Anne Hathaway finds love with a pop star in 'The Idea of You' : Pop Culture Happy Hour The new movie The Idea Of You tells the story of a boy band star (Nicholas Galitzine) who falls in love with an older divorced mother (Anne Hathaway). It's based on a hit novel that's at least partially inspired by Harry Styles' life and career.

Anne Hathaway finds love with a pop star in 'The Idea of You'

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:

The new movie "The Idea Of You" tells the story of a boy band star who falls in love with an older woman. It's based on a hit novel that's at least partially inspired by the life and career of Harry Styles.

LINDA HOLMES, HOST:

The film stars Anne Hathaway as a divorced mom and Nicholas Galitzine as the singer she ends up dating. I'm Linda Holmes.

THOMPSON: And I'm Stephen Thompson. Today, we are talking about "The Idea Of You" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THOMPSON: Joining us today is Wailin Wong. She's the co-host of NPR's daily economics podcast The Indicator from Planet Money. Hi, Wailin.

WAILIN WONG, BYLINE: Hi.

THOMPSON: Also with us is co-host of Slate's "ICYMI" podcast and former POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR producer Candice Lim. Hey, Candice.

CANDICE LIM: Hello.

THOMPSON: So "The Idea Of You" tells the story of a pop star named Hayes, who sings in a boy band called August Moon. Hayes is 24 with great hair and tattoos and is played by Nicholas Galitzine. You might remember him from his work as the prince in "Red, White & Royal Blue." Hayes' band is playing at Coachella when he meets a 40-year-old single mom named Solene. She's played by Anne Hathaway. Soon, he's showing up at her art gallery, buying up everything in sight and generally courting her. She's more hesitant, given the age and fame gap between them.

And that's kind of the movie right there. They date. They have complications. They date some more. They have more complications. Where "The Idea Of You" has drawn the most attention in terms of both the movie and Robinne Lee's book, on which it's based, is in the echoes of Harry Styles. Like Hayes, Harry Styles was in a boy band, in this case, One Direction, and he's had his own reputation for dating older women. And he's also got great hair and tattoos.

"The Idea Of You" was directed and co-written by Michael Showalter, who directed "The Big Sick" and "The Eyes Of Tammy Faye." The film is streaming now on Prime Video, and we should note that Amazon supports NPR and pays to distribute some of our content. Wailin Wong, I'm going to start with you. What did you think of "The Idea Of You"?

WONG: Oh, I really liked it, and I've been waiting for this movie for a long time 'cause I read the book years ago. I loved the book. And so I was just over the moon, over the August Moon...

HOLMES: Wow.

THOMPSON: Wow. I see what you did there.

WONG: ...When I heard that Anne Hathaway was cast as the lead because I just think - you know, I love Anne Hathaway. I've always stood by Anne Hathaway, and I was very excited to see her in this movie. And I think that she is, like, at the peak of her powers. I really, really liked her performance here. And she's actually the age of the character that she's playing, which is, like, great to see. I know the bar is so low for this stuff, but I was excited that she's actually the age of the character. And I just like the romance. They really sell it. I really bought into their connection.

And I also like that most of what they do, like, makes sense. They're not doing boneheaded things that a lot of rom-com characters do just to advance the plot. Like, the complications that they're navigating feel real. I mean, they're obviously heightened because he's so famous and everything, and this is, like, a heightened romance story, but it feels kind of true to the world that they inhabit. And ultimately, to me, it was, like, a movie about two people who are really drawn to each other, and they're navigating a complex situation, and they look amazing while they're doing it. So I had a fabulous time.

THOMPSON: All right. How about you, Candice?

LIM: I love this movie so much. I was so happy, smiling the entire time. I didn't feel a second of its run time. And there was this genuine joy because I have this deeply held belief that Michael Showalter made this exactly for me. I mean, the fact that they start the movie off with "Light On" by Maggie Rogers - I was like, that is my favorite song from her first album. How dare you? And then the plot itself and the fact that it possibly has fanfiction origins, that it's possibly about this boy band who I to this day claim as, like, the greatest concert I've ever been to.

I think, in general, just putting this in context between this and "Challengers" and "Bridgerton," everyone needs to put their yearning boots on because it's kissing season. And the energy of this was - it was like the Dua Lipa of movies for me. And so I was here for it, and I just feel like it is the season of good smooching, so I'm so happy.

