drama scratches an itch we haven’t felt since the halcyon rom-com days of the Y2K era. As a perceptive comment under the trust fall video puts it: “This is like Jennifer Aniston and Angelina/Brad Pitt for Mr & Mrs Smith.”
You might’ve heard of this. Almost 20 years ago, back when earbuds still had cables, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie fell in love on the set of the Doug Liman film while Pitt was still married to Aniston (the pair announced their separation in January 2005, just six months before the film was released). The movie was a box office hit, with critics particularly celebrating – let us bow our heads for Poor Jen – the “seemingly natural connection” (Claudia Puig, USA Today) and “chemical zing” (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly) between Pitt and Jolie.
Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell are all smiles on the set of their rom-com.Credit: Instagram
In a 2008 interview with Mark Harris for the New York Times, Jolie publicly fantasised about the day she’d be able to put a Mr & Mrs Smith DVD on for her and Pitt’s kids. “Not a lot of people get to see a film where their parents fell in love,” she said. Such a stone-cold statement considering Jennifer Aniston had eyeballs at the time and, I assume, could still read. But I hope Jolie did it, with popcorn, because that time has since passed (DVD players are hard to find these days; also, her and Pitt hate each other, “reportedly”).
At this point, Mr & Mrs Smith is a cinematic landmark, like, say, Matrix: Reloaded, in the sense that it elevated our cosmic understanding. After decades of Hollywood whispers of behind-the-scenes hookups on productions, we finally had explosive proof, showcased in an extended scene where Pitt and Jolie, in character, try to kill each other before making sweet love. It showed us real, living, rom-com chemistry (albeit, you know, born from adultery).
There was a time – let’s call it the Boring Age – when people weirdly didn’t require their rom-com leading duos to hook up off-screen. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan made three hit movies together between 1990 and 1998, displaying an onscreen chemistry for the ages, and no one ever once thought, “Oh, they f—in”. Why? Because even in their early 30s they had grandparent vibes? Because who would ever cheat on sweet Greek princess Rita Wilson? Yes, probably, to all of these reasons. This was not a particularly fun time for rom-com fans.
Earlier this year, Ashton Kutcher and Reese Witherspoon tried to give us the “Don’t get confused, we’re just actors and extremely platonic friends” treatment with their Netflix rom-com, Your Place or Mine. Their red carpet chemistry was so muted that, following a public roasting, even Kutcher’s wife Mila Kunis asked them why they were being so awkward. “Here’s the thing,” Kutcher later explained. “If I put my arm around [Reese] and was, like, all friendly with her… the rumour would be that I’m having an affair with her.” To which we all said: correct, that is your job right now as a rom-com actor, to have a fake affair with Reese Witherspoon till we’ve all seen the movie.
Real-life intrigue, however sordid, always helps a rom-com’s sell. In late 1991, Woody Allen made Husbands and Wives, co-starring his then-partner Mia Farrow. In the film, the pair break-up after Allen’s Gabe, a writer, shares an erotically charged moment with a 21-year-old student who’s just insulted his novel, played by Juliette Lewis. The film was released in September 1992, just eight months after Allen and Farrow split when Allen’s affair with Farrow’s 21-year-old adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn was made public.
Keen to capitalise on the gossip circus, the film’s studio TriStar rushed through a wide release the same week as its premiere screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. People flocked to see it, scoring Allen, largely an arthouse attraction, the biggest opening of his career at the time. Jami Bernard of the New York Post called Husbands and Wives “a voyeur’s treasure hunt”; that was a positive review. “Not since the Taylor-Burton Cleopatra affair has it been so difficult to separate happenings on the screen from what has been screamed in the headlines,” wrote the Associated Press′ Bob Thomas, adding that the film “ranks with Allen’s best”. Morally sketchy, great film: there’s a lesson there for Anyone But You. A horrible lesson, but a lesson nonetheless.
Of course, sometimes real-life relationships can get in the way of rom-coms, too. Who can forget the saga that was Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, Volume One? We ran them out of town! “Get out of here,” we yelled at the couple in 2003, “and take Gigli with you! (Jersey Girl can stay.)” The pair had to wait 20 years till we all simmered down, just to be able to reignite a love that was clearly written in the stars (or as Marisa Tomei might say, “il destino”). They haven’t made a rom-com together since, which should weigh heavily on our collective conscience.
I hope this isn’t the fate of Sweeney and Powell because they’ve been brave in their public commitment to a film that until two weeks ago was so sexily known as Untitled Will Gluck Project. Our obsession with their story might be grossly voyeuristic, a sign of immature delusion, of an inability to distinguish between fact and fiction, or of simple wish fulfilment. But whatever it is, it’s keeping rom-coms alive.
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