The Idea of ​​You author Robinne Lee explains why she’s sick of hearing about Harry Styles

A.Obinne Lee is tired of hearing the name “Harry Styles.” “It’s very frustrating,” says the author of The idea of ​​you ” admits over Zoom, referring to how often the musician’s name comes up in discussion of her best-selling book: the story of an older woman falling in love with a young British boy band star. “At first I thought it was interesting, but it took on a life of its own. I say to myself, come on guys! What happened to the other 22 men I created this character with? This seems very reductive.

Discussions surrounding Lee’s 2017 novel, which this week was adapted into a film streaming on Prime Video and starring Anne Hathaway, clearly prove the point the 49-year-old author and actor is trying to make. The idea of ​​you It seems like your run-of-the-mill story about an ordinary person falling in love with a celebrity — a pop culture trope immortalized by Richard Curtis’ classic romantic comedy. Notting Hillas well as films including Win a date with Tad Hamilton! And Music and lyrics. But by making his protagonist a 40-year-old single mother, Lee turns the genre on its head, offering a work much less interested in celebrity culture than in female sexuality, motherhood and misogyny.

“We exclude women over a certain age,” Lee tells me from an ornate living room that looks like it was plucked from the pages of Home and garden. Physically balanced and blessed with an innate sense of calm, the writer is reminiscent of her main actress. She says the book was partly inspired by the fact that she was 40 and noticed how differently she was perceived. “(This age is) when most of us flourish. But we are on a downward slope because so much of our power is supposedly tied to our youth. Whereas when men reach 40, they continue to gain prestige and power. So, I really wanted to turn things around. It is therefore not without a dose of intoxicating irony that a book on femininity has become so intrinsically linked to a single man. “Life imitates art in many ways,” sighs Lee.

The idea of ​​you, first published in 2017 and becoming a hit thanks to TikTok in 2020, follows Solène Marchand, 39, an art gallery owner and divorced mother of a 12-year-old daughter. Chic, sophisticated and French (Lee is a Francophile in his own right), Solène takes her daughter and her friends to Las Vegas for a meeting with one of the biggest boybands in the world, August Moon. It was there that she met Hayes Campbell, the band’s 20-year-old British frontman, with “piercing blue-green eyes and a mass of dark curls.” A clandestine affair ensues, quickly progressing into a full-blown relationship that takes the unlikely duo around the world, inevitably spawning tabloid scrutiny once they’re caught.

The film adaptation is a lot of fun – with The independentClarisse Loughrey of , praises it for striking a “lovely balance between wholesome and sensual” – and doing much to raise the romantic comedy genre from its perceived grave. There are steamy sex scenes in hotel suites. Adorable childish dance sequences. Acerbic lines with added bite: “People hate happy women.” Not much has changed from the book, except for the ending.

“It wasn’t my decision,” says Lee, clarifying that she had little to do with the adaptation, written by Michael Showalter and Jennifer Westfeldt. Without spoiling anything, we can say that their conclusion is much less realistic than Lee’s. “I think Hollywood loves a Hollywood ending. I wanted to show how women put the happiness of others before their own. Very often we do this. And I wanted to force people to look at this and discuss it.

I wonder about Meghan Markle or Kate – when you make that choice, it will never be the same

One of the main discussion points in the book is age gap relationships, a topic that is approached very differently depending on the gender of the older partner. “When the book came out, Donald Trump had just been elected, and it was the same year that Emmanuel Macron was elected president in France,” Lee recalls, noting the frenzy of articles around the discrepancy of age between him and his wife, Brigitte. , who is 24 years his senior. “There hasn’t been a single article about the years between Donald and Melania (Trump). And they (have) the exact same age difference.

It’s a comparison that highlights the hypocrisy at the heart of Lee’s book. Solène’s ex-husband, Daniel, left her for a younger woman — only in this dynamic, societal outrage toward an older woman dating a younger man is amplified because of Hayes’ fame. After photographs of the duo were published, Solène was eviscerated in the press, with everything from her mothering skills to her looks served up on the brutal chopping block of the Internet. A particularly poignant scene in the film sees Solène’s daughter Isabelle tell her mother that the boy she liked was texting her for a few weeks, only to end up telling her: “Tell your mother I’m 18 in a month”.

Part of this double standard, I think, is that female sexuality seems to have an expiration date. “I live in Paris now and the French have a completely different outlook,” says Lee. “The look is different, and I wanted it for myself. » By searching The idea of ​​youLee looked through literary classics, notably that of DH Lawrence. Lady Chatterley’s Lover of 1928 and that of Erica Jong Fear of flyingpublished in 1973. “In some ways you think we’ve moved on and in others we’ve gone backwards, or I think we’re still stuck. »

“The way the French look is different, and I wanted that for myself”: author Robinne Lee (Provided)

Although it takes a back seat to some of its more important topics, the other main theme of the book is, of course, fame. Lee is no stranger to Hollywood herself, having played roles in major blockbusters like Coupling, Fifty Shades Darker And 13 In progress 30. Before acting, however, came the management company she started with a friend while they were in college. “We were managing a girl group and we asked one of the New Kids on the Block to produce them,” Lee recalls. “That’s when I discovered this world.” It was in this role that she experienced the kind of high-flying behind-the-scenes access described in the novel. Since then, his feelings about fame have changed.

“I feel like privacy is gone,” she says. “I see people like Harry Styles or Prince Harry, who was one of my other muses for this book, and their lives and how they are in this bubble.” Lee witnessed the impact of this bubble while dating her own friend, and 13 In progress 30 co-star, Jennifer Garner. “She walks in somewhere and everyone notices and moves away. Then they get really quiet. Then they walk over to her and speak louder so maybe she can hear them. It’s really weird.

Perhaps actors and musicians commit to this kind of life when they choose this career path. But the people who fall in love with it often don’t. “I wonder about Meghan Markle or Kate (Middleton),” Lee adds as our time draws to a close. “When you make this choice, it will never be the same. It’s like you can’t completely relax unless you’re home alone. What is this life like?

“The Idea of ​​You” is streaming on Prime Video

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