Red, White & Royal Blue 2023 Movie Review
Summer is the time for fun and frothy watches, right? I’m not very good at the whole “fun and frothy” thing, but I gave it a try by catching Prime Video’s adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s best-selling novel Red, White & Royal Blue. Directed and cowritten by Matthew López, this gay rom-com plays out on the stage of international relations.
Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), son of the first female president of the United States (Uma Thurman), isn’t happy about attending the royal wedding of England’s Prince Philip (Thomas Flynn). The royals are incorrigible snobs, he has decided after a previous encounter with Philip’s younger brother, Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), whom Alex now can’t resist provoking with snarky banter. Henry responds with cold hauteur, and the prince and the First Son end up in a tiff that sends the royal wedding cake crashing to the floor.
To repair the damage of “Cakegate,” Alex and Henry must undergo a press junket that forces them into proximity. As they get to know each other better, they embark on a transatlantic text flirtation that quickly becomes something more. But Henry is still closeted to the British nation — and to his grandfather, the king (Stephen Fry) — while Alex’s mom is embroiled in a delicate reelection campaign. Can they be public about their love without hurting their loved ones — or causing an international incident?
It’s about time we saw more romantic comedies that give LGBTQ couples their own witty exchanges, contrived misunderstandings and happy endings. Last year’s Fire Island, cleverly modeled on Pride and Prejudice, showed it can be done.
So I went into Red, White & Royal Blue ready to suspend my disbelief and enjoy this unlikely celebrity romance. Sure, we know Alex and Henry are going to topple the giant cake as soon as the giant cake appears. We know they’ll overcome their hostile first impressions and find love, and every twist and turn will be predictable. But is it too much to ask that they share some moments of believable, unforced chemistry first?
Everything in Red, White & Royal Blue is big and shiny and broad and loud. Sometimes it reminded me of a stage production: There’s a scene in a coffee shop with such token set dressing that it barely looks like a coffee shop, and another scene in which Perez and Thurman shout at each other as if both playing to the rafters. At other times, it reminded me of one of those disturbing AI-generated “movie trailers” that people post on social media and tout as the wave of the future.
The leads have no physical flaws, but they also have few natural moments. Perez is constantly telegraphing earnestness and affection with dewy eyes and fluttering lashes. Galitzine is more restrained, as befits his stiff-upper-lip character, but rarely do we get any hints that Henry has an inner life.
Alex and Henry do approach something like a real conversation in an early scene in which they take refuge in a closet from a possible terrorist attack (the forced-proximity trope again!). But most of their interactions are orchestrated set pieces that don’t allow chemistry to blossom.
The actors who make the best impressions here are those who push the campier aspects of their roles to the limit, such as Sarah Shahi as the president’s formidable aide. Only Clifton Collins Jr., in a small role as Alex’s dad, manages to win over the audience with subtlety.
The actors aren’t helped by the screenplay, which reads like a cross between a Disney movie and a self-consciously “woke” Tumblr feed. Even as they go from one lavish gala to the next, Alex and Henry profess their disgust at the displays of wealth and their sympathy with the marginalized. Yet the character who seems most concerned about keeping Alex true to his working-class roots is a bitter ex with malicious plans for the couple. Issues of culture clash, assimilation and the nature of power are reverently invoked but never really addressed.
To its credit, Red, White & Royal Blue has a sex scene, which puts it in semi-groundbreaking territory for something that feels like a Hallmark product. While Fire Island lives up to its name with bacchanalian sequences that might upset your older relatives, this movie is about as tame as an R-rated gay romance can be.
There’s a certain integrity in the balance López strikes here, stanning hard for wholesome, monogamous romance while refusing to hide the role of sex in such a relationship. Some viewers will find the movie swoony and uplifting, and more power to them. But if you need a little more human grit and wit in your rom-coms, look elsewhere.