An interesting thought experiment to imagine how any rom-com plays out if you swap the characters around. Notting Hill, but Will is the movie star badgering normal-gal Anna for a second chance; While You Were Sleeping but Jack is the stranger who swiftly ingratiates himself into a traumatized family (the first act of a crime drama!); Pretty Woman but Edward is a hustler—actually that’s just American Gigolo


The point is, rom-coms are often built on a scaffolding of societal norms that only flow one way; if a man acted like a woman in a rom-com, he'd be a creep, if a woman acted like a man in a rom-com, she’d be a bitch, at least according to the norms and mores that say a woman can only be professionally successful if she’s a mess everywhere else, a man can be any degree of hapless/helpless/hopeless and still land his dream girl. The Idea of You, however, leans into a taboo(ish) romance and sensitively and thoughtfully—and sexily—explores how such a scenario might play out in the unforgiving real world.


Anne Hathaway stars as the improbably named Solène Marchand, a divorced woman just turned 40 who dotes on her daughter and owns an art gallery in the painfully hip neighborhood of Silver Lake in Los Angeles. She has a fabulous house, artsy friends, and a dickhead ex, Daniel (Reid Scott). When Daniel bails on their daughter, Izzy (Ella Rubin), at the last minute, Solène steps in with a tight smile that says EVERYTHING about how her co-parenting with Daniel is really going and takes Izzy and her friends to Coachella. Daniel arranged VIP meet and greet passes for the kids to see August Moon, a One Direction-esque boy band that is “so seventh grade”. At Coachella, a backstage mix-up leads Solène to meet Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), who is probably definitely based on Harry Styles. 

Hathaway is SPECTACULAR as Solène, you don’t even need to see her cool house or surprisingly well-adjusted kid or gallery full of incomprehensible art to know she’s cool. Solène is cool because Hathaway is cool, projecting confidence, intelligence, earthy warmth—except to dickhead Daniel—and all of that adds up to a sexiness on screen that makes it completely believable when Hayes takes one look at Solène with her actually quite dorky sun hat and you SEE the fixation form. When it becomes clear Solène isn’t faking not quite recognizing Hayes, his interest only grows.


Adapted from Robinne Lee’s book of the same name by Jennifer Westfeldt and Michael Showalter, who also directs, The Idea of You doesn’t hide the noticeable age gap between Solène and Hayes. Hathaway is a beautiful movie star in real life, but on screen she does look older than Galitzine, there is a real 12-year gap between them, and it is apparent. In the film, Solène is 16 years older than Hayes, a point the film does not belabor except that it forms the crux of the problems between the lovers. When it’s just them, Solène and Hayes are a great couple, they mesh easily and bring out the best in one another. Hayes draws Solène out of her post-divorce shell, Solène provides real empathy and companionship that Hayes isn’t getting in his fame-bubble life. 

But of course, the world outside of their relationship exists. The girls who accompany various August Moon members are deliberately cruel, a sharp contrast to Solène’s patient attempts to treat them like real people and not Barbie dolls. Online, the public commentariat are brutal, flaying Solène with anonymous vitriol, like we’ve really seen levelled at women who date men the world deems them unworthy of. But worse, people begin bullying Izzy over her mother’s relationship, and so Solène calls it off.


Yes, The Idea of You is sexy—though it goes only a little further than “fade to black”—but more, it’s sensitive. Showalter has a knack for seamlessly integrating his own kindness as a storyteller into genre tropes, and here he hits all the rom-com highlights, including the meet cute, the happy couple montage, the devastating act-two breakup, and still manages to filter all of it through genuine empathy for Solène and Hayes. The film never questions Hayes’s ability to make his own decisions as a mid-20s man, nor do Solène’s various hesitations ever seem cruel or unjustified. It’s one thing for her to absorb the world’s judgment, but she will not let it ruin Izzy’s life. It’s completely understandable, for us and for Hayes.

It's just an impossible situation, which is what makes it so heartbreaking. There are some funny moments in Idea, but it’s more of a romantic drama than anything, delving into the reality of a woman trying to carve out something for herself despite being a mom—the film never addresses the implication that mothers can’t have anything for themselves, a point it walks directly into and only gets away with because Hayes’s fame is such a problem, if he was a normal guy, this messaging would be appalling. What keeps it together is Hathaway and Galitzine’s chemistry, and that Showalter never loses his affection for these characters. The Idea of You is sexy and romantic, but it’s also kind. It’s as if the crueler the world is to Solène, the kinder the film becomes. The result is a romance that is sexy and sweet and heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful. Happy endings may take time, but they do eventually come.


The Idea of You is now streaming exclusively on Prime Video.


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