The Idea of You Review: Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine’s Feelgood Spin on the May-December Romance

The film is available on Amazon Prime Video.
The Idea of You Review: Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine’s Feelgood Spin on the May-December Romance

Director: Michael Showalter

Writers: Michael Showalter, Jennifer Westfeldt

Cast: Anne Hathaway, Nicholas Galitzine

Available on: Amazon Prime Video

It’s ironic — or fitting, depending on your experience — that for a romance that’s rated ‘R’, the most erotic moment in The Idea of You comes not in a sex scene but the first time Hayes (Nicholas Galitzine) kisses Solène. “I could be your mother,” says the 40-year-old mother of a teenage daughter, after breaking away from a kiss that’s as scorching as it is sweet. “But you’re not,” replies Hayes and fits his mouth on hers, again. Happy May Day, everyone.

Based on the bestselling book by the same name by Robinne Lee, The Idea of You takes the taboo-edged trope of the May-December romance and turns it on its head by making the woman the older one in the relationship and presenting the romance as scandalous but heartwarming. Director Todd Haynes looked at this topic recently in May December, but it was framed as an exploration of abuse with Julianne Moore playing a woman who groomed a teenage boy to become her lover. The Idea of You, filmed in sun-kissed warmth and popping with bright colours and an upbeat soundtrack, is a simpler and fluffier film. However, its intent is arguably bolder than what Haynes lays out with his excellent film. 

Nicholas Galitzine in The Idea of You
Nicholas Galitzine in The Idea of You

For all its artistic complexity, May December ends up adding to the trope of succubus-like older women who prey upon innocent, young men. The Idea of You, on the other hand, is a straightforward romance whose underlying message is that there’s nothing wrong with an older woman falling in love (and lust) with a man younger than her. Rather than something transgressive, the May-December romance in The Idea of You is presented as something tender, nourishing and beautiful. This simplicity is what makes it radical.  

Meet Cute

Solène unexpectedly finds herself at the music festival Coachella when her ex-husband bails on the holiday he was supposed to go on with their daughter, Izzy (Ella Rubin) and her friends. While looking for a bathroom, Solène walks into a trailer thinking it’s a mobile bathroom — except it’s actually pop star Hayes Campbell’s vanity van. The attraction is immediate and Hayes is frank in his adoration, but then who wouldn’t be with someone as luminous as Hathaway is as Solène?

Fans of the book might feel under-served by the film, which makes Hayes a few years older and Solène is shown as more vulnerable than their bookish avatars. Galitzine is charming as Hayes, but the film doesn’t show him working on himself the way Hayes does in the book. For the 20-year-old Hayes, it’s important he becomes a partner of whom Solène can feel proud. Hayes in the film doesn’t grapple with these concerns until much later. 

Anna Hathaway in The Idea of You
Anna Hathaway in The Idea of You

Hathaway gives Solène a fragile quality, allowing her to have chinks in the armour of a cool, sassy independent woman. In the first real conversation she has with Hayes in the film, Solène tells him about how her ex-husband cheated on her and how broken it left her. This is not necessarily a shining example of foreplay and it’s to Galitzine and Hathaway’s credit that they’re able to shift the mood comprehensively towards carnal canoodling despite this starting point. The two actors enjoy an easy, comfortable chemistry that never feels embarrassing or graphic despite the rating that the film has received.

In her book, Lee appeared to have modelled Hayes on Harry Styles and he is very much the object of Izzy’s fandom. The film raises both Hayes and Izzy’s ages, possibly to make the romance feel more palatable and less transgressive. Reducing the age gap between Hayes and Solène to 15 years doesn’t make it any less scandalous and without losing its light touch, The Idea of You looks at how sexist society and media is in its judgements and opinions. It also shows the pressures under which Solène has to operate, which range from wanting to protect Izzy from the repercussions of her mother being labelled a “cougar” in tabloids, to the niggling insecurities she can’t help but feel as an older woman hanging out with a group of people in their 20s.

Fluffy for the Win

The Idea of You has no intention of being a complex or intricate film. On the contrary, it’s committed to being as light-hearted as possible while exploring a scandalous relationship, nudging society to expand its conventions by not being confrontational. The same can be said of what this film’s lead actors have done simply by choosing to do The Idea of You. For Hathaway, who has been in critically-acclaimed films, it’s borderline transgressive to do a rom-com and one that casts her in the role of a mother who seeks happiness for herself, rather than continuing the trope of self-sacrifice. She’s taken the risk of being ridiculed for picking a genre that is popular but isn’t considered respectable. Meanwhile,  Galitzine has been quietly widening the definition of the modern romantic hero by playing a gay prince with as much spice and conviction in Red, White and Royal Blue (also on Prime Video) as he plays a straight pop star in The Idea of You.   

A still from The Idea of You
A still from The Idea of You

Director Michael Showalter, best known for The Big Sick (2017) and The Lovebirds (2020), never loses sight of what defines romance as a genre: Centring the woman’s perspective; presenting an ideal of masculinity that responds to the female gaze; and keeping the tone light while approaching complex topics. The Idea of You  is committed to being a feelgood, summer movie. It acknowledges sadness and heartbreak, but doesn’t linger over it. Instead, the focus of the film is on selling the dream of love being complicated but also easy. Each time Solène and Hayes settle into one another, it’s like they’ve come home. Rather than their relationship, it’s the surrounding factors that require work. Also — SPOILER ALERT — in their adaptation, Showalter and Jennifer Westfeldt also do readers of the book a massive favour by showing them the ending that Solène and Hayes deserve.         

While Robinne Lee’s book was perhaps more provocative in its decision to have a romantic hero who is just 20 years old do decidedly adult things to his grown-up lover, the ending Lee gave Solène and the pop star hero surrendered to conventions about what is expected of an older woman who is also a mother. It grounded the love story in real-life pragmatism after taking the reader on multiple flights of fantasy. The film respects the choices made in the book and although strictly speaking, The Idea of You doesn’t have a happily-ever-after, it does hold out the possibility of one. The film ends with a close-up of Hathaway’s face, her eyes bright with sudden, unshed tears and a brilliant smile on her lips. If the hope of finding happiness with Hayes is seeded with the final shot, it’s also a reminder that there’s joy in the present because it’s not an ending. Rather, for Solène, who stands tall and unbroken in her mid-40s, it’s a new beginning. 

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