WONG: Oh, my God. I never took my yearning boots off, Candice.

THOMPSON: Wow.

WONG: These boots were made for yearning. That's what I'm saying.

LIM: That's right. That's right. That's right.

THOMPSON: I would like to rewatch this movie through Candice's eyes.

LIM: Please do. Please do.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: OK. So, Linda, I watched this movie with you.

HOLMES: You did.

THOMPSON: I know that your experience was dissimilar to Candice's.

HOLMES: Yeah, I did not like this movie at all. I also never take my yearning boots off. I am with you, Candice, on "Bridgerton," and I'm also with you on "Challengers." I wish I could be with you on this movie because I, too, am a long-standing Anne Hathaway stan. I think she has been wonderful in so many, many, many, many things. I agree. I'm so delighted that she's getting to play a romance as a 40 - you know, about a 40-year-old woman, which, I mean, listen, talk about a low bar, as you say.

THOMPSON: Seriously.

HOLMES: I also really liked Nicholas Galitzine in "Red, White & Royal Blue."

LIM: Yeah.

HOLMES: I thought he was very charming in that. I believed him as a prince. Unfortunately, I did not believe him in this. I thought that he was not a particularly believable boy band member. One of the things I said to Stephen after this movie was over is that this might have been a better movie for me if Adam Schlesinger were still alive - Adam Schlesinger, who wrote "That Thing You Do! " and did a lot of the - has done a lot of the best songs as plot points. But I thought if you had gotten somebody who really could have written good music for this band and this singer, I probably would have potentially bought into the movie a little bit more.

But my bigger issue with it is she's older than he is. He's famous, and that's crazy. And to me, they just kind of cycled through arguments about that throughout the movie as many times as it takes for the movie to be long enough, and then the movie ends. And I did not think that the conflict and the direction of the story had a shape. I think there's a moment in which her daughter's reactions to the whole thing change for no particular reason, and it kind of changes the entire nature of the relationship. I have liked some of Showalter's stuff - not all, but some. Now, I will say - and I told this to Candice and Wailin before we started - my screening of this movie was attended by what I assume are Harry Styles people or book people. I don't know which it is...

LIM: Yeah.

HOLMES: ...But very, very, very, very excited people who were as eager to see this movie as it sounds like Candice and Wailin were. But in their case, it took the form of laughing hysterically at things that were not jokes, laughing extra hysterically at anything that was a joke. It was such an over-the-top crowd reaction that I felt like I was at a fan event rather than at a movie. And it soured the experience for me a little bit. I'm going to be curious to kind of fire this up when I'm at home in a low-pressure situation and see if I like it better, 'cause I might. But in this setting, I did not like this movie at all.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: Yeah, I don't think I was quite as negative as Linda. I was at the same screening in the same basic spot in the theater. And for me, I think where this movie really tripped me up wasn't even necessarily in the crafting of these songs. And we're going to get into the songs a little bit, 'cause it sounds like we have a pretty wide range of opinion on these songs.

The songs in this film were written by Savan Kotecha, who has worked with One Direction, has worked with huge, huge pop stars like Ariana Grande, has, like, a very, very impressive pop songwriting pedigree. And one of the things that he worked on was the songs from the "Eurovision Song Contest" movie, including "Husavik," which was nominated for best original song at the Oscars and whose defeat at the Oscars made me as angry...

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: ...As any decision the Oscars has - have made in a long time. The film completely does not work if the songs are not amazing.

LIM: Right.

THOMPSON: Here, to me, the songs are not amazing. And part of what that says to me is these songs were not staged in this film in a way that brought out the intensity that they needed to have.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE IDEA OF YOU")

NICHOLAS GALITZINE: (As Hayes Campbell, singing ) I know that you know I make you blush. And I know that you think I talk too much, 'cause I do. Yeah, I do.

THOMPSON: This movie might have really soared if these pop songs had been staged the way, say, the songs in "A Star Is Born" are staged. You remember in "A Star Is Born," where, like, the songs are so vibrant...

HOLMES: Yeah.

THOMPSON: ...You feel like you're on stage experiencing what it would be like to perform these songs in front of a crowd. And to me, the songs feel like they're shot on an iPhone from 800 rows back. They don't pop. I wanted to be immersed a little bit more. And instead, there's this weird, flattening effect. And I'm really mixed on the filmmaking of Michael Showalter. Like, I loved "The Big Sick"...

