Boy bands have not had an easy time of it at the movies. Either they are the object of some crazed tween’s affections, and therefore a symbol of that character’s youthful folly, or they themselves are the main characters in a movie designed entirely to spoof and parody them. Rarely is a character in a boy band treated like a real person, and that’s just one of the things that makes Amazon’s new The Idea of You a grown-up romance, not one intended for shrieking tweens – or for those who want to feel superior to shrieking tweens.


Writer-director Michael Showalter has certainly been down for a parody at different points of his career, but as he has transitioned from comedic performer to director, he’s more likely to give us a good dose of melancholy, specifically in films like The Big Sick and Spoiler Alert. The Idea of You is a thoughtful contemplation of how a 24-year-old real person, who happens to be the frontman for a boy band, might try to be in a relationship with a 40-year-old real person, who happens to be the mother of one of the band’s long-time fans, and all the complication and heartache that might ensue.

Solene (Anne Hathaway) is starting out in a place of heartache. She isn’t too far removed from divorcing her ex Daniel (Reid Scott), who was cheating on her with a young lawyer at his firm. Their daughter Izzy (Ella Rubin) is now 16, and Daniel is overcompensating by trying to be the cool dad who will take her and her friends to the Coachella Music Festival. However, he hasn’t been that attentive to Izzy’s changing tastes, as he thinks she’s still into August Moon, the boy band she loved five years ago, rather than the “aggressively talented female singer songwriter” music she currently claims. So he splurges for tickets to a meet-and-greet with August Moon, which Izzy and her friends grudgingly agree to attend in exchange for all the other bacchanalia a Coachella trip entails.

Of course, in the habit common to neglectful fathers focused on their own careers at the expense of their families, Daniel has to fly to Houston for business at the last minute, asking an annoyed Solene to be his substitute chaperone for the Coachella excursion. During the meet-and-greet, she mistakes a band member’s trailer with the VIP toilet, thereby meeting cute with Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), the heartthrobbiest in a band of heartthrobs.

Hayes is deeper than he appears, though, and soon realises there’s a substance beyond the beauty of this 40-year-old who has transfixed him. After the festival he reports to her art gallery, in the guise of decorating a sparse London flat, and before long the two are connecting in ways neither would have thought possible – and Solene might not find desirable for keeping her life normal and sparing her daughter the unwanted byproducts of celebrity culture.


The Idea of You has the structure and many of the tropes of a romantic comedy, and it is light and whimsical in parts. However, a truer way of paying respect to it is to call it a romantic drama, or if that’s too heavy sounding, then just a romance. The trappings of a romantic comedy require turning characters into idiots at some point, even if they are loveable idiots. The Idea of You does not try to do that, and in fact, immensely respects both this scarred divorcee who still has some spontaneity left in her, and this young man who first auditioned for this band when he was barely a teenager, and longs not for it to define him as some sort of joke.

Solene doesn’t see him as a joke, and neither does this movie. In fact, music supervisor Savan Kotecha, who wrote and composed the songs for August Moon, is such a veteran of this milieu that he actually wrote songs for real boy band One Direction, among others. If the boy band characters are treated with rare compassion in this movie, their songs are also plausibly real hits, catchy earworms that don’t feel the need to take cheap shots at the fivesomes who perform them on stage.


Hathaway and Galitzine really sell the generous tone that Showalter and Jennifer Westfeldt’s script works to establish. This is a real return to form for Hathaway, who hasn’t disappeared entirely, but has seen the profile of her projects dim significantly in the past few years. The fact that she’s playing the mother of a teenager seems to herald a new phase of her career, and one she proves herself well suited to play: a woman at a crossroads between youth and middle age, who must weigh the consequences of straddling the two worlds. Galitzine, on the other hand, is comparatively new to us, but he’s already showing the sort of range he has, considering that his role in last year’s Bottoms was as an asshole jock football player. The sensitivity of his Hayes, genuine while maintaining its humour, is a total antidote to that sort of character.


This is an interesting scenario to explore. Other films have examined the travails of an ordinary person thrust into the vicinity of celebrity, but The Idea of You does it with an innate intelligence and ability to stay current with the mess social media makes of it. Because of the chemistry between Hathaway and Galitzine and their dimension as characters, we feel like they should try to make it work in spite of all the factors stacking against them. Which is how any good romance should make us feel.


The Idea of You is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

8 / 10