Review: Anne Hathaway Arrives as a RomCom Heroine in Steamy if Predictable The Idea of You

For women in Hollywood, aging is not the easiest thing to do. Often, the mere act of passing time and surviving is enough to tank a woman's career, particularly when she's no longer seen as, to be blunt, fuckable by the white, cis, hetero, male powers-that-be. All hail Anne Hathaway, then, for her bold, sexy and thoroughly enjoyable middle finger to The Man, The Idea of You, in which she plays a newly 40-year-old single mother who unexpectedly meets and falls for a much younger and hugely famous pop star (Nicholas Galitzine, Red White & Royal Blue).

That's not to say this adaptation of Robinne Lee's wildly popular novel (delightfully adapted by the great Jennifer Westfeldt and the film's director, Michael Showalter) isn't problematic and doesn't succumb to tropes and clichés. Hathaway is, I believe the technical term is "smokin' hot" in her 40s, an accomplishment that should not be noteworthy let alone celebrated; that said, The Idea of You might actually pack more of a romantic punch if the main character were less hot and perhaps therefore more believable as a middle-aged woman getting her groove back.

But the kudos remain earned, as Hathaway has navigated a decades-long career from her teenage years as a live-action Disney princess (The Princess Diaries) through her indie days (Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain and Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married) to an Oscar win (Les Miserables) and finally her arrival into full Hollywood womanhood, starring as someone's mother and ex-wife. As art gallery manager Solène Marchand, she is a woman at sea in her new reality, still licking her wounds after learning of the affair her husband, Daniel (Reid Scott, Veep), had been having right under her nose. The film moves quickly in its opening moments, establishing Solène's current state and setting up the pivotal meet cute when Daniel gets called away by an urgent work meeting and can no longer take their teenage daughter Izzy (Ella Rubin) and her friends to Coachella, where he's arranged for them to have a VIP meet-and-greet with August Moon, a fictional boy band Izzy loved as a middle-schooler.

The actual moment Solène and Hayes Campbell (Galitzine) meet is a bit clunky, but the two actors are too beautiful to look at to care; much of The Idea of You's charm is in its fantasy, getting lost in the modern-day fairy tale of this everywoman-meets-pop royalty story and the tumbling the two do both into a dewy-eyed love and into bed. Showalter, a sometimes actor who's made a name for himself as a filmmaker extremely qualified to translate the human experience to the big screen (Spoiler Alert, The Eyes of Tammy Faye), may single-handedly revive the steamy sex scene in American cinema with this one, shooting Hathaway and Galitzine in ways that are as steamy as they are tasteful. It's just one of the many ingredients he deploys with the expertise of a Michelin-starred chef to create a film that is certainly formulaic but nevertheless entirely enjoyable.

As Solène and Hayes (romance novel names if I've ever heard 'em) fall for each other, they're confronted by the realities of their new relationship, from the side-eye they get from his fellow band members, also in their mid-20s, to the eventual field day the internet has when photos of them together leak. Featuring not one but multiple montages set to the admittedly catchy tunes from made-up band August Moon, the latter featuring the internet backlash is what eventually took me out of this otherwise welcome return to the romcom you can't help but root for. All the headlines on screen are scathing and negative, and while there's still plenty of misogyny in the world, I can't help but think there'd be some contingent of cheerleaders for this particular May-December arrangement. Had the film taken a few beats to give Solène the space to publicly celebrate her new relationship a bit, perhaps some of the predictable heartache could have been avoided.

But that's my therapy talking, and this is a novel-turned-movie after all, so clichés and extra drama it is.

Hathaway and Galitzine embrace that drama beautifully (and not just in their looks), with real chemistry both physical and otherwise; sure, a 16-year age difference is odd to think about (what do they talk about?!), but the two sell their connection with gusto. Solène is clearly getting a lot out of their newfound romance, but so is Hayes, who's lived a pop star's lonely life for a decade, always unsure of people's true motive towards him and his affections. Together, they're enjoying the moment of authenticity, maturity and, one presumes, great sex, for as long as they can.

Over the course of the film's two hours, these lovers go through just as many ups and downs, and it's the second time around when things start to crumble that it's difficult (though not impossible) to root for them. Perhaps this is one of the shortcomings of adapting a novel, losing valuable context around this third-act crossroads before an epilogue that even the blind could see coming miles away. But all this predictability and swift plot motion doesn't cost the film its endearing center, particularly if one goes into it knowing they're not exactly getting Shakespeare. For what it is, a light-hearted contemporary romcom featuring gorgeous actors doing beautiful things without any real obstacles in their way, The Idea of You is a delightful entry into date-night watching.

The film is now streaming on Prime Video.

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Lisa Trifone