Tuesday, June 18, 2024

‘The Idea of You’ Doesn’t Have a Clue

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Anne Hathway is a movie star of such magnitude that whether you like The Idea of You is moot. Are you willing to sit for two hours and watch Anne Hathaway Hath-around?

Normally, I’m in the group that screams yes. But Michael Showalter is my kryptonite in matters like these. I adored his Big Sick, but his other work is often too bloated and bland. The Idea of You is pure Showalter.

the idea of you
Hayes (Nick Galitzine) and Solene (Anne Hathaway) have a meet-cute in front of the bathroom.

The Idea of You is a wish-fulfillment rom-com that’s heavy on romance and light on comedy and sees Hathaway as a forty-year-old mother, Solene falling for a hunky twenty-four popstar Hayes Cambell (Nicholas Galitzine). Co-written by Showalter and Jennifer Westfeldt, The Idea of You breezes along pretty effortlessly until it drops the fantasy aspect and digs into the real-world repercussions of what a relationship would look like. 

The boy band is called August Moon, which sounds less like a boy band and more like something an author thinks a boy band would be called. Which is exactly what it is, as The Idea of You is based on a book by Robinne Lee of the same name. Being an adaptation of a book accounts for the listless flow of the screenplay. It is as if Showlwater and Westfeldt were trying to capture a sprawling literal structure but forgetting that it requires a steadier hand than Showalter is capable of.

The Idea of You is two movies. One is the easy, breezy Martin Scorsese romantic comedy of a forty-year-old housewife who happens to look like Anne Hathaway falling for Hayes Campbell, a singer in a boy band August Moon. The boy band that her daughter, Izzy (Ella Rubin), used to love. The other half wrestles with the fraught gender and sexual politics such a relationship would transgress and the emotional fallout for everyone involved.

The first half is a sweet romantic fairy tale, although pretty bland considering the chemistry between Hathaway and Galitzine. But Showalter and Westfeldt’s script plays it all too lowkey. Their meet-cute involving Hathaway’s Solene getting lost in a maze of trailers and mistaking Hayes’s trailer for the VIP bathroom is underwhelming, to the point that when they try to explain how they meet, it’s exactly as boring as it sounds.

Truthfully, The Idea of You isn’t so much a romantic comedy as it is a full-throated argument that the final cut is a privilege, not a right. The Idea repeatedly wears out its welcome so often that by the end, you’re begging the movie to pick an ending and stay with it.

If nothing else, The Idea of You highlights what makes Notting Hill great. Notting Hill is a rom-com with memorable, quirky characters starring two bonafide movie stars. The Idea of You is an amusing romantic fantasy filled with characters so grounded that all joy has been scrubbed from them. Everyone is a dour, stressed, melancholic that happens to star two insanely attractive people who are excellent at being attracted to each other.

the idea of you
Solene (Hathaway) seduces Hayes.

Marry Me is another film that traversed similar waters but leaned heavily into the fantasy aspect. Instead, it kept light and breezy with almost no stakes, as our two leads, with surprising chemistry, skipped to a happy ending. The Idea of You zigs and zags and spends so much time arguing about the sexual politics of it all that the line “Why would you break up with a handsome, kind, feminist,” acts as a chilling reminder that this was supposed to be a comedy. 

Showlwater and Westfeldt commit the ultimate sin of wasting Annie Mumolo. Mumolo is an actress tailor-made to play a wacky character, the quintessential best friend, or for a truly bold director, maybe even the rom-com lead, but I’m getting sidetracked. The Idea of You stacks the film with a bouquet of characters but then does nothing with them. Another movie would have them be wacky or memorable, but in Showalter’s hands, they merely exist.

A shame as whenever Mumolo and Hathaway share the screen, The Idea Of You remembers it’s a comedy or, at the very least, feels lived in a way that Showalter and Westfeldt spend so much of the runtime trying so hard and failing to craft. My favorite scene is Hathway wondering why Mumolo is okay with her dating a younger man, not her ex dating a younger woman. “Oh, because I hate him, and I love you.” It’s not a knee-slapper, but Mumolo delivers it with such spirit that we end up cursing Showwalter’s apparent aversion to comedic timing.

Showalter has the annoying habit of sucking the life out of every scene. Never mind being blessed with the talent of Anne Hathaway, Showalter uses every tool in his toolbox to make every scene as dull and lifeless as possible. But occasionally, he gets out of his way, such as when Solene tells Hayes about the dissolution of her marriage to her husband, Daniel (Reid Scott).

The scene is emblematic of everything right and wrong with The Idea of You. Hathaway nails it; she brings heartbreak and vulnerability to that scene and to the character of Solene. The biggest laugh is seeing Solene navigate Coachella as a forty-year-old woman amongst a sea of screaming teens and drug-addled twenty-somethings. Oh yeah, and she’s drop-dead gorgeous.

The one thing I’ll give Showalter is that he and his cameraman, Jim Frohna, unabashedly capture the throat-scratching thirst of newly sparked lust. In the sex scenes and the scenes of them lounging around in bed, there’s an openness to the sensuality that is refreshing. Frohna and the editor Peter Teschner cut their sex scenes in a way that feels scattered, a cascade of movement and jazzed up emotions. Showalter, Frohna, and Teschner film their sex scenes keenly aware of the difference between two people fucking and when they are making love.

Because they do both numerous times, one instance has Solene lying on her stomach, exhausted. Hayes orders room service. They both seem ragged but content as they try to re-energize for whatever round they’re moving onto next.

My favorite moment comes when Hayes surprises Solene at home, and the two fall into a mad, hungry kiss. Showalter and Frohna play with the lights as the kiss spreads for an eternity, playing with the colors, bathing the couple in different colored lights as their emotions escalate and evolve throughout the kiss. An artful and cinematic moment amidst a sea of dull staging. It made me pine for a romantic movie instead of making us sit through protracted arguments where I’m not entirely sure Solene was the one who needed to apologize,

Solene is an art gallery owner because, of course, she is. Props to Showalter, however, for featuring actual artists and their art in Solene’s gallery. It almost makes up for the screwy L.A. geography, seemingly based not on maps but on the film’s fantastical idea of Los Angeles.

the idea of you
Hayes (Galitzine) and Solene (Hathaway) do a bad job keeping their relationship a secret.

Rom-coms are tricky because, more than comedies, they depend on the viewer. One only has to see the reviews for Anyone But You to understand the gulf in the genre fandom. The Idea of You drops the ball as it tries to keep both feet in the fantasy aspect of the story and the all-pervading dunderheaded concert of making everything “believable” in modern film. It’s not impossible, again, Notting Hill, but Showalter doesn’t have the deft touch, and he and Westfeldt’s script don’t have the wit to pull it off. 

Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

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