Is Anne Hathaway’s New Age-Gap Rom-Com Sexy or Creepy? It’s Revealing to Compare to the Book.

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This article contains spoilers for both the novel The Idea of You and its movie adaptation.

Certain haters of Robinne Lee’s The Idea of You, a popular 2017 novel about a mother who falls in love with a very Harry Styles–esque singer, are going to love Michael Showalter’s movie adaptation (out today on Prime). While Lee’s book was mostly warmly received, some romance readers, conditioned to expect a happily-ever-after, were left disappointed. “I made myself put up with the fact that it was long winded and unrealistic, but hey it’s a romance and it’s going to have a good ending,” wrote one of the book’s dissatisfied reviewers on Goodreads. “NO NO NO it does not. It literally JUST ENDS.” In the book, the heroine, who’s 20 years older than the hero, decides their romance can’t continue, and that’s it. Not so in Showalter’s movie, which offers the viewer a “five years later” epilogue, with the hero showing up at the heroine’s workplace for a tearful, joyful reunion.

This happy ending works because of other key changes Showalter made to this cult-favorite love story. In Lee’s novel, Solène and Hayes are 39 and 20. That difference aside, they have much in common. Each is a polished god(dess) among men. Hayes, who grew up in a posh family in Britain, had the original idea to form August Moon, the boy band that brought him fame. He’s got money and power, and in the course of the book—which features many more digressions about contemporary art and fashion than a casual reader of romance novels might bargain for (“pretentious,” judged many on Goodreads)—he reveals himself to be adaptable, charismatic, and savvy. For her part, Solène, whose father is a professor of art history at Harvard and whose mother is French, favors high heels and designer clothes, is always meticulously groomed, and lives in a midcentury house in L.A. with an incredible view. She may be turning 40, but she still has a running bit with the co-owner of her gallery about how showing off her legs is the best way to land buyers. And, importantly (for reasons I’ll explain later), her daughter, Isabelle, is only 12, and has a crush on Hayes.

Showalter’s couple is, instead, 24 and 40. Those four years more for Hayes may seem like a small tweak, but they go a long way toward making the happy ending work. Rather than dating a person who couldn’t get into a bar without a fake ID, Solène is flying around the world to meet up with someone who’s at least past college-age. And Nicholas Galitzine’s Hayes is much more of a pathetic figure than the idealized Hayes of the novel. He comes from a less exalted background, and is something of a victim of show business: He tried out for the boy band when he was a teenager, got in, and is now trapped. He tells a story about his label connecting him with one of his musical idols, and how excited he was, only to find out that the guy just wanted him to come to his 10-year-old daughter’s birthday party to sign autographs. He anticipates becoming a “D-list celebrity” as he moves into his late 20s.

Hayes, in short, fears the future, and so does Anne Hathaway’s Solène. Showalter humbles Lee’s designer heroine by putting her in a much less fancy house (a Los Angeles bungalow Solène’s ex describes as a “starter home”) and relocating her gallery to a run-down street. She drives a Subaru filled with random mom crap, just like the rest of us. She’s still Anne Hathaway—with huge, expressive eyes under an aggressive set of bangs, and a narrow body with long arms and legs—but she had her daughter at 23, had her husband cheat on her and leave her for a younger woman, and is a bit adrift. At a 40th birthday party early in the film, we meet her friends, who have the comfortable, slightly graying look of most people entering that decade, and some lukewarm romantic prospects, who leave the birthday girl partway through conversations to take phone calls from their ex-wives.

Solène’s daughter Isabelle, as played in the movie by Ella Rubin, is 17 and is “over” August Moon. At Coachella, where Hayes and Solène meet after her out-of-touch ex-husband buys his daughter VIP passes, Isabelle would much prefer to stay at the St. Vincent set rather than show up at the meet-and-greet with the band she liked in middle school. This swap gives Showalter latitude for humor and drains Hayes of much of his power, over both Solène and Isabelle. It also makes the final twist make sense. Solène and Hayes, in the movie’s penultimate sequence, break up, and Hayes says he will wait five years. A half-decade later, Isabelle is out of college and living in Chicago. Solène is 45; Hayes is 29 and has a solo career. Significantly, unlike in the book, where this emerges as a prominent theme, nobody has said anything about Hayes wanting to have children. Their reunion is a happy one.

I’m sure people on Goodreads who hated the premise of Lee’s The Idea of You will be soothed by these changes. (One in particular, who specified that she might like the book more if Solène were 40 and Hayes were 25 or older, will doubtless be pleased.) But there is something daring and borderline creepy about the book, and something compelling about the way everything about its setup leads inevitably to the unhappy ending. As the story moves on and Solène starts to realize that the romance with Hayes cannot continue, her chronic put-togetherness starts to look less like display and more like an iron defense. She leaves him for her daughter’s sake, after Isabelle is relentlessly bullied at school and online over her “cougar” mother’s tabloid relationship, but their rupture is also about age, life trajectory, and math. Contemplating Hayes’ interest in having a baby, and thinking through what their life would be like when he’s 30, after he’s launched his solo career and is a full-on handsome-as-sin male celebrity, and she’s 50, she increasingly realizes that she’s trapped, and there’s only one outcome. And then there is a skin-crawling moment when Hayes, who has often talked about his sexual appreciation for Solène’s lips, slips up and points out that Isabelle “has your mouth.” “I gave him a look, and he turned away, and we never spoke about it again,” Solène says. (Thank God for that!)

All of that, for readers who like to fall totally and completely in love with their romance heroes, is not something to appreciate. And the book, with its endless name-dropping of hotels in A-list locations and its scenes set on private jets, doesn’t speak to everyone’s fantasy. (Give me a good “trapped in an Alaskan cabin during a snowstorm” setting any day.) But I appreciate how deftly Lee convinces you both that this couple is in love and also that they absolutely could not stay together, rendering this not a romance but a tragedy. The homey, sweet Showalter movie chooses a different way, and it works. As fantasies go, it’s vaguely plausible, and as romantic comedies go, it’s a much easier sell. But I’ll miss the absolute bonkers-ness of Lee’s take on this story. “What did you tell me to read?” asked a friend after starting the book recently. I don’t think anyone will react to this movie like that.