Beyond romance: Dissecting ‘Saltburn’ and ‘Anyone but You’

Jan. 10, 2024, 11:33 p.m.

The holidays always promise to bring an array of emotions and stories to the silver screen, be it in the form of a cozy love story or something darker.

Among the selection this year were two notable films, “Saltburn” and “Anyone but You,” each presenting romantic affection as a central theme. Despite their common focus on love and connection, these movies took vastly different approaches in their execution.

“Saltburn,” directed by Emerald Fennell and released on Nov. 17, delves into the realm of dark psychology and alluring imagery. Set in the elite environs of Oxford University and an extravagant family estate, the film captivates viewers with its perverse portrayal of lust and envy. 

Barry Keoghan delivers a compelling performance as an outcast Oxford student fixated on his aristocratic peer, portrayed by Jacob Elordi. Fennell’s direction excels in creating a feverish world, with meticulous attention to detail, a knack for pacing and montages that draw audiences into the characters’ emotional turmoil. 

However, despite its captivating allure, “Saltburn” falters in its final act. The film, while skillfully crafted, undermines its own world-building, leaving viewers somewhat disconnected from the immersive experience it initially promised. Its attempt to provoke visceral reactions occasionally overshadows the depth of its storytelling, resulting in a slightly nauseating effect that detracts from its overall impact. 

On the other hand, “Anyone but You,” directed by Will Gluck and released on Dec. 22, takes a different route to explore love within the cinematic landscape. Starring Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell as the charming leads in a quintessential romantic comedy, the film follows a formulaic path, replete with familiar tropes and clichés. Gluck strategically navigates a genre facing declining interest, relying on the charisma and popularity of its actors to maintain engagement.

Yet, despite the undeniable chemistry between its leads and its ability to tick all the boxes for a classic rom-com, “Anyone but You” falls short in offering depth. It relies heavily on the physicality and charm of its stars rather than delving into a more thought-provoking exploration of modern love.

The movie attempted to contrast the actors’ beauty with moments of slapstick comedy — hair on fire, spiders in Powell’s pants, Sweeney spilling water on herself in a way that resembles a urinary stain. However, the ironic humor failed to create compelling and nuanced characters, resulting in a rather two-dimensional love affair. The film, while enjoyable and entertaining, lacks the substance needed to elevate it beyond its predictable narrative.

Whereas Fennell’s “Saltburn” captivates with its intense portrayal of obsession and wealth, Gluck’s “Anyone but You” leans on the charm of its actors within a more conventional romantic comedy setting. If TikTok is any indication, both movies managed to leverage these advantages to strike a chord with audiences — news of shocking scenes and flirtatious press relations clips went viral when they first hit theaters.

Moviegoers seeking an immersive visual experience might find solace in “Saltburn,” while those yearning for a lighthearted romantic escapade might favor the charm of “Anyone but You.” As love takes center stage in these films, their unique approaches offer diverse perspectives on the complexities and allure of human connections.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

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