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The Idea of You Film Review: A Fantasy Reenacted

A man and a woman are about to kiss in a still from the movie The Idea of You

The Idea of You has Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine to thank for making up with chemistry and presence for what this fan fiction-inspired story lacks. 

Director: Michael Showalter
Genre: Drama, Romance
Run Time: 115′
Release Date: May 2, 2024
Where to watch: Globally on Prime Video

At some point in our lives, we’ve all had a daydream fantasy that, in one shape or another, has resembled the premise of Michael Showalter’s (The Big Sick, The Eyes of Tammy Faye) romance The Idea of You. We have all wanted to be a part of one of those stories we see in boy band music videos from the early to middle 2010s, where a world-famous pop star notices an ordinary nobody and the two fall in love.

The Idea of You could easily be described as a 2-hour-long music video, which even plays out in a song-like structure.

Solène Marchand (Anne Hathaway, of Eileen), the protagonist, is a divorced mom on the brink of entering her 40s who agrees to drive her daughter Izzy (Ella Rubin) and her friends to Coachella. At the music festival, Solène accidentally meets young pop superstar Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine, of Red, White & Royal Blue), lead singer of the boy band August Moon. Hayes takes an unexpected liking to Solène and makes continuous efforts to meet her again. A genuine and passionate love blossoms between them, but it can only be kept in secret for so long.

The Idea of You is based on Robinne Lee’s 2017 novel of the same name, whose main character was inspired by Harry Styles: the author told Deborah Kalb that she was watching videos on YouTube, one night in 2014, and stumbled upon some clips of the then-One Direction member. It’s impossible to separate the film from the novel, as both versions of this story read as nothing more than a self-actualized yearning of the author’s imagination. 

The Idea of You confidently recycles a fan fiction beat sheet that’s been continually rewritten and paraphrased in the past decade: an ordinary girl is noticed by an A list celebrity, it’s love at first sight, and a forbidden romance is born. These kinds of stories are often over-saturated with predictable tropes, and this is no exception. As if ticking them off from a bullet point list, we begin with a conveniently coincidental but highly improbable first encounter, followed by a midpoint montage of running away on tour to live the dream life. Ultimately, despite the scandalous tabloid articles and devoted fans not being happy with the pop singer’s secretive relationship with the lead character, their love conquers all. Going that often-trampled route limits the story in a way that makes it sellable only to a target audience that seeks to vicariously live through the surreality of the main character. 

A man walks with his arm around a woman's neck in a still from the movie The Idea of You
Anne Hathaway as ‘Solène’ and Nicholas Galitzine as ‘Hayes Campbell’ star in THE IDEA OF YOU (Prime Video, © Amazon Content Services LLC)

Despite the screenplay persistently working against them, Nicholas Galitzine and Anne Hathaway manage to fully sell even the cheesiest of lines, which only speaks for their brilliance as actors –  Hathaway as a seasoned professional and Galitzine as a gifted up-and-comer. The chemistry buzzing in the air between them in each scene never loses its allure and remains the leading force of the film throughout its entire runtime. Galitzine’s recognizable charm finds a perfect home here in his portrayal of Hayes, the leading face of the band, a character that benefits greatly from the exact type of effortless charm the actor exudes.

The original songs, written for August Moon’s fictional discography by Savan Kotecha and Carl Falk are impressively convincing, with vocals and melodies catchy enough to pass as true boy band music material. Since Kotecha and Falk are credited for writing some of One Direction, Usher, and Ariana Grande’s greatest hits, it only follows that their work here would be as close to credible mainstream pop music as possible.

It would be too extreme to say that there’s no salvageable substance in the movie. For brief moments, a few doors are slightly left ajar, though never opened and explored. There’s a very light inclination towards an interesting critique on ageism or even the depersonalisation and alienation of intense fame, but we breeze lightly past them all without a second glance. These are conflicts expected to arise out of a precarious relationship such as Hayes and Solène’s, but because of the derivative way they begin to unfold in the third act, it becomes increasingly difficult to rely on the magnetism of the leads to carry home a satisfactory resolution. 

My main issue is that The Idea of You surrenders to mediocrity too easily by doubling down on an ending that plays it way too safe. Trying to wrap up the film feels like attempting to carefully wake the audience up from a pleasant dream they’ve been having without getting them angry. In other words, the final moments only solidify the argument that, although visually appealing and moderately well-acted, this glistening love story boils down to fan service at its core, meant to entertain those who wish to be swept away by a famous idol.

The Idea of You had the acting power necessary to produce a narrative with potential, had it not been too afraid to experiment beyond the boundaries of its clichéd genre. Hathaway and Galitzine single-handedly actualize a light, steamy, entertaining romance that otherwise does not make a good case for why I should remember it any longer than a week or two. 

The Idea of You is now available to stream globally on Prime Video.

The Idea of You: Trailer (Prime Video)
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