Credit: Amazon Prime Video
by Emily DuGranrut Featured Film Streaming Scene

The Idea of You — Michael Showalter

May 10, 2024

Fan fiction has long been an outlet for superfans to reimagine worlds and celebrities, weaving narratives out of their wildest fantasies. Whether you call it creative writing, an exercise in delusion, or a mixture of both, the genre has certainly hit the mainstream, with self-published novels becoming #BookTok bestsellers and films like Fifty Shades of Grey raking in box office millions. Those of us who spent formative years secretly devouring on our parents’ computers — hoping they wouldn’t discover we were binging high-school-level literotica about our favorite band members or literary characters — will recognize the all-too-familiar plot of The Idea of You. The movie ticks all the fanfic boxes: reality-bending, celebrity infatuation, and heartbreak on repeat.

In the latest from director Michael Showalter, Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine, respectively, are Solène, a 40-year-old gallery owner and single mom who could star in her own existential crisis, and Hayes Campbell, a popstar who epitomizes the emotionally charged Gen Z dream. They first lock eyes at Coachella — because, of course, where else would such a fantasy unfurl? — and from there, we’re thrust into a whirlwind romance laden with improbable scenarios, cringe-worthy dialogue, and lofty musings on the burdens of superstardom and love. As the film progresses, the enchanting fantasy of dating a Harry Styles-esque character painfully collides with the harsh realities of a May-September romance scrutinized under the relentless public eye. Within a brisk two hours, our couple manages to cycle through multiple breakups, squabbles over Instagram models, and a level of press scrutiny that would make Meghan Markle wince. Fan fiction tropes are, indeed, alive and kicking.

That’s not to say that adhering so religiously to these tropes is inherently bad — rom-coms are, by nature, a playground for melodrama. However, The Idea of You often functions less as a coherent narrative than a mainlining of a soap opera. The emotional roller coaster the film buckles viewers into, packed as it is with endless meaningful glances and catastrophic tears, can be downright exhausting. Yet, at least Hathaway and Galitzine seem acutely aware of the absurdity of the material, and inject a surprising depth into their performances that works to establish some balance and make the film’s narrative mush more digestible — and unexpectedly entertaining.

Much like fan fiction, The Idea of You ultimately dances on the line between homage and satire, albeit haphazardly. While it earnestly attempts to weave grand romantic gestures and tearful reunions of a classical sort into its fabric — and surprisingly succeeding in some moments — its heavier attempts to comment on the invasive nature of fame and the personal costs of public love falter. The Idea of You is a film that tries to do a lot more than one might expect based on its logline (especially considering its low-brow inspiration) and occasionally strikes the right chord in the process, but that tendency to overstuff means it ends up missing the mark just as often. Still, like flipping through a well-loved notebook chockablock with fan fiction, it’s messy, it’s heartfelt, and despite its obvious flaws, it’s hard not to get sucked into its equally compelling and overwrought drama.

DIRECTOR: Michael Showalter;  CAST: Anne Hathaway, Nicholas Galitzine, Ella Rubin, Annie Mumolo;  DISTRIBUTOR: Amazon Studios;  IN THEATERS/STREAMING: May 2;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 55 min.