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'The Idea of You' Review

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April 30, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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Speaking to Vogue in 2020, the author of the 2017 book The Idea of You, Robinne Lee, stated that the protagonist of her novel, Hayes Campbell, was partly inspired by Harry Styles circa his days as part of One Direction. This came as a semi-confirmation to the biggest fan theory about the novel, as the similarities between the character and Styles (British, boy band, tattoos, young age, Coachella, etc.) were too eerie to ignore. It’s a good thing that Lee got ahead of the discourse when she did, as the visual incarnation of Hayes Campbell within director Michael Showalter’s film adaptation of her novel is far too compelling evidence to further ignore.

Playing this universe’s version of Harry Styles is Nicholas Galitzine, moving up the book club heartthrob ladder after starring as Prince Henry in last year’s Prime Video release of Red, White & Royal Blue. Here he’s paired up with Anne Hathaway as Solène, a newly single mother nearing forty trying her best to quell the impending mid-life crisis. She has a sixteen-year-old daughter Izzy, a successful small-town art gallery, and a good group of friends.

When her ex-husband bails at the last minute on taking Izzy and her friends to Coachella, Solène is the one to pick up the slack. Stuck in the middle of the desert surrounded by people less than half her age, she quickly finds the nearest spot that offers peace and quiet. But what she thinks is a VIP bathroom is actually the private one of Hayes Campbell, lead singer of the worldwide sensation boy band August Moon. This meet-cute ignites some serious sparks, with the pair slowly realizing that they do share some good chemistry.

“Is this twenty-four-year-old kid flirting with me?” asks Solène in her head. It’s certainly a change of pace for her, and a bit nice to be on the other end of the stick as the cause for her divorce was that her ex-husband left her for a younger woman. But how will a relationship work between someone who never got to be a free adult, and someone who has only known total freedom?

Showalter and co-writer Jennifer Westfeldt (co-writer/star of the early aughts indie sensation Kissing Jessica Stein) probe the early romantic stages with a charming gracefulness, allowing the actors to work at their highest potential. Hathaway delivers one of her best performances, playing someone who has it all put together while simultaneously jumping off the deep end. She and Galitzine have a witty banter between them, making this romance both somewhat believable and rootable. It also doesn’t hurt that Showalter films the beautiful pair in some gorgeous locations such as Spanish beaches and the rain-swept streets of Paris.

The second and third acts are when the film starts to flirt with some of its deeper themes, such as the price of fame and society’s value (or lack thereof) on women’s happiness. Contrary to hundreds of years of oppression, Solène chooses to live a bit vicariously and not have her well-being tied to her obligations. The online discourse around the pair’s romance is startling, to say the least, but there are quite a few stretches in logic in just how much the world at large gets swept up in this relationship.

There’s also the predictability that comes with the will-they-won’t-they portion of the story. The more free-flowing style of the earlier portions is swapped for more stodgy conversations circling the question of how others will perceive the two together. There are moments when the material is on the cusp of a breakthrough, but the well-worn trappings of the genre and the need to be a crowd pleaser (even though there will be no in-person crowds to please due to the film’s Prime Video release) keep everything within a tidy box.

There are much worse versions of The Idea of You in so many other multiverses, one of which likely has Styles playing Hayes Campbell in a much more winking fashion. We only need to look back on the one-two combo of My Policeman and Don’t Worry Darling to predict the outcome of that. The more adult version that we have in our universe gets the job done, becoming a respectable template of how to successfully do these book club adaptations.

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