‘The Idea of You’ Author Robinne Lee Says Story Isn’t a Romance Novel: Those ‘Have Specific Rules’

‘The Idea of You’ Author Robinne Lee Says Film Adaptation Is ‘Art’ That ‘Makes People Happy’
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The Idea of You author, Robinne Lee, has something to say about the film adaptation of her book.

“Some readers were viewing this story about ageism, sexism, the double standard, motherhood, female friendship, agency, and the dark side of celebrity as nothing more than ‘fluff,’” she wrote for Time in a guest piece published on Thursday, May 2. “They focused on the love story and the sex to the exclusion of the other pertinent themes of the book. They called it a romance. It was not.”

She continued: “Romance novels have specific rules, and my book did not follow them. But it was labeled and categorized as such.”

Published in 2017, Lee’s The Idea of You revolves around Solène, a 40-year-old single mother who finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Hayes Campbell, the 24-year-old frontman of a boy band called August Moon. Their rapid romance encounters obstacles stemming from their age gap, Hayes' celebrity status and Solène’s teenage daughter’s love for August Moon. The film, which stars Anne Hathaway as Solène and Nicholas Galitzine as Hayes, dropped on Thursday (and aged up the daughter).

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Lee, also an actor, told Time that when she started writing The Idea of You in 2014, she “didn’t plan on writing something that was revolutionary or controversial,” adding, “As someone who was in that age range and who should have just been hitting my stride in my professional life as an actor, I was seeing the sudden shift in parts available to me.”

'The Idea of You’ Author Robinne Lee Says Film Adaptation Is ‘Art’ That ‘Makes People Happy’
Alisha Wetherill

Lee compared the reaction to the novel to Hayes' own insecurities about calling his boyband. She went on to quote the book in the Time piece: "We take art that appeals to women — film, books, music — and we undervalue it. We assume it can’t be high art. Especially if it’s not dark and tortured and wailing. And it follows that much of that art is created by other women, and so we undervalue them as well. We wrap it up in a pretty pink package and resist calling it art.”

Lee explained “that  sentiment has resonated with me more in the years since I wrote this line of dialogue than ever before.”  She explained: “I thought about it when Barbie became the biggest box-office hit of 2023 and the highest-grossing film ever directed by a woman, yet Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie were not nominated for Best Director or Best Actress, respectively, at the Oscars. I thought about it when I revisited critics’ resistance to Taylor Swift and the dismissal of her fandom for the first decade of her career, writing both off as juvenile and unserious.”

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Lee primarily aimed to explore the themes of aging and societal perceptions of a woman's value. In a December 2020 interview with Vogue, Lee elaborated on the message she sought to convey through the novel while also denying widespread commentary that the novel reads as Harry Styles fanfiction.

“This was never supposed to be a book about Harry Styles. Nor was it ever intended as a classic, fuzzy romance,” Lee said at the time. “It was supposed to be a story about a woman approaching 40 and reclaiming her sexuality and rediscovering herself, just at the point that society traditionally writes women off as desirable and viable and whole.”