The problem with that "Idea of You" ending

Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine are swoon-worthy leads, but I wasn't convinced by the rom-com's conclusion

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer

Published May 7, 2024 4:59PM (EDT)

Nicholas Galitzine and Anne Hathaway in "The Idea of You" (Alisha Wetherill/Prime)
Nicholas Galitzine and Anne Hathaway in "The Idea of You" (Alisha Wetherill/Prime)

I've always wanted to be in my own fan fiction. As a teenager who grew up at the height of One Direction's undeniable global fame and Harry Styles' ascension into one of the first British Gen Z heartthrobs, I was one of millions of young teens who wanted to be in an age-gap relationship with the curly haired pop star.

The new Prime Video romantic comedy "The Idea of You," adapted from the novel of the same name, follows this same fan fiction-like blueprint however the age gap between its central characters Solène (Anne Hathaway) and Hayes (Nicholas Galitzine) is reversed. Solène is a 39-year-old gallerist in Los Angeles, who's also a recent divorcée and a mother to a teenager. Her life is flipped on its head when she has a meet-cute with Hayes, the 24-year-old frontman to British boyband August Moon.

The couple has a push-and-pull chemistry until they both give into their desires and indulge in a secret rendezvous across Europe on August Moon's global tour. However, Solène personally grapples with the implications, guilt and shame attached to dating a male celebrity who is 16 years younger than her. It leads to a seesawing on-and-off dynamic between Hayes and Solène, mired in self-doubt and Solène's battle with ageism.

Ultimately, they attempt to rekindle their relationship one last time and this time they do it publicly until it becomes too much for Solène's teenage daughter, Izzy (Ella Rubin). As the world grows fascinated with their age-gap relationship, it forces their breakup to be their last . . . that is until the movie leaps five years into the future when Hayes is 29 and Solène is 44.

After years apart, in true movie magic form, their relationship is now socially acceptable. Their happy ending is almost as believable as the plastered facial hair on Galitzine's youthful face to signify his maturity. As someone who is a sucker for a predictable, rom-com ending, Hayes and Solène's happily ever after didn't move me. In actuality, it only further pushed me to question the authenticity of their age gap and their entire relationship. 

Robinne Lee's 2017 novel, on which the film is based, offers an ending that's a stark contrast to the movie's happily ever after. The book ends with 20-year-old Hayes and 39-year-old Solène at a standstill. Similar to the film, when Izzy's classmates begin tormenting her about her mother's relationship, Solène unilaterally decides it's over. She tells Hayes that she has responsibilities that include her daughter and her career. She is not 20.

"'You love me,' he said. 'You loved me. You said you loved me. Why are you doing this?'"

"And I realized, then, that there was only one way to truly let him go. 'Maybe it wasn’t you,' I said. 'Maybe it was the idea of you.'"

Lee had told Elle that she never considered "The Idea of You" was a true romance novel. It was always supposed to be contemporary women’s fiction.

“I was really shocked when my publisher packaged it more as a romance,” Lee said to Elle, “and then readers who would come to me expecting that it was a romance wanted more, like, ‘Where’s my happy ending? And are you going to write a sequel?’” She continues, “I was like, ‘No, this is a one-off. It’s one story. Not every love story ends happily.'"

The author's vision was clear to me while watching "The Idea of You" because of how all of the action played out. However, I understand that backlash to the absence of a happily ever after is reason enough why screenwriters Jennifer Westfeldt and Michael Showalter altered the ending.

Nevertheless, this shifts the essence and purpose of Lee's intention for "The Idea of You." In the book, the love affair between Hayes and Solène is supposed to act as a gender reversal to all the age-old stories, films and couples in our society between young women and older men. It's supposed to challenge the viewers' perspective on what women looking for love and acceptance in their 40s look like. Lee illustrated that single women in their 40s should have the ability to live their lives without the ageist judgment forced upon them, such as relying on a man for happiness.

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Moreover, the movie's selling point is Anne Hathaway's star quality. Her radiance and comfort as a romantic lead are palpable even with the cringy dialogue and fantastical, instant love between Hayes and Solène. As viewers, we see Solène through Hayes' love-struck eyes. She is so clearly easy to love because of her passion for art, her dedication to motherhood and her community of friends, even though she has trust issues and a complicated history with her ex-husband. But that doesn't mean her relationship with Hayes is the right one or could even stand the test of societal ostracism and misogyny aimed at women who date younger men in real life.

When the movie jumps five years into the future, it asks its audience to wipe the age gap from our minds so that Solène and Hayes can reunite. But it is an inauthentic choice made by its screenwriters because in real life their age gap would be continuously dissected and scrutinized by the public regardless of how old the man is. I mean, Harry Styles was 28 when he began dating 38-year-old Olivia Wilde, and that was criticized. People still vehemently reject the 23-year age gap between Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Sam Taylor-Johnson which started when Aaron was 17 or 18.

Sometimes a happily ever after isn't the right fit for a movie so dead set on taking so much commentary from reality. Solène deserved the personal happy ending that emphasized her embracing agency as a 40-something woman free to make empowered and authentic decisions in love. I don't really think in reality, she would've happily chosen to end up with a 29-year-old washed-up former boyband member.

By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Age Gap Anne Hathaway Commentary Prime Video Rom-com Romance The Idea Of You