The Idea of You (2024, dir. Michael Showalter)

by | May 2, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 115 mins

UK Distributor: Prime Video

UK Release Date: 2 May 2024

WHO’S IN THE IDEA OF YOU?

Anne Hathaway, Nicholas Galitzine, Ella Rubin, Reid Scott, Jordan Aaron Hall, Jaiden Anthony, Raymond Cham Jr, Viktor White, Dakota Adan, Annie Mumolo, Perry Mattfeld

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Michael Showalter (director, writer, producer), Jennifer Westfeldt (writer), Anne Hathaway, Eric Hayes, Robinne Lee, Jordana Mollick, Jeff Morrone, Cathy Schulman and Gabrielle Union (producers), Siddhartha Khosla (composer), Jim Frohna (cinematographer), Peter Teschner (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A 40-year-old single mother (Hathaway) begins a relationship with a much younger pop star (Galitzine)…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE IDEA OF YOU?

Movies based on fanfiction pieces rarely have the same effect on screen as they do in written form, with the likes of the notorious Fifty Shades trilogy (which author E.L. James famously based on Twilight) and the inexplicably lucrative Harry Styles-inspired After franchise all failing to find acclaim beyond their built-in audiences.

It is, therefore, a nice surprise to find that director and co-writer Michael Showalter’s The Idea of You bucks the trend, appealing to die-hard fans of its most obvious inspiration but also making a valiant effort to be an actual movie for all other audiences.

Based on the novel by Robinne Lee which, like the After series, is said to be heavily inspired by Harry Styles, the film follows Solène (Anne Hathaway), a 40-year-old art gallery owner who has a teenage daughter, Izzy (Ella Rubin), with her ex-husband Daniel (Reid Scott). One day, she is roped at the last minute by Daniel into taking Izzy and her friends to Coachella, where he has purchased VIP meet-and-greet tickets for Izzy’s (former) favourite boy band August Moon, which is very much this universe’s One Direction. There, Solène has a chance encounter with the band’s 24-year-old lead singer Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), and soon they embark on a whirlwind romance together that threatens to come undone by, among other things, the discomfort surrounding their age gap.

Where Showalter and co-writer Jennifer Westfeldt are clever with their adaptation of Lee’s book is in how they don’t rely too heavily on the parallels to the novel’s primary inspiration. Yes, the character of Hayes Campbell is deeply Harry-coded (he’s even English, to boot), and the songs he performs on stage with his bandmates are just as manufactured and cheesy as anything from One Direction’s discography, but he is still written as an actual character, one who you can just about remove from Styles’s silhouette and identify as his own person. Because of that, it’s easier to understand his attraction to Anne Hathaway’s equally fleshed-out Solène, in a narrative that allows these fictional lovers to develop and navigate their own personal issues together, rather than it simply feeling like, well, Harry Styles fanfiction where the handsome singer falls for the older woman, and they live happily ever after.

On the subject of age-gap romances, The Idea of You dives deep into both the stigma and the double standards surrounding this kind of thing in the public eye. It explicitly addresses the depressing truth that older women dating younger men are more likely to be vilified than if it were the other way around, and the filmmakers are thoughtful in their sympathetic delivery of this unfortunate fact without politicising the matter too much, instead opting to let the consequential harassment that Solène and her family receive from the media and society at large speak for itself. The hypocrisies are more than acknowledged, but its focus is less on the statement being made and more on the legitimate human drama surrounding it, which the script and direction firmly contain in a narrative that allows everything to play out as naturally as it can.

Most of all, the romance itself carries enough weight to last through the entire length of the movie, and beyond. Both Hathaway and Galitzine share some deeply passionate chemistry with one another, which helps enormously with getting the audience to root for them as they face all these obstacles in their relationship. However, it is the nature of the characters they’re playing which proves to be the film’s golden touch, for not only are Solène and Hayes both charming and likeable characters in their own right, but the ways that they go about discussing and confronting their personal issues with the age difference, media attention et al are, in a somewhat rare feat for this type of modern day romance, admirably mature.

You always get the feeling that these are two reasonable and rational adults talking among each other, who are emotionally capable of expressing their insecurities without descending into shouting matches or full-on tantrums, which by contrast makes the actions of characters in raunchier fanfiction material like the Fifty Shades trilogy come across as much more childish. Here, though, the romantic leads have much more depth and humanity to them that makes them more palatable as people rather than archetypes.

The film isn’t completely free of romantic movie conventions, with not one but two third-act breakups which does throw you off a bit regarding where we’re supposed to be in the overall story. An unnecessary epilogue also undoes some of the dramatic moments that took place minutes prior, which might have been a thematically stronger place to end than where it does. However, the fact that even the more recognisable tropes are treated with maturity and respect by these filmmakers, who have set out to transcend the clear connections to its real-life inspiration and simply tell an effective love story about the pitfalls of fame, is almost enough to completely forgive it of its formulaic tendencies.

That’s because, for whatever flaws it may have, The Idea of You overcomes its much easier reliance on appealing only to Harry Styles loyalists, a trap that the After franchise seems to have fallen deep into, to work as its own pleasing romance that you don’t have to even know any of Styles’s work to enjoy.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Idea of You overcomes its Harry Styles fanfiction roots to form a charming and dramatically engaging romance on its own accord, with the filmmakers giving deep humanity and maturity to its themes on age-gap love affairs, as well as the central romance itself which, though not free of convention, works well enough to get you invested.

Four of of five stars

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