The Idea of You (2024) Review

The Idea of You (2024)
Director: Michael Showalter
Screenwriter: Michael Showalter, Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Nicholas Galitzine

Prior the release of Amazon Prime’s The Idea of You – starring Anne Hathaway as a 40-year-old single mother looking for a new lease on life and Nicholas Galitzine as the young, British pop star with whom she has a steamy affair – author Robinne Lee, whose 2017 erotic romance novel is the basis for the film, pushed back against the assumption that her book is just thinly veiled Harry Styles fanfiction. In an Entertainment Weekly article from May 3, Lee said she regrets ever mentioning that Styles, who skyrocketed to fame as a member of the boy band One Direction and has since gone on to have a successful solo career, was one of the inspirations for her main character’s pop star love interest. “I think it’s unfortunate because it’s being used as clickbait, and when I’m writing for Hayes, I’m not picturing Harry Styles,” Robinne Lee told the publication.

Regardless of Lee’s recent statements, the film version of The Idea of You, which was released onto streaming earlier this month, sure does feel like fanfiction, and the filmmakers go to great lengths to draw a straight line from the onscreen version of Hayes Campbell directly to Styles, from his oversized cardigans to his humble beginnings on an X-Factor-like reality show (a detail that is not actually mentioned in the book). Savan Kotecha, executive music producer of The Idea of You, who wrote the songs for the movie’s fictional boy band August Moon, even co-wrote some of One Direction’s greatest hits. It’s clear that the filmmakers saw the perceived connection to Styles as a selling point, something to riff from and even poke fun at, but his shadow doesn’t loom quite as large over The Idea of You as one might think. Unfortunately, the film’s paper thin script and lack of world building casts a much bigger shadow; one that despite committed, vulnerable performances from our two leads and a bona fide Hollywood ending, it never quite gets out from under.

In the opening minutes of The Idea of You, we are introduced to Solène Marchand, the owner of a Los Angeles art gallery, who is packing for a solo camping trip ahead of her fast approaching her 40th birthday, while her ex-husband Daniel (Reid Scott) takes their 17-year-old daughter Izzy (Ella Rubin) and her friends to Coachella. Daniel, perhaps because he doesn’t know his daughter quite as well as he should, got Izzy and her friends VIP passes to see August Moon, the boy band Izzy was once obsessed with, but now thinks is “so seventh grade.”

Of course, Daniel ends up choosing work over spending time with his daughter, so Solène has to cancel her plans at the last minute and accompany her daughter to the music festival. Conveniently though, Solène gets lost looking for the VIP bathroom and stumbles right into lead singer Hayes Campbell’s trailer instead. Sparks fly in spite of their 15 year age gap and they soon begin dating in secret. Once word gets out and the social media firestorm begins, Solène must decide if her own happiness is worth the price of fame.

The Idea of You is, in a word, competent. Together, director and writer Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) and co-writer Jennifer Westfeldt (Friends with Kids) craft a sleek romance that never strays far from the tried and true rom-com formula and is predictable in a way that feels entirely too safe. Despite many of its moments being painfully contrived, like Solène’s inability to tell a VIP bathroom from a celebrity’s private trailer, Hathaway and Galitzine’s chemistry goes a long way in selling the film’s crucial emotional beats. It is no surprise that Anne Hathaway is breathtaking in this role, with her long, wavy mermaid hair and fashion-forward outfits, costume designer Jacqueline Demeterio dressing her in deep purples and blue velvet. Unlike popular rom-com leads of the past, like Meg Ryan’s Sally Albright or Renée Zellweger’s Bridget Jones, who are neurotic and self-deprecating, Solène is mostly sophisticated and secure in her own life. Hathaway is so effortlessly confident in the way she carries herself that it’s no wonder Hayes immediately falls for her. Hathaway does her best to keep her character grounded even when faced with a lack of interiority from the script. The film itself, though, goes to great lengths to assure us that Solène is ‘not like other other moms,’ as if to justify Hayes’ attraction to her. Sure, she might be 40, but she doesn’t look 40. It’s something the movie never stops reminding us of, as if it’s painfully aware of Hollywood’s fraught history with age gap onscreen pairings, but it never quite figures out what it wants to say about them.

