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As Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell promoted their romantic comedy, “Anyone but You,” last year, life appeared to be imitating art: The co-stars posed cheek to cheek while sightseeing in Australia. Powell dipped a gleeful Sweeney in his arms. Sweeney cast longing gazes up at Powell on red carpets. The pair flirted and giggled in interviews.

When Powell and his long-term girlfriend broke up, and Sweeney remained engaged to her fiancé, Jonathan Davino (an executive producer of “Anyone but You”), rumors of an illicit offscreen relationship between the two actors took hold.

The speculation played out, the stars said, exactly as they intended.

“The two things that you have to sell a rom-com are fun and chemistry. Sydney and I have a ton of fun together, and we have a ton of effortless chemistry,” Powell said in an interview. “That’s people wanting what’s on the screen off the screen, and sometimes you just have to lean into it a bit — and it worked wonderfully. Sydney is very smart.”

Sweeney, who is also an executive producer through her Fifty-Fifty Films company, said she was intimately involved with the marketing strategy on the Columbia Pictures film, including, perhaps, fanning those headline-generating flames.

“I was on every call. I was in text group chats. I was probably keeping everybody over at Sony marketing and distribution awake at night because I couldn’t stop with ideas,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that we were actively having a conversation with the audience as we were promoting this film, because at the end of the day, they’re the ones who created the entire narrative.”

The R-rated romance follows Bea (Sweeney) and Ben (Powell), who share a night that ends badly and are then thrust together at a destination wedding in Australia, where Ben’s friend and Bea’s sister are getting married. The film is based loosely on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and is full of bawdy zingers, grand gestures and sun-dappled scenery.

“You’ve got to get the ingredients in the meal just right: the story, the cast, the filmmakers, the chemistry, the ending,” said Tom Rothman, chairman and chief executive of Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group, which includes Columbia. He added that the execution of a romantic comedy in particular “is a delicate task. So, if you’re going to make one and go for it theatrically, it better be good.”

Critics were divided on “Anyone but You,” and it had an anemic start at the box office. It took in about $8 million over the long Christmas weekend against its $25 million budget, and opened in fifth place behind the latest “Aquaman” and “Wonka.”

“I kept my expectations low and, in retrospect, not low enough,” the director Will Gluck said. “The first week was disappointing.”

But then something unusual happened: The audience for “Anyone but You” grew in its second and third weeks, and the film remained in the Top 5 at the U.S. box office each weekend through the end of January, thanks in part to multiple viewings by younger audiences. Sales also surged overseas, even in non-English-language markets, which are notoriously difficult for Hollywood comedies to crack.

Sony kept the film in U.S. theaters through February, and by the time “Anyone but You” arrives on Netflix this week as part of Sony’s licensing deal with the streamer, the rom-com will have grossed more than $218 million worldwide.

While Rothman said that Sony “never really subscribed to the notions of the punditocracy that the rom-com was dead” at the box office, the studio put only a single, low-budget romantic comedy (“The Broken Hearts Gallery”) into wide release between 2016 and 2022.

Here are three takeaways from the film’s success.

The film’s journey began in earnest in early 2022, when Sweeney, a star of “Euphoria” and “Immaculate,” was actively seeking rom-com scripts to act in and produce. She and the producer Jeff Kirschenbaum came across one by Ilana Wolpert, a screenwriter best known at the time for “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.”

“Ilana took such a cool, modern twist on Shakespeare, I felt like I was reading an early 2000s rom-com,” Sweeney said of the script. “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 spent months meeting with potential lead actors and had narrowed it down to two or three others before meeting Powell at the MTV Movie & TV Awards. After a follow-up video call with him, she said she was convinced the actor, best known then for “Top Gun: Maverick,” “had all the chops” to play Ben.