HOLMES: Yeah.

THOMPSON: ...But I really hated "The Eyes of Tammy Faye." I like these performers, but I didn't really believe them here. And I guess that's where this movie kind of fell for me. Maybe it's going to be different watching it at home, and it'll be like "Red, White & Royal Blue," where it's like, yeah, that's fine. That was fun. I wanted to be swept away by it, and I wasn't.

WONG: I guess I'm curious kind of what Candice, as a big One Direction fan, kind of makes of the music and how that fed into, like, your...

THOMPSON: Yeah. Me, too.

WONG: ...Enjoyment of it, because I agree with you, Stephen, that, like, the songs, like, did nothing for me. They were, like, instantly forgettable, and so they just kind of passed me by. And it actually wasn't until you and Linda were talking about how songs have been incorporated really well into other films that I started thinking about this counterfactual of, like, the movie that could have been.

But, like, for me, I really keyed into the more quiet moments between Hayes and Solene. Those are, like, the non-big-concert moments. Those are just, like, when they're talking or when they're at her house. And I've brought up hands before on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. I love a scene of hands touching. And, like...

THOMPSON: (Laughter)

WONG: ...The first time that they make physical contact, the camera pans down, and you see that they started...

LIM: Yeah.

WONG: ...To hold hands, and I, like, died. Like...

(LAUGHTER)

WONG: ...I love that so much. And so (laughter) I guess I'm POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR's, like, hands correspondent now. But, like...

(LAUGHTER)

WONG: I don't know. I just really liked...

HOLMES: Awesome. Love it.

WONG: I really like those, like, really quiet moments. And so, like, the concert scenes, I was like - the concert scenes didn't really do it for me. Like, I didn't feel that sense of, like, I'm immersed in this, like, big, exciting frenzy of a concert. But I wasn't looking for that necessarily, if that makes sense.

LIM: Yeah. Yeah. OK, so let's talk about the Harry Styles. Let's talk about the music of it all.

THOMPSON: Yeah.

LIM: So I think that Robinne Lee, author of the book, has kind of gone around it that this is kind of allegedly a metaphor for Harry Styles. There are some holes in this, and I'll bring up two or three, one of which...

(LAUGHTER)

LIM: ...I think Hayes Campbell, Nicholas Galitzine's character, is more of a Liam Payne, OK? Vocally, he's more of a Liam Payne, just the way he sings.

THOMPSON: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

LIM: But the other thing is that, one, a traditional pop boy band has never headlined Coachella. So that's already kind of, like...

THOMPSON: Sure.

LIM: ...A barrier-to-reality entry. But the second...

THOMPSON: I did roll my eyes at them being at Coachella.

LIM: Right.

THOMPSON: For sure.

LIM: Exactly. And the fact that it's not a reunion - that was also kind of weird.

HOLMES: I had a little trouble telling, like, what phase of their career they're supposed to be in...

LIM: Yes. This is real...

THOMPSON: Yes. Me, too.

LIM: ...Interesting.

THOMPSON: It kind of depended.

HOLMES: ...'Cause sometimes, it seemed like they had peaked already.

LIM: Yes.

HOLMES: And they were more of, like, a nostalgia act.

THOMPSON: Well - and they allude...

LIM: Yeah.

THOMPSON: ...To that.

HOLMES: But other times, it seemed like they were still so hot that, like, paparazzi would...

THOMPSON: The paparazzi are hounding them everywhere.

HOLMES: ...Camp out for days and days to get a picture of somebody's girlfriend.

LIM: Right.

HOLMES: So, like, I couldn't really figure out - what place in the firmament of celebrity and music is this band currently supposed to occupy? Candice, help me understand.

LIM: No, that is a question I asked, too, because if we're being very honest, boy bands don't last that long. They maybe get a presidential term of, like, four years, and then they got to either do the solo thing or just...

THOMPSON: Right.

LIM: ...Leave society.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: Leave society, but then come back for another wave of nostalgia.

LIM: There you go. Let's talk about the music. I really liked it, guys.

(LAUGHTER)

LIM: I think "Dance Before We Walk" is a nominee at the Oscars for best original song.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE IDEA OF YOU")

AUGUST MOON: (Singing) We're going to dance before we walk. Off the moon, and I'm hitting the ground like a rocket. We're going to dance before we walk. Took a shot, and I'm putting it right in the pocket. We're going to dance...

