Rom-Com Bliss: ‘The Idea of You’ Sparks Love and Reflection in the Film’s Heartfelt Adaptation

*** Caution: Spoilers Ahead ***

When a rom-com is done right, it does a thing to your soul. A good romantic comedy can heal your heart and give you hope. Based on the book of the same name, The Idea of You, written by Robinne Lee, begs the question – is love enough?

The answer in director Michael Showalter’s (The Big Sick) adaptation, penned by him and Jennifer Westfeldt, is yes. Love can conquer all, even when you’re dating a world-famous pop star, and there’s a 16-year age gap to contend with, not to mention the tabloid sensationalism that comes along with it and how that could affect your teenage daughter, who’s, well, just trying to be a teenager.

Love is complicated, but when it comes to 40-year-old Solène (Anne Hathaway), a divorced single mom who runs an art gallery in Silver Lake, and 24-year-old Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), lead singer of the boy band August Moon and heartthrob to tweens everywhere, the chemistry is undeniable. When fate brings the mismatched pair together, their connection defies all reason, leading them down a rocky road riddled with romance and ridicule.

2001’s The Princess Diaries was the perfect vehicle to propel Hathaway into stardom, earning her status in the coming-of-age film as a rom-com icon. Her latest endeavor reminds us why we fell in love with her in the first place and why she commands her roles in this genre. Her flawless and heartfelt performance in The Idea of You evokes every feeling you want from a good love story. This time, instead of an awkward teenager coming into her own, we see Hathaway from the perspective of a grown woman trying to heal from the heartbreak of her failed marriage.

The actress, whose character celebrates her 40th birthday in the film, is dedicated to discovering who she is at this point in life as a single woman raising her teenage daughter, Izzy (Ella Rubin). Their relationship is solid. Solène is very obviously the cool, hot mom who swiftly shifts gears to bring her daughter and her friends to Coachella for a VIP meet and greet with August Moon (think One Direction) when her cheating ex-husband Daniel (Reid Scott) has to back out last minute for work.

While Izzy and her friends are “over” the whole boy band thing and are now more into feminist artists with a message, Solène remembers a time when her daughter was obsessed with one of the boy band members (not Hayes) and makes it a priority to show up for the moment. Solène gets a little lost in the VIP area, looking for a bathroom, and walks right into Hayes’s trailer. The meet-cute is charming but a bit unrealistic (in the real world, there’s no way anyone could accidentally walk into an artist’s trailer – even with VIP access). Still, nevertheless, the encounter is sweet. Hayes’s British accent doesn’t hurt either.

The two are immediately smitten. Solène is curious yet cautious, while Hayes is taken by her beauty and her complete lack of interest in his fame. During the meet and greet, Hayes finds out where she works, so we get the idea that his appearances in her life won’t be limited to his shows. When the band takes the stage, Hayes dedicates a song to her during their set at Coachella, and we see Solène already warming up to the idea that a May-December romance with one of the world’s most beloved pop stars might not be the worst thing that could happen.

One of the coolest things that sets in at this moment is the realization that the band August Moon was created just for this film. And their music is good. It’s catchy, like, in a fun Top 40 way. Joining Hayes are Oliver (Raymond Cham Jr.), Simon (Viktor White), Rory (Dakota Adan), and Adrian (Jaiden Anthony). They’ve already released songs like “Closer” and “Dance Before We Walk.” The quality of the music is no surprise, with Savan Kotecha leading the way. The songwriter and producer is responsible for hits with artists such as One Direction, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, The Weeknd, and Katy Perry (to name a few). He was tasked with writing the songs August Moon would perform in the film. Part of the identity of The Idea of You is about how boy bands are made, making this aspect pretty cool in a slightly meta way.

The talent is evident on every level in this film and is particularly apparent in the chemistry between Hathaway and Galitzine. As he pursues her by sweetly buying out all of the artwork in her gallery and joining her for a modest lunch at her house, she opens up and shares how she has been burned by love in the past. He meets her where she’s at, showing vulnerability and expressing fear that he doesn’t want to be known to the world as a joke. Even with the massive age difference, the two have more in common than you would expect, as they both want so much to love and be loved in return.

Timing is another key aspect of this film. Just as Izzy is getting ready to go away to summer camp, and Solène is finding herself home alone, the offer Hayes makes for her to join him on the road – first in New York and then in Europe – seems too irresistible to refuse. Things heat up between the two quickly. Some scenes are semi-steamy, but the pair comes across more as if they have a beautiful, authentic connection, so we see them enjoying each other and just having fun. The question in all of our minds soon becomes – is this fleeting, or could it be forever?

Just as fast as things heat up, things get complicated. Solène tries to keep the relationship a secret, not mentioning anything to her daughter, which eventually backfires as dating a major celebrity and being seen in public is the surest way to end up as fodder for the tabloids. And while the modest gallery owner is getting to experience a life that includes private jets and expensive villas, she is quickly faced with band members and groupies who remind her that “dating” a pop star has a downside, emphasizing that the age difference between the two – her being old enough to be his mother – doesn’t help things.

The movie does an excellent job of touching on what that would be like in today’s social media-driven world. The public’s reaction to the couple is anything but positive, leading Solène to call it quits for the sake of her daughter. Of course, it doesn’t end there. After a heart-to-heart with her best friend Tracy (Annie Mumolo) and a sit down with her daughter, Solène and Hayes get the green light to give the relationship a real chance, which means life in the spotlight for everyone involved.

Moving forward with the best intentions and love their driving force, everyone is on board at first, but living under the microscope of cameras and being picked apart by the public is something that Solène, Izzy, and ex-husband Daniel just aren’t cut out for. When Izzy’s happiness is at stake, Solène has no choice but to call it quits with Hayes. This time for good. Or maybe not?

Showalter did a wonderful thing here and imagined a different ending from the book, allowing audiences and fans to dream what their own version of happiness might look like. This film took some beautiful and unpredictable turns. For that alone, it’s worth the watch. 

These days, it feels like a lot of love stories come down to being about self-love. There is nothing wrong with that, but rom-coms can sometimes feel contrived. The idea that a woman needs a man to be happy seems outdated and often unnecessary. The Idea of You is different. It dives deeper into complicated connections. It makes you question what if you love someone, but the circumstances just aren’t right. What if the timing isn’t right? Are things meant to be, or do we get to choose our fate? Sometimes, all it takes is just one look between two people who love each other. Then you’ll know that the idea of someone can be your reality, and in that reality, you really can have it all.

The Idea of You will be released by Amazon MGM Studios and will be available on Prime Video on May 2.

Review written by: Sari Cohen