Nicole Kidman and Anne Hathaway Explode the Age-Gap Discourse

After decades of the older man/younger woman cliché in Hollywood, “A Family Affair” and “The Idea of You” may change how we think about age gaps in film.Updated Jun. 30, 2024 9:29AM EDT / Published Jun. 30, 2024 3:31AM EDT Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images, Amazon Studios and NetflixSome things in life are inevitable: Death, taxes, and somebody dredging

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After decades of the older man/younger woman cliché in Hollywood, “A Family Affair” and “The Idea of You” may change how we think about age gaps in film.

Barry Levitt

A photo illustraiton showing Nicole Kidman in Family Affair and Anne Hathaway in The Idea of You.

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images, Amazon Studios and Netflix

Some things in life are inevitable: Death, taxes, and somebody dredging up discourse about age-gap relationships. The mere act of dating someone significantly older (or younger) than you seems inherently controversial, as if two consenting adults can’t simply be attracted to each other. In Hollywood, age-gap relationships are commonplace; it’s become the norm to see men in their fifties and sixties romancing women half their age.

When it comes to older women in relationships with younger men, examples are few and far between. This has created a significant imbalance that suggests older men are still attractive and romanceable at any age, but women have an expiration date attached to their sex appeal (which was brilliantly parodied in Inside Amy Schumer). That age gap conversation is certain to start up again this weekend, with the release of the new Netflix film A Family Affair. Directed by Richard LaGravenese, the film follows a romance between actor Chris (Zac Efron) and writer Brooke (Nicole Kidman), who is 16 years his senior.

Remarkably, A Family Affair isn’t the only 2024 film that features a relationship between a woman and a man 16 years younger. Directed by Michael Showalter, The Idea of You stars Anne Hathaway as working mom Solène, who strikes up a surprising romance with boy band star Hayes (Nicholas Galitzine). But A Family Affair and The Idea of You are more than just explorations of older women dating younger men and what that entails: They’re both a major repudiation of common age-gap discourse. These movies are ready to detonate that conversation once and for all.

The Idea of You and A Family Affair propose a radical idea: women in their forties and beyond are deserving of love, romance, and steamy sex. Moreover, not only are they deserving, but they can find that love with a younger man.

(Warning: Spoilers for The Idea of You and A Family Affair ahead!)

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t fall head over heels for Anne Hathaway or Nicole Kidman. Both films, thankfully, don’t reduce the actresses to their beauty; both Kidman and Hathaway deliver fantastic performances that highlight how age is merely one aspect of an entire human being.

Anne Hathaway as Solène and Nicholas Galitzine as Hayes Campbell in The Idea of You

Anne Hathaway as Solène and Nicholas Galitzine as Hayes Campbell in The Idea of You

Courtesy of Prime

The Idea Of You doesn’t shy away from the challenges of an age-gap relationship, particularly when that relationship is under media scrutiny. When Solène and Hayes finally go public with their love, the backlash is aggressive and immediate. One appearance together at an art gallery unleashes a storm of headlines, including, “Cougar!! What’s he thinking??” (TMZ), “August Moon in Jeopardy?” (Buzzfeed), “No Hayes No! What About The Band?” (People), “Yoko Ono 2.0?!” (Daily Mail), alongside speculation about Solène cheating, being pregnant to entrap Hayes, and their relationship being in crisis.

These news stories all follow a similar line of a) placing the blame for any controversy in their relationship on Solène and b) assuming Hayes is a puerile innocent incapable of making his own decisions. Both ideas are insidious and speak to the problem with the misogynistic way the media deals with relationships, especially when there’s a difference in age—and even more so when it’s the woman who is older. Instead of framing the couple as a new, exciting romance between consenting adults, it’s viewed under the lens of a predatory woman seeking to tear apart her younger beau, as if Solène is a haggard old witch seeking to drain Hayes of his youth. That couldn’t be further from the truth—seriously, it’s hard to put into words just how radiant Hathaway is in this film. If anything, Hayes is trying to take Solène’s eternal youth!

Smartly, Showalter shows these headlines in a montage with images of Solène and Hayes happily in love, and alongside scenes of Hayes recording a new song for his band. This juxtaposition highlights just how ludicrous and sensationalized the media attention is, as boyband August Moon is not at risk. If anything, Hayes’ new relationship has fueled a new level of musical creativity.

In A Family Affair, Brooke and Chris also have a 16-year age gap, but that doesn’t phase either of them. Their age difference is a quick throwaway comment and nothing more. The biggest barrier to Chris and Brooke having a happy romance is not a media hailstorm, but Brooke’s daughter Zara, who also works as Chris’ assistant. Despite being a famous actor, there’s no media conversation about his new relationship whatsoever. Chris is a very private person and avoids paparazzi and any sort of spotlight at every opportunity. This results in a radical approach, highlighting an age-gap relationship where the biggest issue is Zara’s insecurities and nothing in their actual partnership.

Nicole Kidman as Brooke Harwood, Zac Efron as Chris Cole, and Joey King as Zara Ford in A Family Affair

Nicole Kidman as Brooke Harwood, Zac Efron as Chris Cole, and Joey King as Zara Ford in A Family Affair

Tina Rowden/Netflix

While many people question Solène’s intentions in The Idea of You, the onus for accountability is placed on Chris in A Family Affair—especially by Zara, who’s rather horrified that the boss she can’t stand is sleeping with her mother. “What in the world could this playboy possibly want with my mom?” Zara wonders. But when Zara isn’t around to judge her, it’s pretty clear that Brooke is a fascinating woman, and Chris’ desire to be with her makes perfect sense. Everything about their relationship works: They’re both hot, and their chemistry is instantaneous. Their conversations are smart and intimate, and they both seek the same thing: a sexy companion alongside whom they can enjoy a quiet day. It’s possibly the most interesting representation of an older woman-younger man relationship yet, as the film mocks the furor over age-gap relationships by ignoring it completely.

The Idea of You explores not only the way the media piles on to attack such couples, but how that discourse spreads and infects even the people closest to the woman involved, like Solène, making it feel like the romance is all but impossible to continue. If the people you trust most have turned against you, what hope is there? “I didn’t know my being happy would piss so many people off,” Sol says, exhausted and overwhelmed by the backlash for her daring to be in love. “People hate happy women,” her friend Tracy (Annie Mumolo) responds.

Sol and Hayes’ breakup is a natural point for The Idea of You to end. But Showalter has no such intention, adding a coda that shatters our expectations. The film jumps ahead five years, and while the two are no longer together, Hayes surprises Sol by showing up at her art gallery. The sheer joy on both their faces is undeniable, and while the film cuts to black before either says anything, it’s clear, at least to me, that they’re ready to give their love a second chance.

The same goes for Brooke and Chris. Their relationship comes to an end when Zara interferes, but when Zara realizes that Chris genuinely loves her mother, she organizes a grocery store meet-cute to reunite them. It’s there that they decide to get back together, and a flash-forward to one year later reveals that they’re still happily in love and thriving.

Movies have long suggested that real romance happens between an older man and a younger woman, but these two movies shake up that cliché. Age, after all, is just a number.

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