THE IDEA OF YOU – Review by Nadine Whitney

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Michael Showalter’s adaptation of Robinne Lee’s almost fan fiction novel The Idea of You is much better than it has any right to be. Starring Anne Hathaway as Solène Marchand, a recently divorced mother of sixteen-year-old Izzy (Ella Rubin) who finds herself falling for Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine) a twenty-four-year-old boy band heartthrob.

Sol is staring down the barrel of the big 4-0. She’s neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with her life. She loves Izzy with all her heart, she owns an artist collective gallery in a perfectly respectable suburb in Los Angeles. Her ex-husband, Daniel (Reid Scott) ran off with a younger woman, Eva (Perry Mattfeld) from his law firm leaving Sol emotionally bruised and distrustful. Little is actively terrible – just not what she hoped it would be.

Daniel organises a trip to Coachella for Izzy and her friends to do a meet and greet with August Moon – a One Direction styled band whose fans tend to include young teen girls and their oddly obsessed mothers. Daniel drops out at the last minute and Sol gives up her alone time camping weekend to chaperone Izzy and co., to the festival.

Sol is more the Fiona Apple in college type and Izzy’s tastes have changed too. Izzy is more about “women singer-songwriters” with feminist messages than a band she liked in seventh grade. Nevertheless, Sol ends up in the exclusive August Moon lounge and accidentally in Hayes’ trailer where she doesn’t realise who he is. The meet-awkward becomes something more as Hayes decides to pursue Sol romantically leading to an erotic and emotional secret affair between them.

Both Sol and Hayes’ lives have been defined by a decision they made when they were young. Sol fell in love with the urbane Daniel and got pregnant just out of college. Hayes auditioned for August Moon when he was fourteen via polaroid and for ten years has been “famous and rich” but not much more. Everyone thinks they know him or own him (stan culture being what it is) but they aren’t interested in the person behind the image. Sol is trying to figure out what her place in the world will be when she must self-define.

Despite many August Moon music performing set pieces, The Idea of You isn’t as interested in the band as it is in what the band means. Other than the impudent and insouciant Oliver (Raymond Cham Jr.) who gets screentime, the other members are relegated to their pop star personality trait – smile, charm, rebel and so on. A position which affirms that Hayes sees his only “value” being the British one.

Similarly, Sol’s value is defined externally by other people. Good mother, mostly compliant ex-wife, and self-abnegating increasingly “invisible” woman as she ages. It’s not subtle when she stands in front of an abstract wildlife painting titled ‘Unclosed’ she tells Hayes that it makes her feel “everything.”

The couple’s European idyll is spoiled when Oliver implies that Sol is just one in a line of MILF conquests for Hayes. Despite constant proof to the contrary, Sol realises that she’s ashamed of her desire for Hayes. She has not only been (unsuccessfully) hiding from the paparazzi who hound Hayes – she’s been hiding her relationship from Izzy who is at summer camp. Her best friend Tracy (Annie Mumolo) sums up the dilemma – “People don’t like women being happy.”

The inevitable happens – the affair is picked up by the media and suddenly Sol is the ‘sleazy cougar’ the ‘Yoko 2.0’ and the target of vitriol from young and old, men and women, alike. Double standards mean little, especially to Daniel who berates her for doing something he did which caused the end of their marriage.

The Idea of You is a showcase for Anne Hathaway and her beautiful and powerful vulnerability. Most people would expect all eyes to be on the handsome Nicholas Galitzine, but he is not vital unless he’s being seen by, and through, Sol’s eyes. Hayes to an extent is what he fears the most when he’s not with her – a generic milquetoast “pretty boy” who is an object of desire because he is a blank slate dressed by other people to please a hungry, and at times, unhinged, fan base.

Michael Showalter (son of famed feminist literary critic Elaine Showalter) knows his rom-coms. He’s done satirical rom-com, tragic rom-com, and almost tragic but not rom-com, and now with The Idea of You he’s adding in spicy to the recipe. Ultimately, The Idea of You deconstructs lives lived but not self-propelled. Fame isn’t everything, money isn’t everything, work isn’t everything, family isn’t everything – and neither is love. But if you get to make the choice for yourself where your happiness lies in the mixture of all or some of those things, you might find yourself more than an idea. A sexy and wise movie.

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Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney is a seasoned film critic and scholar. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Nadine contributes regularly to FILMINK, The Curb, and Mr Movies Film Blog. She holds a degree in cinema theory and cultural studies. Her specialty is surrealism in cinema. She is as passionate about cats as she is about film. She is co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association and a member of FIPRESCI.