‘The Idea of You’ Review: Anne Hathaway Shines in Steamy, Electric Coming-of-Age Romantic Comedy

Robinne Lee’s 2017 debut novel “The Idea of You” followed an almost 40-year-old woman who enters a romance with the star of a giant boyband sensation. The book was a giant hit, in no small part due to fans viewing one of the main characters as a stand-in for One Direction’s Harry Styles. Now comes a movie adaptation from the director of “The Big Sick,” which translates the novel while making enough changes to improve upon the source material, including a fantastic ending that puts a perfect bow on the story.

Like all rom-coms, “The Idea of You” starts with a meet-cute — and this one is pretty magical. Anne Hathaway is stellar as single mother Solène, who stumbles upon the lead singer of one of the hottest boybands on the planet, Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine) after she mixes the singer’s trailer for a restroom at Coachella. The thing is, she wasn’t even supposed to be there surrounded by teenagers screaming their lungs out. She should have been on a nice little solo camping trip in the woods, trying to make up for the years she lost after getting pregnant at a very young age.

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But when her idiot of an ex-husband Daniel (Reid Scott, fully embracing the douchery of the character and relishing in it) bails on taking their 16-year-old daughter Izzy (newcomer Ella Rubin, looking just like a young Hathaway circa “The Princess Diaries”), it falls on Solène to take a group of teens to see their childhood favorite band August Moon in the desert, fighting through a crowd to get to a restroom — though a fancy trailer with a shirtless pop star can also do the trick. After a couple of intense glances and a grand on-stage gesture, the two decide to explore a relationship, despite three main issues — they live in different cities, they have a 15-year age gap, and he is a superstar with an obsessed fanbase while she is just a small-time art gallery owner. It would be easy to draw comparisons to “Notting Hill,” but this movie is so much more.

For one, this is a great love story, and the dynamic between Hathaway and Galitzine is palpable. One of the smaller but brilliant details of the movie is how little we know of Hayes, at least in the beginning. He is given as much care and consideration as the female love interest usually gets in mainstream rom-coms, while providing enough hints in dialogue to know everything you need to know about him. Likewise, “The Idea of You” does a complete love story, going beyond where most movies like these end to explore the moment a magical fling becomes something more, where a little “let’s see where this goes” becomes something worth fighting for, and maybe also losing.

While the biggest selling point of “The Idea of You” is Hathaway’s Solène dating a guy much younger than her, the script (by Showalter and Jennifer Westfeldt) uses this as an entry point to a much larger and poignant story. Sure, there are acknowledgments about it, but the film subverts certain expectations by having Hayes act rather mature and self-aware for his age, saying what he wants and also letting Solène make decisions and recognize her freedoms. As for Solène, she does start by mostly being interested in having fun with a young, rich guy, but the movie never makes it about reliving glory or reclaiming Solène’s youth.

Instead, the biggest setback for the two is less about the age and more about Solène being the owner of a small art gallery and Hayes being a superstar. More specifically, the movie explores idol/boyband culture and how we treat their partners. “Nobody likes a happy woman,” one of Soléne’s friends tells her, and that is at the center of the story. The film has some poignant commentary on the hypocrisy of people ignoring men dating much younger women, but vilifying women dating younger men in the public eye — and how much this comes from the bands’ fans.

If there’s one big flaw to this boyband love letter, it’s that the fictional boyband August Moon is not very convincing as a superstar band. Savan Kotecha’s original songs are catchy, but the actors, particularly Galitzine never manage to sing or dance the way the number one 20-something singer on the planet would. Sure, he is young and hot, but he doesn’t exude the kind of larger-than-life yet relatable and down-to-earth aura that boyband members do, which ends up being a bit distracting throughout the film.

Still, it’s hard to obsess over one detail when the rest of “The Idea of You” delivers on every front. It is clear Michael Showalter loves rom-coms, and he knows how to do them extremely well, embracing tropes and expected moments while also keeping things fresh and new. Where the story of a 40-year-old woman dating a kid in his lower mid-20s screams mid-life crisis, Solène’s story is much more of a mid-life coming-of-age movie that is also a rom-com.

What makes the character fascinating and unique is how she is not trying to recreate her younger years or reclaim her lost youth. Instead, Solène is just finding herself in this new stage of her life, learning what she wants, and growing into her new self. Life doesn’t end on motherhood, let alone end on 40. There is still plenty of time to find yourself, find love, get a heartbreak and push yourself into more. Hathaway captures this with incredible vulnerability, but also a self-awareness and confidence in what she wants that makes Solène excel at both the comedy and drama of the story. Early on, Hayes says people don’t really know him, they know the idea of him. By the end of this adaptation, we get the full picture of this romance and the two people involved.

Grade: B+

“The Idea of You” premiered at SXSW 2024. It will stream exclusively on Prime Video beginning on May 2.

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