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‘The Idea of You’ review: My daughter went to Coachella and all I got was this hunky pop star

Michael Phillips – Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Just now, my fingers accidentally typed “The Idea of You” as “The Ikea of You,” and there is indeed a follow-the-directions-very-carefully feeling to the movie premiering on Prime Video May 2.

Anne Hathaway basically saves it from itself. Just when you may be drifting out of interest range watching director/co-writer Michael Showalter’s adaptation of the 2017 Robinne Lee novel, script co-written by Jennifer Westfeldt, along comes the Big Monologue delivered by Los Angeles art gallery owner Solène Marchand, handled so well by Hathaway you forget — for a while — about why you drifted out in the first place.

Three years divorced from her oily, cheating husband, Solène’s at home with her young lover-to-be, the British pop star Hayes Campbell played by Nicholas Galitzine. They share some dicey personal history after sharing a sandwich in her perfect bungalow, away from the paparazzi Hayes attracts everywhere his cheekbones go.

Reluctantly at first, Hathaway’s character talks about the infidelity that led to their breakup. Galitzine’s character is a child of divorce, as is Solène’s teenage daughter (Ella Rubin), and takes heart from this, having just cracked open some psychological scars from his own unsteady family dynamics.

Hathaway, so exceptional as a vastly different character in James Gray’s “Armageddon Time,” knows not to make a huge, histrionic thing out of this scene. She plays it with unpredictably paced and timed fragments of complicated feeling, tense hesitations and charged, messy, angry memories bubbling over. It feels truly spontaneous, and alive. And then? Then, Galitzine is required to summarize, like a junior-level script reader: “We’re just two people with trust issues who need to open up a little.”

Here’s the setup. By accident, while accompanying daughter Izzy and her friends to the Coachella music festival, Solène bumps into Hayes in his personal trailer, which she mistakes for a weirdly spacious port-a-potty. Boom, smitten! Mutually! At first he’s ready to act on it; she’s not, because A.) He’s 24, she’s 40, and B.) What would her daughter think? But Hayes shows up at Solène’s Silver Lake gallery, causing a fuss and promptly buying its entire contents. One sandwich and heart-to-heart later, the affair is off and running, in secret at first, lest the tabloids and Izzy get wind of it, which they do.

“The Idea of You” does everything it can, and a lot more than it should, to repackage a popular bestseller with lots of sex for a touchier mainstream audience. The ages have been changed to protect the nervous: Instead of a 39-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man/boy, the movie adjusts it out of teenager adjacency, settling for 40 and 24.

More unfortunate, I think, the key characters are no longer people of color. And, thanks to the state of Georgia’s industry-best tax credits, this highly L.A.-specific storyline makes do with a handful of second-unit shots of the actual, hilly, now insanely expensive Silver Lake neighborhood, while most of the filming makes do with Atlanta and Savannah.

No one wants documentary realism with something like this; they just want romantic fantasy. But the movie’s version of Solène feels less like a motivated woman throwing caution to the wind, and more like two different characters, one fighting against the other, sharing one person’s head-space and storyline. This struggle continues all the way to an ending that upends the ending of the book, in hopes of sending people home (wait, sorry, it’s on Prime Video, they’re already home) happy all the way. The right ending is right there, in the second-to-last ending: a nicely judged shot of Solène nonverbally reflecting on the past few weeks, in a simple, compelling close-up.

Director Showalter has made a lot of enjoyable small- and large-screen work, notably in finessing the comic and dramatic strands of “The Big Sick” (2017), which found a large and gratified audience. With “The Idea of You,” the adaptation favors warm, fuzzy and easygoing, with a little sex in nice hotels. It’s probably enough for folks to like it, although ardent fans of the novel may balk at the changes. Either way, if it weren’t for the actress above the title, these pretty-people-problems wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

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‘THE IDEA OF YOU’

2.5 stars (out of 4) 

MPA rating: R (for some language and sexual content)

Running time: 1:55

How to watch: On Prime Video May 2

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©2024 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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