‘The Idea of You’ movie review: Anne Hathaway elevates this forbidden love story beyond the trappings of formulaic romcom fare

Nicholas Galitzine and Anne Hathaway in a still from ‘The Idea of You’

At first glance, the idea behind The Idea of You may seem like standard fan fiction fodder: a forbidden romance between an older woman and a younger heartthrob. That’s probably because it is. Director Michael Showalter, alongside co-scriptwriter Jennifer Westfeldt, seems to have brought unexpected nuance to what definitely has the tattooed, cardigan-wearing fanfic markings of a certain boy band dreamboat (he may have an affinity for watermelons and sugar) that feels grounded and authentic.

Adapted from Robinne Lee’s eponymous bestseller, the film revolves around Solène (Anne Hathaway), a recently divorced woman on the cusp of turning 40, who finds herself drawn into an improbable romance with Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), a British boy band sensation. What begins as a chance encounter at a concert soon escalates into a whirlwind affair spanning continents, as Solène grapples with reclaiming her independence while navigating the uncharted territory of a relationship with a much younger man.

The Idea of You (English)

Director: Michael Showalter

Cast: Anne Hathaway, Nicholas Galitzine, Ella Rubin and Reid Scott

Runtime: 116 minutes

Storyline: A 40-year-old single mum begins an unexpected romance with a 24-year-old boy band singer

Hathaway’s Solène feels entirely lived in and convincing, capturing the character’s journey from a woman rediscovering her abrupt youth and making up for lost time, to one swept up in the ecstatic throes of passion. There’s a gentleness with which Hathaway carries herself that bleeds Solène’s underlying trust issues and complements her heady, girlish charm, making her an instantly relatable character to root for.

Her chemistry with Galitzine’s Hayes, as she navigates newfound independence, is delicate, sexy and stylishly captured, thanks in part to Jim Frohna’s intimate framing and Siddhartha Khosla’s poignant score. Their whirlwind romance crackles with an electricity that makes their illicit affair feel so much more irresistible, with each stolen glance and tender moment.

Nicholas Galitzine and Anne Hathaway in a still from ‘The Idea of You’

Nicholas Galitzine and Anne Hathaway in a still from ‘The Idea of You’

Galitzine, for his part, imbues Hayes with a compelling mix of sweetness and emotional depth, elevating him beyond the typical heartthrob archetype. There is a restrained complexity to his writing that goes beyond mere eye candy, and does its best to present him as a genuinely multifaceted individual rather than a cardboard cutout.

Through this forbidden summer love, The Big Sick director delves into the nuances of age, power dynamics, and the influence of social media on modern romance. As Solène grapples with societal expectations and the judgment of online stans (“cougar” and “Yoko Ono 2.0” read some of the headlines) the film raises some uncomfortable questions, serving as a mirror to society’s obsession with fame and fantasy.

While patriarchal double standards play the inevitable but unsurprising cog-in-the-wheel to their relationship, the film does its best to make the most of these moments of conflict; Solène, Hayes and those close to them make attempts at working through the issues with mature, modern-day sensibilities, rather than the convenience of early 2000’s rom-com melodrama.

The Idea of You also attempts at tackling some age-old myths born from the absurd idea that womanly desire has a shelf-life (unlike the milk in Solène’s fridge) and the baffling belief that motherhood somehow mutes a woman’s sex appeal. The culmination of the film, only somewhat satisfying in its prosaic resolution, leaves a faint taste of missed opportunity. In opting for a more traditional “happily ever after,” the script seems to have sacrificed on the sacrifice that made this story so much more endearing.

Yet, amidst these weighty themes, the film never loses sight of its romantic core, delivering graceful moments of genuine warmth and humor that resonate long and strengthen our empathy for these characters. The Idea of You subverts expectations in its Notting Hill-like exploration of the nature of attraction in the digital age and the toxic, shifting landscape of celebrity culture. But it wouldn’t be nearly as compelling without Hathaway’s powerful performance.

The Idea of You streams May 2, on Amazon Prime Video.

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