The Idea of You review – Anne Hathaway lives out fanfic fantasy in solid romance

The Idea of You review – Anne Hathaway lives out fanfic fantasy in solid romance

There are lithe, low-level pleasures to be had in the glossy pop romance The Idea of You, Amazon’s latest attempt to turn a fanfic fave into a broadly alluring date movie. It follows last year’s Red, White and Royal Blue, a smartphone screen adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s what-if gay romp. In that film, it was the fantasy of a president’s son and an English prince. Here it’s a 40-year-old mum and a Harry Styles-level pop star, a blogpost daydream of love and lust, played out with both jostling for space.

It’s a far sleeker and far more satisfying package than the former, illuminated by the genuine movie star power of Anne Hathaway and made with a higher level of craft, from the sturdy studio-level direction of Michael Showalter to a mostly smooth-going script. The romcom genre has allegedly been “back” for a while now but that’s mostly translated to quantity over quality and while last year’s sleeper smash Anyone But You might have looked the part, it was cursed with junky dialogue, hapless plotting and a disastrously ill-fitting leading lady. With Hathaway at its centre, The Idea of You is on far surer footing, in small moments almost threatening to be something far greater but settling into being perfectly acceptable instead, a plane movie par excellence.

Actor-turned-novelist Lee was inspired to write the book while crushing on a YouTube video of a boyband, imagining what her life would be like if she ended up running away with him on tour (Styles fans later claimed it as their own although Lee denies he was the primary target). Solène (Hathaway) is turning 40 and while she runs a successful gallery in Los Angeles, she’s still bruised from her ex-husband’s cruel infidelity and the inevitable divorce that followed.

When Solène’s ex lets her and teenage daughter Izzy (Ella Rubin) down yet again, she is forced to step in and exchange her solo hiking trip for a weekend of babysitting at Coachella. While there she meets Hayes (Nicholas Galitzine), the baby-faced lead singer of headlining band August Moon. An instant connection turns into an unlikely romance as Solène gives in to the whirlwind.

It’s easy to see why the source material caught fire with readers, a similar combo of lux fairytale romance and masturbatory wish fulfilment to Fifty Shades (Lee admits she got advice from EL James). It’s not as kinky and the film, according to diehards, is not quite as explicit as the book, but it’s a romcom with an awareness of how important sex can be and how the intricacies of how we interact sexually can help to define a relationship. The age gap has been somewhat smoothed from the book with Hayes now being 24 rather than 20 but it’s still a central cause of concern and conflict in the story, Solène made hyper-aware of how she’s viewed by those around him and, eventually, the greater public.

Hathaway’s pristine glamour is such that it leads us not to wonder why a 24-year-old could-have-anyone heartthrob would be so very taken by an unfamous woman old enough to be his mother and more to wonder what 24-year-old wouldn’t. The film briefly touches upon issues of misogyny and ageism but only very lightly, Solène’s life based in almost as much fantasy as that of Hayes (her house is as idyllic as the hotel rooms she’s whisked away to). The script, from Showalter and Jennifer Westfeldt, might be written with more thought than one has come to expect from a streaming romcom – the low bar has meant that dialogue that just about makes sense is cause for applause – but enough so that one then starts to expect just a little bit more texture. Solène and Hayes are both a little too dreamily constructed to ever feel like real people and there’s such little interest in any other character in the film that, like an actual dream, it can be a little too tightly focused.

There’s probably a trick being missed with this one, cinemas being skipped for a headfirst dive into streaming instead. Working with what appears to be a relatively sizable budget for the genre, treating us to multiple locations, Showalter manages to make The Idea of You look and breathe like the grander films it comes after rather then the tinnier ones it sits alongside. Hathaway, returning to the kind of warm comfort food viewing many still know and love her for, is a compelling lead of considerable, rarely matched charm, adding more heart and soul to a film that often sorely needs it. And with Galitzine, a more believable pop star than he was a prince in Red, White and Royal Blue, there is enough electricity to power us through some otherwise underpowered patches (it helps too that the film’s fake music is strong enough to make us believe it). It’s all not ultimately enough to truly transport us back to the genre’s heyday but it’s a damn sight better than what we’ve been forced to get used to.

  • The Idea of You is now available on Amazon Prime