The Idea of You (2024)

The Idea of You Review

The Idea of You

Release date: March 16, 2024 (USA)
Director: Michael Showalter
Based on: The Idea of You; by Robinne Lee
Edited by: Peter Teschner
Music by: Siddhartha Khosla
Produced by: Cathy Schulman; Gabrielle Union; Anne Hathaway; Robinne Lee; Eric Hayes; Michael Showalter; Jordana Mollick

People my age that is to say, women in their 40s feel like they grew up alongside Anne Hathaway, because we did. We were awkward teenagers together when she made “The Princess Diaries” in 2001. We were put-upon entry-level assistants right along with her character in “The Devil Wears Prada” in 2006. We recognized the broken-down narcissistic addict she played in “Rachel Getting Married,” because who among us isn’t? And we saw the Hathaway backlash coming, fueled by a public perception that she was trying too hard, and worried that people might see us the same way.

Now we’re in our early 40s. We know for sure that Gen Z thinks millennials are cringe, and thank God we no longer feel any obligation to be appealing or acceptable. The best thing about entering middle age is having stopped apologizing for yourself, and it seems that at 41 years old, Hathaway has reached this point as well. She has been through (and more than survived) the celebrity wringer, appearing radiant on the other side with an astonishing range of credits extending from standard commercial fare to auteurist masterpieces.

Perhaps this is why it feels so good to see her name appear first alone, ahead of the title credit in “The Idea of You,” which is essentially a fluffy little movie on its face. Adapted from Robinne Lee’s sleeper-hit novel and directed by Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith (Emmy nominees for their work on “The King of Queens” series finale), “The Idea of You” is unmistakably fantasy: fan-fiction-level stuff asking what would happen if Harry Styles fell madly in love with a hot 40-year-old mom? In this universe, the Styles figure is Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), British frontman of five-member boy band August Moon.

Hathaway plays Solène Marchand, an art gallery owner whose arrogantly useless ex-husband, Daniel (Reid Scott), buys VIP meet-and-greet tickets for their 16-year-old daughter, Izzy (Ella Rubin), and her two best friends all of whom were huge August Moon fans . . . in seventh grade. The event takes place at Coachella, and Daniel is supposed to take the girls but backs out at the last minute, claiming a work emergency. Solène reluctantly agrees to take them herself and, while at the festival, mistakes Hayes’s trailer for a bathroom; they meet cute, et cetera.

Or do they? About 10 minutes into the movie it became clear that enjoyment would require surrendering to the fantasy completely and so I did, with hardly any mental resistance. Why would I fight it? Solène is smart and capable and kind and secure; she has great hair as well as a great wardrobe; most crucially of all, she seems like an actual person even if her situation stretches credulity to its breaking point.

More than once during this movie did I find myself struck by how authentically 40 Solène appears to be a woman who could make up her own mind about things even if she thought her decisions might turn out poorly and how weirdly rare such a character still is to see in a film. She has a child! And friends! And also a career. She reads books and looks at art! She likes that this 24-year-old superstar finds her flattering but takes quite some time to become convinced that he isn’t joking around.

As well as the winding fairy tale narrative, Solene experiences real shame and determination–it is all going to go wrong of course. But most importantly, she’s in a film that does not set out to humiliate her or talk down to her or laugh at her for having desires and fantasies of her own. She is just herself, and it’s easy to see why she appeals to someone whose life has never been his own.

Directed by Michael Showalter, who co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Jennifer Westfeldt, “The Idea of You” works best because of Hathaway’s performance, though she and Galitzine have an enjoyable sparky banter with each other (and he can sing and dance too). It makes a number of tweaks to the novel Hayes is older than the book’s character, for example and also seems implicitly aware that it is a movie and movies have a weird relationship with age-gap romances.

Indeed, that is one of its strengths. Characters comment on the double standard involved in people’s judgment of Solene and Hayes’ relationship multiple times throughout the film; they hypothesize that if it were gender-swapped, people would be high-fiving the older man who landed the hot young female star. Sixteen years might look like quite a lot on paper but in movies at least it barely registers as a blip.

That thought is interesting enough in itself, if not particularly new. What I found more captivating about “The Idea of You” was its portrayal of celebrity as cage. Compared with his bandmates and their teenybopper followers Hayes may seem mature but he is also obviously trapped somewhere between 14-year-old-ness and self-aware desperation: He auditioned for this band when he was 14 years old already famous still nothing has changed since then except how many people know who he is . So badly does he want anything outside attention spotlight glare fame etcetera etcetera.

But he won’t get it. Neither will Solene, nor anyone else around her eventually. Obviously the idea of living a quiet life is out of reach here but what really ratchets up the impossibility is tabloid news and rabid fans who act like they know Hayes even though they don’t have an ounce more information about him than does Solene or anyone else watching at home . The movie starts feeling a little like a monster story except that the monster turns out to be parasociality fostered by modern star-making machinery’s fondness for selling tickets merch albums etc through creating illusionary intimacy between fans themselves.

It could hardly be accidental that “The Idea of You” arrives on the heels of Taylor Swift’s latest album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” wherein she strongly suggests that her carefully cultivated fandom has turned her love life into some kind of waking nightmare. But in spirit at least, the two are cut from similar cloth — though whether the film’s plot is as much born out of parasociality as it is designed to critique same remains unclear. Which makes Hathaway’s performance all the more affecting: She has been through this buzzsaw before. And somehow or other, she has managed to build a whole existence past it.

Watch The Idea of You For Free On Gomovies.

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