By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter

Movie Review
The Idea of You
Directed by Michael Showalter
Prime Video

THE BEST-selling book The Idea of You by Robinne Lee has earned a movie adaptation, a cause for celebration for many women that enjoyed the fantasy of a 40-year-old woman being swept away by a 20-year-old world-famous boyband member. For others not exposed to the book, having beloved star Anne Hathaway and young romcom favorite Nicholas Galitzine attached to the title is enough of a draw.

Directed by Michael Showalter and co-written by Jennifer Westfeldt, the film is pretty much fan fiction focused on getting together with a Harry Styles-type fellow (of British boyband One Direction fame). It follows sophisticated, middle-aged art gallerist and divorcée Solène Marchand (Hathaway), who accompanies her teenage daughter to the Coachella music festival, where she meets mega celebrity Hayes Campbell (Galitzine) of the band August Moon.

It’s filmed with realism despite the story itself clearly being a work of fantasy, as the older woman is whisked away on a steamy, globe-trotting affair with the young man of her dreams. There’s no surprise the novel blew up over the pandemic — it has enviable travel, a genuine connection between two unlikely souls, and neverending sex.

Depending on your tolerance for overly romantic stories, you will either feel your heart flutter or groan at all the clichés. The Idea of You leans into it, bringing to a wider audience a form of art that generally appeals to women.

The film addresses the rarity of a romcom where a woman in a May-December situation is depicted as living her best life, at the cost of society’s standards. “People hate happy women,” Solène’s daughter Izzy says, in support of her mother’s choices (after the initial shock of finding out, of course). But the backlash is instantaneous, with people online calling Solène a cougar and a Yoko Ono for potentially breaking up the boyband.

It would work better, though, if Solène wasn’t such a mopey caricature. She’s reduced to a heartbroken woman, suffering from trust issues from her recent divorce. Her gallery is such a small one that the hot, rich celebrity hunk that’s courting her is able to buy out all of the art in it within minutes. When she takes him to a sizeable house that her evil ex-husband used to call just a “starter home,” she cries about the trauma she’s been through.

After that, he whisks her away on the romantic, sexual adventure, because there’s no more art in the gallery to sell (he bought it all out!) and her daughter is away all summer (she’s at camp!). At this point, if not for Hathaway’s charm and star power, this woman’s lack of a life outside of the fantasy would simply be unwatchable.

Though it’s great to depict how people can have worth despite feeling small and undesirable, it probably wouldn’t have hurt to give the character of Solène a bit more ambition, appeal, and dignity along with the relatability. Many young women look up to the image of a hot, quirky, trendsetting middle-aged gallerist, or magazine editor, or cultured wine lady, or the like — that feels like what Solène could have been if she hadn’t been dumbed down for mainstream audiences. It would give a Hayes Campbell type all the more reason to find her alluring. The Idea of You really is a testament of Anne Hathaway’s undeniable talent that she made Solène feel like a person rather than a one-dimensional fanfic stand-in for the average lovelorn woman.

Meanwhile, Galitzine, who is no stranger to this genre after his proud military man turn in Purple Hearts and his repressed, gay prince in Red, White, and Royal Blue, ticks all the boxes of the dream guy. (Yes, he had a great comedic role in Bottoms, but he wasn’t a romantic lead in that one.) The film kind of fails to set up Hayes as the most well-groomed, artistically inclined member of August Moon, making the art gallerist-celebrity client cover-up for their relationship seem laughably fake. But Galitzine somehow manages to sell the ruse in the few moments it comes up.

(Spoilers ahead.)

Near the end, the film tackles repercussions, with toxic online fanbases and their wide reach affecting the daughter, Izzy (played believably by Ella Rubin). The ending has a touch of realism to it, given how it doesn’t sanitize the fantasy and fool us into believing the controversial relationship can easily work out. More could have been said about how internet culture magnifies rabid fan phenomena and the problematic way people treat women past their prime, but it doesn’t give the characters means to directly address it outside of on-the-nose feminist one-liners.

While the story itself screams fanfic, which means audiences should already expect fanfic tropes and clichés, the ideas being played with hint at there being something more. It fully accepts the romcom genre and its blandest, most predictable elements despite the potential for more nuance. Even the unearned needledrops of Maggie Rogers’ beautiful song “Light On” (to open the film, and in a “five years later” transition) feel like wasted potential.

In fact, the biggest accomplishment made by The Idea of You is pairing up Hathaway and Galitzine. Their individual charisma plus their strong chemistry made every scene better than it really is. The film may have had the idea of being an exciting romcom, but it sadly doesn’t live up to it.

The Idea of You is available on Prime Video.