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The Real Inspiration Behind the Buzzy Boy Band Rom-Com The Idea of You

Boy band enthusiasts and rom-com lovers can both eat their hearts out this spring with The Idea of You, a film based on Robinne Lee's 2017 novel of the same name, about a May-December romance that starts with an epic meet-cute at Coachella. When art gallerist and divorced single mom Soléne (Anne Hathaway) meets Hayes (Nicholas Galitzine), an internationally renowned boy band frontman who's 16 years her junior, sparks fly, challenging both Soléne and Hayes to consider what they're willing to do, in spite of their drastically different lives, to pursue a romance with one another.

If the story sounds suspiciously similar to a certain real life former boy band member-turned-global pop star who has had well-documented dalliances with older women, rest assured you're not alone—there are legions of fans who have developed entire theories about whether or not The Idea of You could be inspired by Harry Styles. While Lee has said that the character of Hayes was inspired by a variety of different men, from her husband and Prince Harry to ex-boyfriends (and, yes, Harry Styles), the book for her was always about Soléne and challenging the ways that people think about women and their desires as they age.

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"I wanted to write a novel that challenged certain myths: that female sexuality ceases to exist after we hit middle-age; that having kids makes us no longer sexually attractive or viable; that women at a certain point in their lives—the point where they should be at their strongest and most prolific—become invisible," she said in a 2017 interview.

Here's what to know about the backstory behind the new adaptation, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival to a rapturous reception in mid-March and hits Prime Video in May.

What is the book about?

Lee's novel centers on Soléne Marchand, a French-American 39-year-old single mom and owner of an art gallery in Los Angeles, whose life is changed after she takes her adolescent daughter Isabelle to a concert for boy band August Moon—and ends up making a romantic connection with the band's lead singer, 20-year-old British heartthrob Hayes Campbell. Though Soléne is still establishing her new life following her divorce, the pair begin meeting up for clandestine casual trysts before embarking on a whirlwind romance that finds Soléne globetrotting as she meets up with Hayes during his band's world tour. Complications arise, however, as the couple reckons with their age gap and the specific ways in which being in different stages of their lives complicates their relationship—not to mention the outsized scrutiny of Hayes' huge fan base, who begin to target Soléne and her daughter on social media.

What have fans theorized about its origins?

Because the story centers on a romance about the lead singer of a boy band, many fans of the book believed that the novel could have been inspired by or based on Harry Styles fan fiction, a theory that many people found especially compelling due to parallels between Hayes and Styles, such as being members of a five-person boy band and having an affinity for tattoos and older women.

Such theorizing has transpired, as it often does, on online platforms like Reddit and TikTok.

How has the author responded?

Author Robinne Lee has said that her book is not based on fan fiction—although she did concede in a 2020 Vogue interview that the inspiration for Hayes was "Prince Harry-meets-Harry [Styles]," as well as ex-boyfriends, her husband, and the actor Eddie Redmayne.

In an interview with blogger Deborah Kalb in 2017, Lee explained that she was inspired to create the character of Hayes after coming across a video of boy band.

"I was up late surfing music videos on YouTube when I came across the face of a boy I’d never seen in a band I’d never paid attention to, and it was so aesthetically perfect it took me by surprise. It was like…art," she said. "I spent a good hour or so Googling and trying to figure out who this kid was and in doing so I discovered that he often dated older women, and so the seed was planted."

Lee, however, has been clear that the book was not about Harry Styles and emphasized that its focus was on Soléne embracing new opportunities as she entered a new stage of her life.

"This was never supposed to be a book about Harry Styles," she said in her 2020 interview with Vogue. "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."

On Twitter, Lee also seemed to cheekily reference how often her book is associated with Styles, writing wryly in 2019: "I Wrote a Book and Harry Styles Made All the Money: a Memoir."

Galitzine has also addressed questions about perceived similarities. "We tried to create a character that felt, maybe akin to Harry in the sense that, you know, he's a younger man dating older women," he told BuzzFeed UK. "It was important to create someone new and original and not a sort of shoddy impersonation."

What do we know about the movie adaptation?

The movie adaptation, which counts Gabrielle Union as one of its producers, stars Anne Hathaway as Soléne and Nicholas Galitzine, who starred last year in Red, White, and Royal Blue and Bottoms, as Hayes. The film was directed by Michael Showalter, from a screenplay based on Lee's book that was co-written by Showalter and Jennifer Westfeldt, best known for Kissing Jessica Stein and Friends With Kids. It premiered as the closing film of South by Southwest this month and will release exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on May 2.

How was it received at its SXSW premiere?

The film's premiere, which brought Hathaway to tears, received favorable reviews at SXSW, with many praising Hathaway's performance. IndieWire called it "a great love story," where "the dynamic between Hathaway and Galitzine is palpable," while The Austin Chronicle praised it as a "rom-com for adults."

Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com.