LIM: I need to really put myself in context, which is that I knew One Direction from, like, "X Factor" all the way till solo career. And so when you tell me...

THOMPSON: Sure.

LIM: ...That "Dance Before We Walk" was written by the same guy who did "What Makes You Beautiful," I'm like, click, click, click, bye. I love that.

And if we want to talk about Hayes Campbell as a solo artist, walking into this movie, the imprint was always there of, like, is this going to be cheesy? Is the comp of Harry to Hayes to 1D to August Moon - is it going to be too cheesy for me to understand and believe this? I was waiting for them to get something wrong. And even if they did stumble a little bit, I think what is believable to me is the fact that Harry Styles has kind of this, like, irreverent appeal and this charisma that is kind of, like, all-knowing around him of just, like, he can get you and your mom. And I think to me...

WONG: (Laughter).

LIM: ...That worked in the movie. I was like, I understand why Hayes would like Solene. And I think that was the hurdle of, like, can Solene like Hayes? And I - it got there for me. It got there.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE IDEA OF YOU")

GALITZINE: (As Hayes Campbell) I think you're smart. And, you know, you're also just - you're hot or whatever.

ANNE HATHAWAY: (As Solene) Hot (laughter)?

GALITZINE: (As Hayes Campbell) Or whatever.

HOLMES: I did not understand why she liked him. And I did not understand what appealed to her about him other than sex, which is fine, right? Like, other than that he's hot, I don't think his personality is...

THOMPSON: No.

HOLMES: ...Engaging enough that I believe that she really falls for him. And in particular, when he comes to her art gallery and buys everything in this just kind of, like, I'll buy everything, and it's meant to be this kind of approach of her, like, that he likes her, that he's, like, making a move on her - she kind of calls that out for being really rude, and it is really rude. He pretty clearly doesn't understand what she does or why she cares about it.

And so I think there's, like, an effort to be, like, oh, but then she kind of explains art to him. And it's like, I don't - I just - it wasn't enough to me. I didn't understand why she would actually want to be in a relationship with this guy, as opposed to have a fling with this guy, which is very believable.

LIM: Yeah, I can answer this. I can answer this.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

LIM: To me, this movie is a coming-of-age movie. There's a scene where Anne Hathaway basically slaps that "Les Mis" Oscar on the table. And it's this dining room scene where she makes a sandwich for Hayes Campbell. And she's telling him, like, what happened between her and her ex-husband.

Solene is coming into her 40s. She is coming into her sexuality at that age where you just have to let go of what people think of you in order to harness what is true freedom in the modern era. It was about Solene, and it was about a woman removing this judgment that she thinks is from society, but is really from within, 'cause it is a judgment. And it is a self-dialogue that was put there by someone else. And it is obviously mirrored through the stan-culture hate she gets when it's revealed - when Hayes is...

THOMPSON: Right.

LIM: ...Like, dating her. But there is something about the way that criticism - both self and outside of her - has kind of, like, reverberated into her DNA like a parasite. And to me, Nicholas Galitzine is the antidote to that disease, and that's what the movie's really about.

WONG: I think I read it the - in a similar way as you, Candice - that I saw this as more like Solene's journey. And so I was...

THOMPSON: Yeah.

WONG: ...A little bit less invested in Hayes as a character, and thus was also more able to forgive the fact that you don't really - to Linda's point - find out what drives him, what makes him tick, who he really is.

THOMPSON: Yeah.

WONG: He's, like, a vehicle for Solene to have some life experiences that I (laughter) really...

THOMPSON: Sure.

WONG: ...Wanted her...

LIM: Yeah.

WONG: ...To have. And so I think for me, I was able to forgive a lot. But I do take your point that you don't really figure out what Hayes is about. And I think I was, like, coasting largely on vibes (laughter).

LIM: Yeah. Yeah.

HOLMES: This should have been a movie about a fling. That's what I think. This should have been...

WONG: I agree with that.

HOLMES: ...A movie about a fling.

WONG: I agree with that.

HOLMES: And it should not have been a movie that tries to argue that these people belong together in the long term, which is what the movie ultimately posits.