The stars then approached Gluck, whose credits include “Easy A” and “Friends With Benefits” at Sony, to direct and revise the script as they shopped it to studios. Within a matter of weeks, Sony snapped up the project — a feat Sweeney partly attributed to her “building a great relationship” with the studio by acting in the superhero movie “Madame Web.”

“Sydney is a force of nature,” Rothman said, adding that Sony is lucky to be in business with her on future projects, which include a new “Barbarella.”

Ahead of the release of “Anyone but You,” Sweeney said she pushed Sony to take “a leap of faith” and release a viral promo clip of her and Powell whispering raunchy “ASMR pickup lines” that has since been viewed nearly 25 million times on TikTok. And after the film hit theaters, Sweeney noticed a handful of TikToking moviegoers lip-syncing and dancing to the Natasha Bedingfield song “Unwritten” — which plays a key role in the film — and fueled the trend by sharing their clips with her nearly 20 million Instagram followers.

“I was like, this is really interesting, so I saved that and I storied that,” Sweeney said, referring to Instagram’s Stories feature. “Before I knew it, I was doing it every single night. It just spiraled into this thing that created a TikTok trend, and that is truly what built the audience.”

For Dermot Mulroney, the veteran actor who plays a supporting role as Bea’s father in “Anyone but You,” being part of the film’s success is a full-circle moment. He was in his early 30s when he starred in the 1997 rom-com “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” which made almost $300 million globally against its $35 million budget. Yet, Mulroney, who played the object of Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz’s affections in that hit, found he had few opportunities in the immediate aftermath.

“I was sitting there ready for the gift with purchase that was supposed to come along with being in a popular movie, and instead, I probably didn’t work for a year,” Mulroney said. “I chalked it up to me being so tiny on the poster, the little guy on the cake. I thought, gosh, you guys, if you’d made me a little bigger, maybe I could have gotten a job.”

But Mulroney, now 60, said he was still approached daily by fans of the film — decades after its release — some of whom tell him they grew up watching it with their grandmothers.

The night before filming began on “Anyone but You” in Sydney, Gluck gathered the cast to watch “My Best Friend’s Wedding” at a Sony screening room. It was the first time Mulroney had seen it since its premiere; afterward he spoke to the room, and Powell in particular, about the unexpected weight of being in a theatrical rom-com.

“I didn’t want him to do what I did, which was minimize how important something is that might feel a little light or a little fluff when you’re doing it,” Mulroney said. “‘What these movies mean to people,’ I told Glen, ‘will last for decades.’ It will last until after you’re gone in a way that maybe the other cool stuff he’s doing won’t. It has a different kind of absorption.”

Powell took the message to heart and also relished the chance to embrace the goofier aspects of playing the love interest in a romantic comedy.

“For some reason, the rom-com male lead has just been reduced to a brooding male model that occasionally smiles at the girl across the room,” Powell said. “But for me, if you’re a male and you leave a rom-com looking cool, you’ve totally messed it up.”

Gluck agreed. “We were very conscious of making it feel like a huge movie with big production and big escapism and big moments and big acts of love,” he said, adding, “a lot of life’s moments are cheesy and cringe.”

Gluck said he has had talks with Sweeney and Powell about reteaming on another film. And while Rothman said there has been “nothing official” discussed at the studio level, he would prefer to see the actors pair up again in an unrelated romantic comedy, similar to Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s filmography together.

“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.”

Mulroney said he and Roberts have discussed ways they could reunite in another rom-com. “I’d give anything to go around again with Julia,” he said. “We’re trying, for sure. We’ll do whatever anybody can get up and going.”

Still, Gluck is skeptical that the success of “Anyone but You” will herald a new wave of theatrical rom-coms. (Universal recently announced that its fourth “Bridget Jones” film will go straight to Peacock in the United States next year.)

“There’s one thing I know for certain: Nothing will be learned from this,” Gluck said. “I hope I’m wrong, but it’s not like, in six months get ready for a rom-com revolution every weekend. I still think people are a little hesitant to figure out why it worked.”





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