Producers: Cathy Schulman, Gabrielle Union, Anne Hathaway, Robinne Lee, Eric Hayes, Michael Showalter and Jordana Mollick   Director: Michael Showalter   Screenplay: Michael Showalter and Jennifer Westfeldt   Cast: Anne Hathaway, Nicholas Galitzine, Ella Rubin, Reid Scott, Annie Mumolo, Viktor White, Raymond Cham, Jaiden Anthony, Dakota Adan, Perry Mattfeld, Mathilda Gianopoulos and Jordan Aaron Hall   Distributor: Amazon MGM Studios

Grade: C

Though it’s being advertised as a romantic comedy, there are actually very few laughs in the film director Michael Showalter and his co-writer Jordana Mollick have adapted from actress-turned-novelist Robinne Lee’s 2017 book.  “The Idea of You” is more of a soapy drama with songs, and one that never goes beyond a skin-deep level.    

Basically it’s the old saw about an older woman and a younger man, and the shock their relationship causes—a distinctly hypocritical reaction, as is repeatedly made clear, since romances between older men and much younger women have always been a staple, not least on screen.  In this case, though, the ante is upped because the guy is a member of a boy band that the woman’s daughter has long been a fan of.

On the surface that might sound icky, except that the band, August Moon, might be thought of as a geriatric example of such a group: it’s been around for ten years, and lead singer Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine) is now twenty-four.  Solène Marchand (Anne Hathaway), the female half of the equation, is a Los Angeles art dealer just turning forty, and the divorced mother of Izzy (Ella Rubin), a high school junior no longer swooning over August Moon, which she pronounces “so seventh grade.”  (At least she doesn’t play music critic and say “second grade,” though the original songs we hear them perform, created for the movie by Savan Kotecha, have the sound of bland bubblegum pop.)

Solène is guilted by her ex Daniel (Reid Scott) into taking Izzy and her pals to Coachella—a trip that he’d planned but bowed out of for business reasons.  He’d also sprung for VIP passes to meet the August Moon fivesome, oblivious to the fact that his daughter had aged out of being a fan.  At the festival Solène encounters Hayes in an especially stupid variant of the obligatory meet-cute, wandering into his trailer in search of a restroom, and they strike up a conversation.  Days later he comes to her gallery, to purchase artwork he says, but in actuality to find her.  They quickly hit it off at her place, though they intend to keep the relationship quiet.

That intention, of course, leads to his inviting her to accompany him on the group’s European tour, and to her agreeing; certainly in this era of ubiquitous camera phones there could be no chance of Hayes being captured for posterity smooching his “art advisor” on an Italian beach, could there? 

Well, as it happens things do, not surprisingly, go wrong, not only in that respect but in others, when a bandmate lets slip some information about Hayes’ past dating patterns that disconcerts Solène and persuades her that she’s made a mistake.  When she gets back to California and finds not only that social media has exploded against her but that Izzy’s life has been turned upside down, not only does she conclude that a continuation of romance with the singer, however sweet and sensitive a fellow he might be overall, is simply impossible.  (Daniel’s anger she simply disdains, noting his own infidelity with a much younger woman.)  But a coda set five years later, after things have changed—with Hayes, now gone on his own as a singer (and nearly thirty), and a self-confident Izzy off studying in Chicago—she might feel differently when he shows up on her doorstep.

“The Idea of You” benefits from its leads.  Hathaway, showing both that her skill at light romance remains undiminished and that she can handle more dramatic moments with conviction, is quite charming even when she’s forced to put across some mediocre writing, and Galitzine is a handsome, likable fellow who can handle the vocal requirements of Hayes’ stage and TV performances with ease.  The picture is essentially a two-hander, but the supporting cast is fine, with Scott making an especially persuasive cad.  Technically matters are in good hands, with a pleasant production design (Amy Williams), cheery costumes (Jacqueline Demeterio) and nice cinematography (Jim Frohna); Siddharta Khosla’s background score as the virtue of simply not being irritating, a relative rarity in such stuff.  The movie does go on too long—it’s nearly two hours, and tends to plod—but that’s probably more the fault of Showalter’s sense of pacing than of Peter Teschner’s editing.

“The Idea of You,” which seems to have aimed for its R rating by including a couple of steamy moments of intimacy and a few off-handed F-bombs, has a shopworn premise and doesn’t amount to much, but the agreeable pairing of Hathaway and Galitzine makes it go down more easily than it has any right to, especially since it’s available streaming (Prime Video) as well as in theatres.