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The IDEA OF YOU Falls Flat as a Romance or a Rom-Com

A girl and boy meet in a trailer
Nicholas Galitzine as HAYES, Anne Hathaway as SOLENE in THE IDEA OF YOU

A successful romance requires a bit of marketing magic. In order to work, the audience must be put under a spell and convinced that the couple belongs together, no matter how impractical such a long-term match would be. At the same time, the genre requires that barriers of some kind must stand in the way of eternal bliss. THE IDEA OF YOU, a new paint-by-numbers romance, blends barrier tropes that audiences loved in NOTTING HILL (dating a celebrity) and HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK (dating a younger man), but lacks the important first piece needed to keep us rooting for our two leads to find their happily ever after. THE IDEA OF YOU is directed by Michael Showalter (THE BIG SICK), written by a screenplay co-written by Showalter and Jennifer Westfeldt (KISSING JESSICA STEIN), and based on a novel written by Robinne Lee.

Solène (Anne Hathaway), a single mother and art curator, meets Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), the hunky lead singer of the boy band August Moon when she goes into the wrong trailer backstage at Coachella. Hayes seems instantly smitten by Solène and forges a campaign to earn a space in her orbit. Solène tries to keep her guard up but Hayes' pursuit and long-buried desire for romantic connection wears her down. It's not long before she's accompanying him on tours and diving headfirst into an itinerary of travel, passionate sex, and discovering her identity as a woman worthy of desire, all while trying to maintain a low profile. But as the genre mandates, eventually their secret romance becomes public knowledge, and the barrage of media attention threatens to destroy the life of calm that Solène has built for herself and her daughter Izzy (Ella Rubin).

A woman and man walk outside at night
Anne Hathaway as SOLENE, Nicholas Galitzine as HAYES in THE IDEA OF YOU

THE IDEA OF YOU fails to sell me on the fact that Solène and Hayes belong together, but I'm absolutely sold on Anne Hathaway being capable of making any man of any age fall in love with her. She's one of those women that has only grown more luminescent with age. Let's recall that she entered the film scene as Mia in THE PRINCESS DIARIES, a supposedly awkward girl made into a princess before our eyes. She also bloomed from fashion dud to fashion icon in movies like ONE DAY and THE DEVIL WORE PRADA. From early on, she often got cast as the quirky girl who finds her groove through the gentle guidance of others. Those days appear to be over. In this film, Solène has a life worth envying. Her daughter clearly adores her, and she has a dream job as the owner of a high-end art gallery. She has a closet full of flattering clothes, and she looks wicked cool in sunglasses. Sure, her husband ran off with another woman, but it seems like Solène has taken that rejection and turned her life into one that any woman would enjoy.

Which presents a problem for a filmmaker trying to sell us on a great love story. What could young pretty boy Hayes Campbell offer someone as accomplished as Solène? Sure, sex. But sex alone does not make good chemistry. We understand easily enough what Solène can offer Hayes. He sings in a fluffy boy band who performs insignificant songs about transient love interests. Such a life rings hollow after the fun of being famous dies down. Having an intelligent, caring, nurturing female like Solène would certainly ground any man. But a professional female with her dream job wants to be doing what she loves, not traveling around standing on the sidelines while her man sings to adoring female fans. The film just doesn't lay enough groundwork to show what he does for her besides buy her unlimited room service and give her a good lay. I feel I'm an expert in this area, being a middle-aged woman myself. A whirlwind getaway to Paris sounds delightful for a week, but after that interval of time, the only thing I'm fantasizing about is my mattress at home. No amount of cookie plates and chicken fingers would convince me to stay.

A woman and man board a plane together both wearing sunglasses
Nicholas Galitzine as HAYES, Anne Hathaway as SOLENE in THE IDEA OF YOU

The screenwriters attempt to create some relationship building when Hayes shows up at Solène's workplace and decides to order every piece of artwork she owns. Notice that they never show the actual pieces in Hayes' home because the visual result of him ordering all of those pieces of different styles would be hideous. But, no matter. This is considered cute and acceptable. She ends up showing him her overflow warehouse and her favorite painting in the world, "Unclose Me." He begs to understand what she sees when she gazes at this image of a forest with neon accents. "Everything," is her cringe-worthy response. They then retire to her house, where she makes him sandwiches and they share intimate details of past heartbreaks. None of this establishes they have staying power. Just that he can turn on the charm enough to have an actual conversation. Later, we learn that Solène's presence has inspired Hayes to write "real music."

Overall, there's just no chemistry between these two. Think about all of the great romances and romantic comedies that exist. Often the only sexual connection those characters share are kisses and smoldering gazes. It's not enough for two hot humans to have a good time and enjoy great sex together to establish they belong together. They need to somehow help each other be better humans. I just don't think that happened in Solène's case. The film does attempt to make some points about celebrity culture, the cost of fame, and the ills of social media, but other movies have done this better. And if this is a romantic comedy, I want to know where the jokes are. Things turn serious quite fast and the drama manufactured to keep them apart feels manufactured.

Still, if age gap romances are your catnip, THE IDEA OF YOU is a solid pick for a stream at home option.

Release info: On Prime Video May 2, 2024

Final score: 2.5 out of 5