In fairness, The Idea of You does attempt to build a genuine relationship between Hayes and Solène. Hathaway and Galitzine have an easy chemistry, and what little banter they do have never feels forced or awkward. Their more intimate scenes are playful and sexy, and they bond over their emotional struggles – Solène opens up about the betrayal she felt over her husband’s infidelity and Hayes talks about the difficult relationship he has with his parents. Galitzine, no stranger to the romantic comedy, having starred in Amazon Prime’s Red, White and Royal Blue, sure knows how to look at someone, but longing gazes are unfortunately all he’s regulated to do. Hayes’ only personality trait seems to be his devotion to Solène, and while that might be the ultimate fantasy, it isn’t enough to make him feel like a real person. We never learn very much about his life other than a passing interest in eventually going solo.

An overall lack of development is a huge issue throughout The Idea of You. A huge draw of romance movies, rom-coms in particular, is the way their worlds feel detailed and lived in. There’s a reason why everyone wants to live in a Nancy Meyers movie – it’s because of the way the characters’ homes, their surroundings, feel warm and familiar and populated. Take, for example, the 1999 rom-com Notting Hill, with which The Idea of You shares similar themes. Huge Grant’s reality in Notting Hill is colorful and fully realized, inhabited by characters that are offbeat and memorable. He has friends, family, a life. Such care and detail is paid to even the smallest parts, creating a film with a distinct and relatable world. By comparison, Hayes’s life, despite being a mega star with managers, handlers, and bandmates, feels utterly empty. It’s a chore to remember any of the other band members’ names, and the one we do know, Ollie (Raymond Cham Jr.), exists to cause trouble in exactly one scene and essentially disappears for the rest of the film. The same can be said for Solène. We never get a real sense of who she is, why she is so drawn to Hayes, or what her relationship is like with her daughter, aside from a few forced scenes of them singing in the car together. Even when Solène is confronted with the violation of privacy brought on by her romance, it doesn’t really have anything to do with how she feels, it’s all about how it effects everyone else.

The Idea of You is allergic to conflict. The filmmakers spend more time bending over backwards to explain that Solène dating a 25 year old heartthrob is feminist, actually, that they fail to create any real tension or stakes. In the novel, Solène’s daughter is only 12 years old and still very much a fan of August Moon. Her mother’s relationship with the lead singer feels like a betrayal to her. In the film, her daughter is much older and couldn’t care less about the band, so it is never an issue that Solène has to confront. When the couple are vacationing in France, and Solène finds out that Hayes dedicating a song to her at Coachella is a bit all of the guys do when they find a girl they like, Solène feels lied to and humiliated, the same way she did when her husband was cheating on her and all of their friends knew. But aside from causing a momentary break up, this never goes anywhere. Hayes barely explains himself, he merely turns their fight around on Solène, insisting that she’s just afraid of their connection. Even when Solène is afraid to tell her best friend, Tracy (Annie Mumolo), about Hayes because she doesn’t want to be a hypocrite, considering her ex-husband left her for a younger woman (the obvious difference being that Daniel was cheating on her), Tracy simply says something to the effect of, ‘Well I hate him and I love you.’ The film spends entirely too much time giving Solène permission to be in love with Hayes, begging us for our blessing, that it feels like wish fulfilment in the worst kind of way.

The Idea of You tries – it really does – and in fairness, it’s better than it needs to be. It has catchy pop songs, attractive and engaging romantic leads, and some killer fashion looks. But, most of the time, it avoids saying anything real or hard in order to facilitate a fantasy that is weightless – a fine enough daydream, but not nearly engaging enough to see play out on the big screen.

Score: 13/24

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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