‘The Idea of You’ Review: Only Anne Hathaway Could Look This Confident Dating One of Her Daughter’s Pop Idols

The Idea of You
Courtesy of SXSW

When you’re 10, it sounds like every line your favorite boy band sings is being aimed directly at you. Somewhere along the line, the illusion shatters. Teenagers are smarter than we give them credit for, and they eventually figure out how parasocial relationships operate: Basically, the fans do all the work, saving up for concert tickets and glitter-painting their idols’ names on their notebooks, while the lab-tested singers soak up all the love … and the allowance money. But what if, instead of the feelings flowing in one direction, a pop star fell hard for one of his followers? Or her mom?

Improving upon the popular beach read by Robinne Lee, instant classic “The Idea of You” stars a radiant-yet-relatable Anne Hathaway as a woman you can imagine a celebrity swooning for. It seems like only yesterday that the brown-eyed ingenue was putting on the tiara for “The Princess Diaries.” Now, in her most romantic role since that live-action fairy tale, Hathaway plays Solène, a Silver Lake art gallery owner and 40-year-old divorcée who’s always made a point of putting her daughter first. When her consistently disappointing ex-husband (Reid Scott) flakes on a trip to Coachella, Solène steps in and drives Izzy (Ella Rubin) and her friends out to the music festival.

Dad bought them all VIP passes to a meet-and-greet with August Moon, the band Izzy used to be obsessed with in seventh grade (emphasis on: used to be). Now that she’s in high school, the fivesome just seems corny — which is the same opinion parents had all along, but somehow had to put aside in order to support their kids. So imagine Solène’s surprise when she goes looking for the honey bucket and winds up face-to-face with Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), “the British one.” Solène recognizes him, but doesn’t get all starstruck, and something about that dynamic excites him. Here’s a woman he might actually have to put some effort into getting to know.

It’s easy to see why Lee’s wildly successful novel has been read as Harry Styles fan fiction, though there’s more to it than celebrity-bagging wish fulfillment. As adapted by director Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”) and co-writer Jennifer Westfeldt, “The Idea of You” seems less concerned with the princess-story side of the book — the celebrity-endorsed, self-validating dimension the title refers to — and more with the ramifications of such a relationship for a middle-aged woman. After dedicating a song to her during his Coachella show, Hayes is more discreet in his advances, allowing Solène to keep it secret from her daughter. But what will happen if Izzy finds out? What will August Moon’s millions of fans make of him courting a cougar?

Miraculously enough, audiences don’t question it. The meet-cute seems a little contrived, but the chemistry between Hathaway and Galitzine feels real. She subtly conveys signals that show she’s lost faith in romance, suggesting that because Solène’s been burned by love before, she can’t be bothered to flirt. For his part, Galitzine plays Hayes as instantly interested, but emotionally cautious as well. Watching these two warm up to one another over the course of an art-shopping afternoon back in Los Angeles, proves far more romantic than the whirlwind tour of Europe that follows. Surprisingly, the sexiest scene in the whole film doesn’t involve sex but a hungry first kiss — though there’s steam enough to come, as they ravage hotel rooms in Barcelona, Rome and Paris.

In a sense, the eponymous “idea of you” refers to an aspect of the relationship Solène naively thinks she can keep to herself, despite the vulture-like way the paparazzi follow them everywhere. Showalter takes us into a pop star’s inner circle, bringing the cameras backstage at concerts, aboard private jets and along for a glitzy vacation in the south of France. (Weirdly, reverse shots of the arena-show crowds seem downright tame, nothing like the delirious hysteria of “A Hard Day’s Night” or “TRL.”) Celebrities belong to the public in a way civilian Solène has never experienced before, and because she wants no part of that attention, their love affair may as well have no future.

That’s one aspect of the book that upset its readers, and which Showalter has carefully reengineered here so that audiences can have the ending they want. For all its fantastical qualities, the movie is realistic in the way it anticipates social media and real media (the online tabloids, at least) reacting to the news of Solène and Hayes’ being together. It’s a sad truth that, as Solène tells art-world bestie Tracy (Annie Mumolo), the world doesn’t want her to be happy. Technically, the fans don’t want Hayes to be happy either, preferring to think of him single and searching for them to fill that empty space in his heart.

There are a thousand ways that Showalter could have tilted the film toward parody. Instead, he resists poking fun at the whole pop-tart phenomenon, which meta-comedies like “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” and “Josie and Pussycats” treated as self-aware satire. Here, Hayes is terrified of being seen as a joke, and though Solène insists he’s not, she doesn’t take the relationship seriously enough to tell a soul. But Showalter does, tapping songwriter Savan Kotecha to come up with a slew of plausible hits, including a track called “Closer” that turns the May-December dynamic into catchy Top 40 gold. For all the challenges that adapting Lee’s book posed, getting the music right had to be the toughest — with fixing that ending being a close second.

The film version finds a solution that honors Lee’s intentions — the way Hathaway’s character puts any number of priorities ahead of her heart — while providing a more satisfying sense of closure for their on-and-off relationship. Galitzine, who played it so proper in Amazon’s “Red, White & Royal Blue,” turns up the emo charisma, while relaxing his body language, letting the puppy dog eyes and tattooed torso do the talking (though the English accent doesn’t hurt). Still, this is Hathaway’s movie, and she owns it: independent, desirable and never, ever desperate. Solène’s a cool mom to Izzy, and when it comes to Hayes… “I could be your mother,” she tells him. “But you’re not,” he fires back. Wouldn’t want to get the wrong idea.

From Variety US