The Idea of Them: Anne Hathaway and Ryan Gosling, Millennial Movie Stars

Movies Features Anne Hathaway
The Idea of Them: Anne Hathaway and Ryan Gosling, Millennial Movie Stars

At the moment, the emergence of a movie like The Fall Guy or The Idea of You, largely dependent on star turns from the likes of Ryan Gosling or Anne Hathaway, is often positioned as oppositional to the Disney franchise machine that values recycled brands over whatever star power actors are able to add to them. Yet many of these stars – Hathaway and Gosling are just two; Zendaya, whose Challengers is currently flying the flag for smartly adult-targeted entertainment, is another – do originate from that Disney machine. Gosling got his start on the Mickey Mouse Club revival, logging his time the same season as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake; Hathaway got hers a little later, starring in The Princess Diaries and its sequel. It’s one of several ways they have both come to seem like our most quintessentially millennial movie stars, both in terms of their birth and when they became famous.

Like kids born to prosperous boomer parents, Gosling and Hathaway had a major leg up from their early association with Disney (and, as with boomers, something that looked more sinister in retrospect). At the same time, neither of them were quite famous enough as official or symbolic Mouseketeers that they needed to declare independence with quite so much insistence as some of their peers. (Yes, Hathaway did a risqué movie called Havoc early on, but as far as anyone could tell, it was released directly to Mr. Skin dot com.) That grounded sensibility is reflected in both The Idea of You and The Fall Guy, which have their megawatt stars playing characters who wind up fame-adjacent, a presentation not uncommon for vehicles that want to acknowledge the otherworldliness of their stars without quite indulging them. Gosling’s Colt Seavers is a stunt double for a preening, globally famous actor played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, something of an in-joke given that Gosling is more of a household name than the guy he’s supposed to be interchangeable with (or maybe a different sort of in-joke predicated on the idea that even the most popular of today’s stars aren’t as distinctive as bigger figures from Hollywood’s past). Hathaway’s Solène is even further removed from the spotlight, until she’s thrust further into it as the older girlfriend of a beloved pop star.

Their roles both have connections to past and relatively lesser-seen vehicles, as if reprising them for the masses: Ryan Gosling is essentially playing his goofball detective from The Nice Guys, only with somewhat less bumbling physicality, while Anne Hathaway is kinda-sorta remaking an indie project hardly anyone saw called Song One, where her character is also introduced to a musician beloved by someone else in her family (in this case her comatose brother rather than her ex-boyband-fan daughter) and also becomes smitten with his sensitive-musician stylings.

Song One is part of an unofficial 2010s-era series where Hathaway plays (implicitly millennial) women who are Going Through Some Shit, also including the Parkinson’s sufferer in Love & Other Drugs and the alcoholic screw-up of Colossal. The pivot here was less from her Disney Princess status than from the path laid out for her by The Devil Wears Prada, which appeared to lead more toward chick-lit pictures like Bride Wars. Hathaway comes across like a rom-com lead – wholesome smile, Type A precision – but hasn’t actually starred in that many, with Prada and Bride Wars (and her Jane Austen not-exactly biopic Becoming Jane, and her later Nancy Meyers-directed vehicle The Intern) focusing on career and friendships more than traditional romance, mirroring a generational shift in younger city-dwellers. When Hathaway has dabbled in romance, it tends to be more bittersweet, which makes The Idea of You feel like a reconciliation between Hathaway’s rom-com-ready neatness and the disarray of her more daring roles.

That’s in the text of the movie, too, with Solène positioned as a successful gallery owner whose romantic life hasn’t turned out quite as planned, with an early pregnancy and a divorce caused by her husband’s infidelity. Theoretically, it should be a striking balance between Hathaway’s buttoned-up early work, where she often felt as if she was hitting her mark so precisely that her performances had no sense of spontaneity, and the paradoxical relaxation she seemed to feel playing messier women. There’s even a turn where Solène experiences a barrage of vile online comments and unfounded bad press over her new relationship, an aspect of the movie Hathaway could surely relate to, having been on the receiving end of a press-cooked narrative that people hated her try-hard theater-kid smarm (even though that wave of cruelty crested long after she had loosened up on screen; her Les Misérables Oscar came not long after her delightful turn in The Dark Knight Rises).

