Have We Finally Reached Peak Movie MILF?

Anne Hathaway's Solène is the latest entry in the horny older mom canon — here’s hoping that in The Idea of You, the archetype gets its due.

Will I stream The Idea Of You? I am absolutely the target market for this movie; it was probably written like “Dear Jen, here’s a story you’ll like” because this seems like something I would like. A 40-year-old single mom (Anne Hathaway) having a sexy, steamy affair with a young pop star (Nicholas Galitzine) that may or may not be based on Harry Styles? As in she actually has sex, she doesn’t just put her hair in a messy bun and drink herbal tea and read about sex. And no one is fading to black to protect her delicate sensibilities or hide the fact that she wants to get it on. It’s a fairly novel concept to give a single mom in a movie not just a sex drive but a hot young man who wants to partake in said sex drive. So why does it make me nervous?

It’s not the sex thing. There have been plenty of years when the only sex I was having was movie sex, as in, watching movies where other people had it when I did not. And before you feel sorry for me, these were some of the best years of my life. My sons were little and I was not interested in body hair removal, which at the time felt like a prerequisite for the actual in-person stuff. Instead I relied on the closest thing to my own particular version of porn: a rom-com featuring a desirable single mom.

I’ve watched them all: I watched Jerry Maguire so many times that I can tell you the layout of Renee Zellweger’s craftsman-style home and the contents of her wardrobe. I sat through Maid In Manhattan over and over, despite the less-than-sexy chemistry of Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes, because I also worked in the service industry and looked forward to a junior senator plucking me out of obscurity. Then there were the more emotional gems I cherished, like Hope Floats and Finding Neverland, which really kicked me in the gut because Kate Winslet plays a single mom of four sons like me, plus Johnny Depp adores both her and her children. But none of these were what you'd call sexy movies. I’m not even sure if Kate and Johnny were a couple. No, whenever there’s a sexy single mom movie, the male lead always seems to be a younger man. As if this would be a woman's ultimate fantasy. And I have never completely understood why.

Take How Stella Got Her Groove Back, where single mom Stella (Angela Bassett) heads to Jamaica to find her groove and that groove just so happens to be a very gorgeous Winston (Taye Diggs) who is much younger and also hot for her. I devoured this movie. Her fashion, her son who encouraged her to go on holiday because he just wanted her to have fun (perhaps the most fictional part of this movie), her friendship with Whoopi Goldberg.

If I have to feel grateful anytime a man wants to have sex with me, I’d just rather not.

I wanted to enjoy living vicariously through her affair, of course, which is why I watch the genre, but something didn't feel right. Trying to emotionally shoehorn my way into Stella’s life, I felt a nagging discomfort. Was she meant to feel grateful to young Winston for wanting to sleep with her? For picking her? For thinking she was worth a second look and even a roll in the hay? I guess that’s been my main issue with single moms having sex on screen with younger men: The Oh thank God someone might still love me! of it all. Like Diane Keaton in one of my all-time favorites, Something’s Gotta Give. We can all agree she should have chosen Keanu Reeves over Jack Nicholson, he was vastly superior and sweeter and a better match in every way. But she just couldn’t get past the vague whiff of embarrassment. The idea that people were looking at them, at her, and either thinking how lucky she was, or how grateful she should be, or just wondering why the hell he was with her is a theme that comes up again and again in these movies. And there is nothing erotic about feeling self-conscious. I wish she had chosen Keanu because he was an absolute treat, but I fear I wouldn't have been able to either.

If I have to feel grateful anytime a man wants to have sex with me, I’d just rather not. I don't want anyone to think they're doing me a favor. That's not romantic. I’d rather just stick with my palate-cleansing period dramas where Mr. Darcy gets all hot and bothered by knocking gloves with Elizabeth Bennett as he damn well should.

Then there’s my other issue, a big one: my own young adult children really shut the door on the younger-man fantasy for me. Especially after I saw a rom-com with a friend and she pointed out the leading man, a man I had been preparing to fantasize about on my lonesome later that night, reminded her of one of my sons. That was it. I was out. Which, in a way, I’m starting to realize is my own loss.

I want them to be the ones to hold onto their value, and love their lives. I want them to be beyond rescuing.

Maybe it's all about the framing. Because while Stiffler's Mom might be a punchline and an embarrassment, and Keanu might be pure fantasy, there is a part of me, the very secret part that still eats peanut butter on a spoon late at night, that believes I have it in me to be Mrs. Robinson. Or Ms. Robinson, as is the case. Seducing Benjamin Braddock with my worldliness and my slip and my eyeliner and hair. That part of me, the two glasses of wine part, still feels viable and important and OK, fine, sexy sometimes. Like Juliette Binoche in Chocolat kind of sexy.

That’s a love story I can get behind. Johnny Depp with his ponytail and confusing accent, clearly head over heels for Binoche. And she’s like, “Meh, maybe.” To me, this was astonishing. It was the first time I saw a single mother be loving toward her child and also sexy as hell on film, A true miracle. I guess that’s it. When I watch single moms in these movies, I want them to be the ones to say, “Meh, maybe.” I want them to be the ones to hold onto their value, and love their lives. I want them to be beyond rescuing, and find someone who loves their kids or at least thinks their kids are funny, but not in that awkward “Hey champ!” kind of way like Paul Rudd in I Could Never Be Your Woman. I don’t want her to have to hide all of her momness and replace it with sexiness, something I guess I have always done. Like an homage to my children they never asked me for.

What I’m telling you is, I’m going to watch The Idea of You. I’m going to hope that Anne Hathaway doesn’t have to suddenly transform into a different person in order to be sexy in spite of her motherhood. I’m hoping that both of those people can live inside her at the same time.

That’s the real fantasy.