The Idea of You (Amazon MGM Studios, R)

The Idea of You isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely one of the funniest and most charming movies of the year. Based on the novel by Robinne Lee and directed by Michael Showalter (The Big Sick, The Eyes of Tammy Faye), it’s sort of a diet Notting Hill. We follow 40-year-old single mom and art gallery owner Solène Marchand (Anne Hathaway) as she surprisingly strikes up a fling with 24-year-old Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), the lead singer of a slightly-past-their-prime boy band. The fling turns into a red-hot love affair, and one of the film’s best qualities is that it balances the woozily brilliant chemistry of its two leads with a graceful, introspective side.

Hayes’ band is still famous enough that this new relationship hits the tabloids. Predictably, cameras follow their every move, including those of Solène’s teenage daughter, Izzy (Ella Rubin). Gossip rags and online commenters alike label Solène a “cougar” and much worse. But the biggest — and best-written — source of conflict in the film is Solène’s inner struggle between wanting this whirlwind romance to continue (who wouldn’t?) and doing what’s best for her daughter. Crucially, the film never blames Solène or Hayes for anything going wrong (as I have seen lesser films do to their leads), because they aren’t to blame at all. As one character says late in the film, this stupid world really has a problem with seeing happy women.

When the romance really hits, it certainly feels right, timing be damned. Hathaway — who’s having a bit of an artistic renaissance at the moment, between this and last year’s haunting sapphic thriller Eileen — showcases her ability to portray a three-dimensional human being who can be at once extremely vulnerable and a confident subject of desire. Galitzine trades his iconic goofiness from last year’s Bottoms for just about as layered a performance as Hathaway’s. Hayes knows everyone wants him for his body and/or his status, but with Solène, he’s finally found someone who wants him for him.

Their chemistry is so enjoyable that when we hit an extremely false note involving one of Hayes’ bandmates, the snap back to reality is actually painful. The attempt to shoehorn in extra conflict here is glaringly unconvincing, even for a dreamier romance like this. The lead actors elevated their material to such a high degree that I think any lesser material (or material not delivered by them) is doomed to ring hollow, even if we need to believe it in order to get to the next important plot point. However, the private conversation between Solène and Hayes after this awkward confrontation in the band is extraordinarily well-acted, and thus we are carried along by Hathaway and Galitzine through a few other false notes in the film’s second half. None are worse than that first flub, though.

The Idea of You doesn’t reinvent the romantic comedy genre, but it could very well reinvigorate it. Much of the success or failure of any film in the genre is based on the casting, direction, and performances of the couple at the film’s core, and this movie has core for days. When you get that right, you’re golden. | George Napper

The Idea of You is now available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video

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