In fact, The Idea of You seems downright eager to please its star, whose roles haven’t been prone to self-flattery – Hathaway’s major turn as an actress, for example, is the satirical diva of Ocean’s 8. Her new movie can’t stop itself from insisting that Hathaway, one of the most gorgeous and youthful-looking 40-year-olds on the planet, is a harried career mom who feels insecure next to dewier zoomers. (And it’s entirely possible she does IRL, but The Idea of You doesn’t know how to square empowering with unflinching.) It feels beneath her dignity to play the romance-novel heroine whose movie-star specialness needs to be affirmed even as it glows from the screen.

The Fall Guy could be accused of flattering its star, too, despite the lumps Ryan Gosling takes in it: He gets to play the heroic Guy Behind the Guy, even though he’s become the original Guy (that, is a bona fide movie star) in real life. Gosling never made an early detour into crowdpleasing, reflecting a different set of expectations placed on young men in Hollywood as opposed to women; he was allowed, even encouraged, to play troubled young men in The Believer, Murder by Numbers, and mostly-unseen garbage like The United States of Leland. Even his sweeter-toned stuff like Lars and the Real Girl had more than a hint of dysfunction.

When Gosling’s movie-star moments did arrive, they tended to come paired, and Los Angeles-based: Drive and Crazy. Stupid. Love., The Nice Guys and La La Land. The Fall Guy is technically set in Australia, on a location film shoot, but fits his L.A. persona, which now feels like a nod to his kid-star roots (even if Mickey Mouse Club was a Florida enterprise). So it’s appropriate that some of Gosling’s appeal in the movie has that starry later-career, Los Angeleno false modesty: Oh, if I must, I’ll put my head down and power through the saving of the day! Gosling undercuts it, though, by always looking genuinely happy to be there, even when he’s jetlagged, desperate for coffee, and forced to fend off an inexplicably sword-wielding supporting actress.

Cute, capable, self-aware, but maybe a little bit hapless in his sincerity; this is basically our idea of Ryan Gosling, washing those earlier, grungier, weirder, mumblier versions out of our heads. So, too, does The Idea of You project a kind of Anne Hathaway Chill, poised but sweetly uninterested in (and then downright skeptical about) the trappings of fame – internet-conversant but never Too Online.

These refashioned images belie the kind of drive needed to pursue a Disney-approved acting career as a teenager, and that’s the point; at this point, acknowledging any need to pivot from their Disney days might undermine Gosling or Hathaway’s very real claims to grown-up stardom. Like a lot of Old Millennials, their ascent has taken longer than some of their predecessors, or at least has seemed to. Consummate Gen-Xer Brad Pitt was certainly kicking around a while before he became a big star in the mid-’90s, but Gosling had a full decade between his Mickey Mouse Club debut and The Notebook. Hathaway had a hit right out of the gate, but what she was supposed to do with it wasn’t immediately clear. Pitt – and his fellow Xer superstars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise – has more of a latchkey kid vibe, whether or not that’s actually accurate. There’s a sense that they might have had to scrounge around for themselves (even if, again, some were in the biz from the jump, like Leo) and that some boom-times wealth, prestige and power still waited for them at the top if they made it there.

Like a lot of much less famous people of their generational cohort, Gosling and Hathaway might both wonder if their facsimiles of smashier hits – like Hathaway’s Garry Marshall movies that didn’t hit Pretty Woman heights, or even smaller differences like Gosling’s David Leitch-directed action picture not quite matching the opening weekend of Pitt’s – is as good as it gets. (In terms of their careers, I mean. Obviously compared to most of us, they’ve succeeded far, far beyond measure.) The Fall Guy isn’t a huge hit and The Idea of You is, in the end, another streaming movie washed off into the vast tides of content. Heads will turn to fellow Disney refugee Zendaya, whose star power appears even stronger because of its scarcity. Maybe the insecurities of Gosling and Hathaway’s characters in The Fall Guy and The Idea of You aren’t so phony after all; maybe these movies are speaking to an unstable, uncertain generation heading into their real-adulthood forties with the realization that all of their upward mobility has already been spent.

Jesse Hassenger is associate movies editor at Paste. He also writes about movies and other pop-culture stuff for a bunch of outlets including GQ, Decider, Vulture, and, where he also has a podcast. Following @rockmarooned on Twitter is a great way to find out about what he’s watching or listening to, and which terrifying flavor of Mountain Dew he has most recently consumed.

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