LIM: I kind of walked out of this movie asking, does it matter if Hayes is a fully formed character because the whole point of a boy band is to basically create white cardboard unto which to project your desires onto? And that...

THOMPSON: Sure.

LIM: ...Kind of leads me to...

THOMPSON: OK.

LIM: ...What I...

WONG: Yeah.

LIM: ...Also think this movie really is about...

WONG: Oh.

LIM: ...Which is stan culture, which is the fact that if we really want to go one-to-one on this, you know, I think this movie is a response to the overwhelmingly sexist, ageist, often racist behavior of stan culture, because in this movie, you know, what will people say about our age gap? Are you ashamed of being with me once it's out? It's, I can't handle what people are saying about me. And I think that Hayes' desire for Solene...

WONG: Yeah.

LIM: ...Is probably the fact that she is a woman who has kind of grown this barrier to protect herself, but she is strong. She is all of the things that he is not. And I think to me, this movie is also trying to capture how it doesn't matter, like, how old you are, how grown you are, how strong you are, how loved you are. You are just never prepared for how vile the internet can be as a woman. And...

THOMPSON: Yeah.

LIM: ...There's a part where Anne Hathaway says something along the lines of, why are people so mad that I'm so happy? I think this movie is kind of talking about the fact that all of these things and private jets and security and just, like, dating the Hayes Campbell of your existence...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

LIM: ...It is not enough to protect you from the toxicity of fame, which is in the water. And it is like a disease that infects everyone around you. And if this is an idea that Michael Showalter was trying to put out there, I heard it. I read it. And I think he's right about it.

WONG: I mean, I read that, but I feel like they didn't go far enough with that theme.

THOMPSON: Right.

LIM: And they could have gone further.

WONG: I think that - like, especially in our kind of social media, Instagram, TikTok age, I think that, you know, if you buy into the film's thesis that he's popular enough to be stalked by paparazzi like this, it would be so much worse. There would be, like, literally a million people outside of Solene's house with their cell phones out - just, like, normies who are stalking them. And I feel like I wish the film had actually leaned more into that 'cause then I think it would have set up some more interesting stakes about, like, is my love for this man worth all of this...

THOMPSON: Right.

LIM: ...Very destructive nonsense? - that is also going to affect her daughter, which - to Linda's earlier point, like, I think they also could have done more with the conflict around the daughter and how the daughter is being affected by the mom's relationship.

And, you know, it's so interesting - this thing we were talking about earlier - about, like, Linda wishes that the movie had been more about a fling than this kind of, like, you know, love-of-my-life, like, defining-relationship-of-my-life kind of thing, because, you know, in the book - and I don't want to kind of, like, spoil anything. But I think the book leans much more into the theme of, you know, what is it like to have a really special, pure thing in your life that comes into your life at a specific time and is what you need? And it's this beautiful thing that then you wrap up in tissue paper, and you put it in a special place in your closet. And you take it out once in a while and look at it, and it's so precious to you. And it's actually all the more precious for not having been a thing that's been with you, but is a thing that lives in this moment in time. I think that if they had mirrored more of the choices of the book, we would have gotten more of those feels, Linda, which are very good feels to feel.

HOLMES: What you are saying is absolutely right, I think. And I think if the film were as interesting as what Candice just said about internet culture, I would probably have given it a gigantic rave. There is a really interesting story here about how - if you decided to get involved with somebody like that, how much you would have to tolerate. And it's almost like - I think the movie has a bunch of different things that it's maybe trying to do. And I think maybe if it had been able to kind of narrow down a little bit and do a little bit less of some of the - like, ultimately having to resolve their relationship in this certain way, maybe it could've kind of spent a little bit more time on the stuff that I think is more interesting.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I just wish - I wish it had trusted its audience a little bit more, I think is what I come away. And I wish it knew a little bit more about the world it was occupying. I don't know. I'm going to really try to see this movie through Candice's eyes.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: All right. Well, we want to know what you think about "The Idea Of You." Find us at facebook.com/pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Wailin Wong, Candice Lim, Linda Holmes, thanks so much for being here.

LIM: Thank you.

WONG: Thank you.

HOLMES: Thank you, Stephen.

THOMPSON: This episode was produced by Liz Metzger and edited by Mike Katzif. Our supervising producer is Jessica Reedy, and Hello Come In provides our theme music. Thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Stephen Thompson, and we will see you all tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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