‘The Idea of You’ Shatters Tropes About Motherhood and Binary Choices

Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine’s romcom premiered at SXSW and I can't believe we all wrote it off as "Harry Styles fanfic" when it's...so much more???

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‘The Idea of You’ Shatters Tropes About Motherhood and Binary Choices

Everyone in the English-speaking world probably knows the premise of Michael Showalter’s The Idea of You (based on the 2017 book of the same name) by now: A 40-year-old divorcée and Silver Lake art gallerist (Anne Hathaway) falls in love with the twenty-something frontman (Nicholas Galitzine) of the world’s most popular boyband, August Moon (unsubtly modeled after One Direction), following a chance meeting while she chaperones her 16-year-old daughter at Coachella. On Saturday, it premiered at South by Southwest while the trailer officially broke the record for the most-watched trailer for a streaming movie. 

For months before the trailer dropped on March 5, photos of Hathaway and Galitzine as their characters, Solène Marchand and Hayes Campbell, went viral as they were posted side-by-side with photos of Harry Styles and Olivia Wilde, whose two-year relationship sparked a…fairly intense cultural reaction. But, as one of the few people who were actually pulling for those crazy kids, I voraciously consumed every milestone in Wilde and Styles’ relationship. So, if nothing else, I was prepared for The Idea of You to be a fun time. I also loved the idea of a silly Wattpad fanfic being brought to life on the big screen, which is essentially what social media billed Showalter’s movie as. 

Alas, I am here to report that Yes, The Idea of You was incredibly fun. (And hot and brilliantly written and funny and I could go on…) But it also told a new story about motherhood and romantic love that rejects the rigid, binary choices we often see imposed on women like Solène—or at least, in the rare stories that center 40-year-old moms or acknowledge them as sensual beings. I’m genuinely upset we all prematurely wrote this movie off as a substance-less cosplay of Styles and Wilde’s relationship; those two don’t really even come to mind throughout Solène and Hayes’ irresistible and standalone romance. A romance that’s powered by Galitzine and Hathaway’s electric chemistry and sex scenes that memorably had the SXSW theater screaming. 

Instead, The Idea of You is a surprisingly thoughtful feminist ode to female happiness later in life, when women’s only acceptable source of fulfillment is supposed to be their children, and any other loves are regarded as selfish and at odds with motherhood. 

Like most romcoms, The Idea of You begins with a quirky meet-cute. Solène is forced to take her teenage daughter Izzy—who she calls her “favorite person”—to Coachella. This is all because her asshole ex-husband Daniel (Reid Scott, AKA Veep’s Dan Egan) secured VIP passes that include a meet-and-greet with August Moon, but then bailed because of work. At the festival, while looking for the VIP bathroom, Solène inadvertently stumbles into Hayes’ private trailer; when she finds him waiting outside the bathroom door, she mistakes him for an ASMR fetishist aroused by the sound of others peeing. Of course, Hayes clarifies things, Solène realizes who he is, they banter, and by the time she exits his trailer—with a little smirk—the popstar is visibly taken with the single mom. Later that night, during August Moon’s set, Hayes deploys copious eye contact and dedicates a song to her as she stands in the crowd.

This meet-cute and, days later, a flirty, sexual tension-laden visit to her art gallery, bleed into an intimate and playful afternoon over sandwiches in the privacy of Solène’s home. Even as Solène initially tries to resist Hayes’ endearing and unrelenting courtship, she ultimately throws caution to the wind and they embark on a real love story. It’s magical to watch, because even as it’s the most ridiculous premise imaginable, thanks to Hathaway and Galtazine’s chemistry (as well as an excellent script from Showalter and Jennifer Westfeldt), it all feels so… real. Of course, Hayes’ uncontrollable fame renders Solène the object of frenzied vitriol and internet nastiness (very much familiar to anyone who followed press coverage of Wilde and Styles’ relationship!), which she can handle—until it inevitably impacts her teenage daughter.

There’s a line in the movie that appears in the trailer, where one of Solène’s friends quips to her, “Did I not warn you? People hate happy women.” It’s cheesy out of context—and pretty cheesy in context, too!—but it speaks to a central theme of the movie. We get to watch a 40-year-old single mom choose both being a mom and being in love with a very hot man. In the movie, this naturally sparks public outrage since women—specifically moms—are supposed to have to choose. The Idea of You acknowledges this gendered reality, which looms large over the second half of the movie when the involvement of kids and family sharply raises the stakes. But (without spoilers!) the film somehow manages to subvert this premise and deliver something truly delightful.

Typical “happy” endings for on-screen moms follow some arc in which they manage to find joy and purpose solely in their kids. Throughout, The Idea of You tears up that playbook and rejects the idea that certain experiences and passions are mutually exclusive from honorable motherhood, just as it rejects the idea that the best and most exciting things, the hottest sex, the deepest love, are all behind you after you turn 40 or become a mom. “I don’t know why we don’t have more stories about human beings blooming at any age. We’re always coming of age, all the time,” Hathaway told the SXSW audience at a Q&A after the screening on Saturday. That’s exactly what she brings to life as Solène in The Idea of You. Which, I’ll say it, is my official pick for best movie of the decade.

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