Streamers have been steadily cranking out rom-coms for nearly a decade, but finding a timeless classic still feels like a rarity. Whether you prefer sappier romance plots of the 20th century or the more recent comedy-focused genre entries, there’s an unfortunate drought outside of period pieces or holiday-themed romantic comedies. Enter Red, White, & Royal Blue, the newest addition that channels the crowd-pleasing, light-hearted attitude of the early 2000’s rom-coms, but this time with a gay spin. Fans of the charming New York Times bestseller by Casey McQuiston will be happy with the fairly faithful screen adaptation; minor changes help streamline complex narrative developments, heighten the romantic stakes between Alex and Henry, and better highlight some of its supporting stars. While this movie doesn’t solve the genre crisis overnight, it’s a fun addition as a queer love story that makes for an entertaining group viewing experience.
The movie’s opening sequence immediately introduces its handsome leading men in a setup that spells both romance and disaster. Before entering a royal celebration, Alex (Taylor Zakhar Perez) grudgingly waits with his best friend Nora (Rachel Hilson) to be greeted by the poised “Prince Henry of England and Hearts” (Nicholas Galitzine) and shares how Henry rudely interacted with him at an event years prior. Alex scoffs at Henry’s polite greeting and lets his petty hostility fuel a drunken stupor that leads to him and Henry being sloppily covered by an enormous wedding cake. Once Alex returns home, Ellen Claremont, his mom and the first female President of the United States, played staunchly by Uma Thurman and mysteriously touting the sole Texan accent of the film, declares the event “Cakegate” and demands Alex return to London to amend the boys’- and countries’- friendship.
On their press tour of amnesty, they genuinely start to warm up to each other. A possible security breach lands them tangled in a janitor’s closet at a nearby hospital, which finally captures the palpable tension between them. Even after Alex returns home to continue pursuing school and politics with his mom’s re-election campaign, they communicate nonstop. Frustrated by a need for secrecy and bottled up emotions, (or maybe in a moment of clarity after dancing to “Get Low” by Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz at Nora’s New Year’s Eve Party), Henry shoots his shot and kisses Alex.
The ensuing drama shows the boys grappling with multiple sides of their identity, both for Alex, whose grandmother emigrated from Mexico, and Henry, whose public life and line to the throne prevents him from making genuine connections. As to their sexual identity, they spare no expense in making a transatlantic situationship worth their while. No hotel room or polo field house is left unturned, but this expeditious montage lacks the steamy intrigue the novel inspires. Even a tender love scene that is sensitively shot is still all nuance and no bite. Its aggressive R rating leaves much to be desired, considering the heavy sexuality, nudity, and language in the referenced and raunchy Love Actually, when the intended demographic is more on par with Easy A, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or What a Girl Wants.
Furthermore, both Zakhar Perez and Galitzine have garnered a youthful following having appeared in sensational streaming flicks like The Kissing Booth 2 and Cinderella, respectively. Thankfully, they have enough believable chemistry as the enamored leads but a tame sterility glosses over the film, inhibiting the characters from fully blossoming. Hilson builds off her too-similar role in Love, Victor, but is able to shine even brighter; Alex’s sister is cut from the film, but Hilson succeeds in bearing the added characteristics of moral support (?) and comedic relief. However, the two funniest highlights are Aneesh Sheth as Alex’s Secret Service Agent and Sarah Shahi as Deputy Chief of Staff. Even with limited screen time, they show they deserve their own sit-com or spin-off, which is possible considering the success of the book. Finally, writer-director Matthew López shows promise in his debut film. He proves he has a firm grasp on adapting a strong source material and his award-winning stage work is testament to a charismatic, illustrious future onscreen.
The book took the world by storm partly because of the world’s fascination with celebrity and pop culture. The Royal Family constantly dominates the public eye so it’s no surprise that Harry– er, Henry– feels isolated around even those dearest to him. He laments, “Do you ever wonder who you’d be if you were an anonymous person?” An emphasis on using Instagram and TikTok as scene transitions further highlights their troubling spot in the limelight, even though the filmmaking tactic feels outdated. The clear parallel between Henry’s demand for privacy with his relationship with Alex, including his desire to come out on his own terms, and the real Prince Harry having lived through unending media frenzies, especially with Princess Diana and Meghan Markle, hopes to humanize these faces constantly in the spotlight.
Red, White & Royal Blue succeeds at being a quirky, feel-good summer rom-com, with plenty of farcical scenarios and quips, like, “I once saw Mitch McConnell eating a banana,” that jab at the conservative minds that look to harm LGBTQ+ lives, but it is ultimately grounded in a version of reality to show that an accepting, more diverse future shouldn’t be too far off. It follows in the footsteps of other notable LGBTQ+ films, like Call Me by Your Name or Love, Simon, with heartfelt coming out conversations between Alex and both of his parents. Henry gets his chance at a similar moment later on but his grumpy grandfather, King James III, played by an underutilized Stephen Fry, is more concerned with the nation and traditional family values than his own character.
For a film that wants to tote its support of queer lives (“The B in LGBTQ is not a silent letter”), it isn’t as unapologetic as it should be. There’s an enjoyable balance of comedy, romance, and drama, but a clear studio footprint censors some of the more authentic moments in service of catering to a wider audience. A dizzying, anti-climactic finale shows that it still may have been overstuffed with content instead of character. Yet, there’s an effervescence that you can’t help but fall in love with in this sweet summer refreshment.
Red, White & Royal Blue will stream on Prime Video beginning August 11.