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The Idea of You Amazon.jpg

‘The Idea of You’ Movie Changes the Book’s Ending – For the Worse

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | May 13, 2024 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | May 13, 2024 |

The Idea of You Amazon.jpg

This post contains spoilers for The Idea of You, both the film and the book.

It’s a scenario an awful lot of us have imagined. You’re at an event, just living your life and being yourself, and all of a sudden the hottest and most desired person on the planet sees you. They want you, unreservedly so, and they don’t care what anyone else says. So goes the central hook for The Idea of You, Michael Showalter’s latest film starring Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine. Solène, played by Hathaway, is a 40-year-old single mother whose trip to Coachella with her daughter leads her to encounter Hayes Campbell, the lead singer of the boyband August Moon. There’s a 16-year age gap between them but the chemistry is undeniable, and soon the pair begin dating. For Solène, the romance is a means for her to explore her post-divorce independence and put her own pleasure above everyone else’s. When the rest of the world discovers the relationship, however, the first flush of love faces mighty opposition.

This is a pretty solid film. Hathaway is a total delight who gets to show off her natural charisma and brings an appealing warmth to Solène as she tries to be selfish for the first time in her life. The film has been marketed as a rom-com, which doesn’t feel entirely accurate. There are laughs, sure, but this is a thoroughly grown-up story about a relationship and its ups and downs as pure animal desire is forced to contend with the mundanities of reality. What makes The Idea of You most compelling is its commitment to breathing believability into this unlikeliest of scenarios. It wants to see what would happen if you had an age gap romance play out to the backdrop of celebrity. For Solène, it’s especially brutal, between worrying about her teen daughter to a judgy ex to a tabloid industry treating her like a monster. But then we get to the ending and the sting is taken out of the tale.

The Idea of You began life as a novel by actor-turned-writer Robinne Lee. She has been open about using Harry Styles as the primary inspiration for Hayes, leading many to describe the book as fanfic (it’s not and was never conceived as such.) The adaptation is mostly faithful to Lee’s work, except for the end. In her version, Solène breaks up with Hayes after seeing how the public pressure of their relationship impacts her daughter but also herself. Hayes doesn’t want to end things so Solène lies about her true feelings, claiming she was more enamoured with the fantasy than the reality, hence the title of the book. Hayes keeps texting her until one day he just stops trying to get in touch with her. It’s a sad, almost anti-climactic conclusion, with Solène realizing that some things just aren’t meant to be, even if it breaks her heart.

In the film, Solène breaks up with Hayes but he says that they should wait five years to see if their feelings are still strong then reunite. And they do, of course. It’s a romance, after all. It’s satisfying on its own terms, I suppose, but for me, it felt timid.

Look, I get it. I totally understand why they wanted to give this thing a traditional romantic ending. It’s something that many of the book’s readers wanted, if Goodreads reviews are anything to go by. The Idea of You was wrongly advertised as a romance and that ending, so realistic and emotionally tumultuous, is not what they signed up for. Why can’t the single mother get the guy, the rest of the world be damned? There are certainly many stories out there that follow that arc, novels that satisfy that entirely understandable fantasy. But The Idea of You isn’t about the fantasy. It’s about how circumstance gets in the way and the noise of naysayers and misogynists are often too loud to ignore. Who wouldn’t want to give that system a giant f*ck you? The film is certainly keen to do that, but it defangs a novel whose strength lies in its depiction of an impossible tightrope walk that ends with its protagonist falling onto the safety net.

But, of course, it’s also an ending that is more befitting of a glossy Hollywood production, a fantasy version of a fantasy story. Anne Hathaway is so ethereal and beautiful (not to mention extremely youthful looking) that it makes total sense for any man of any consenting age to pursue her. Nicholas Galitzine is a 29-year-old playing 24 (they’ve aged him up for the film) but those five extra years do make a difference, and ultimately this Solène and Hayes don’t seem all that mismatched stylistically or generationally. In their review, The Cut argued that Hathaway is almost too beautiful for this set-up to make sense, and I don’t necessarily disagree. At the very least, the shock, good-faith or otherwise, exhibited by practically everyone around them lands with a quieter thud when the dynamic seems more well-matched than the source material depicts. They’ve taken all of the real prickliness out of the relationship and that’s before the changed ending.

Every romance novel is in essence a fantasy, with the promise that love will win the day and no amount of obstacles can defeat its true power. As someone who reads a hell of a lot of romances, the allure is certainly not lost on me. I wonder if The Idea of You would have been allowed to be its true novelistic self had it not been so widely marketed and perceived as being part of a genre it’s separate from. Lee’s book has heft to it that needs the original ending to work, even if it deflates the dream we want for this protagonist who certainly deserves a man who worships her. She has to sacrifice everything because the world will never stop having unsolicited opinions about women like her. The film gives Solène and the viewers what they want, but I think the novel was what we needed.

The Idea of You is now available to watch on Amazon Video.