Synopsis: When the son of the American President and Britain’s prince public feud threatens to drive a wedge in U.S./British relations, the two are forced into a staged truce that sparks something deeper.
Stars: Taylor Zakhar Perez, Nicholas Galitzine, Uma Thurman, Stephen Fry, Sarah Shahi, Rachel Hilson, Ellie Bamber
Director: Matthew López
Running Length: 118 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: While I never got around to reading it, I do not doubt that Casey McQuiston’s gay romance Red, White & Royal Blue was a rollicking blast to devour when it was released in the early summer of 2019. The kind of book you’d want to keep flipping the pages of deep into the night…but not too far, lest you finish it and break its magic gauzy spell. Before it was even published, Amazon Studios had purchased the rights for the film adaptation, and with the novel continuing to be a strong seller, the inevitable movie went into production two years later.
Produced by Greg Berlanti, the same man that had directed the sensitive 2018 LGBT modest hit Love, Simon, and directed by playwright Matthew López who recently won multiple accolades for his lauded work The Inheritance, chronicling the lives of modern gay men in a loose adaptation of Howards End, it seemed like a thoughtfully made match behind the camera. While gay romances have been on the rise, they are few and far between, and as last fall’s heavily hyped but big-time-belly flop Bros proved, even with the best intentions and a predominantly queer crew, it doesn’t spell success.
An international incident occurs at the Price of England’s wedding, instigated by the Prince’s younger brother, Henry (Nicholas Galitzine, Cinderella), and Alex (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the visiting son of the U.S. President. Silent rivals for years stemming from a silly miscommunication, the hubbub that occurs forces Alex’s mother, President Ellen Claremont (Uma Thurman, Final Analysis, sporting a Texan accent that evens out as the movie progresses), to demand her son hop back over the pond and go on an apology tour with the equally chastised Prince. Passive aggressive lobs between the young men become friendly banter, and a long-distance friendship develops.
While only one of them dares to act on it first, before either of them knows it, they have fallen in love. Of course, to go public with their romance would ruin not just their lives but the reputations of their very different families. Henry’s royal duties demand that he stays above the gossip and proceed with the life planned for him. With his mother’s reelection campaign in full swing, Alex is committed to helping her win a second term and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize her position in critical red states that might not vote for a candidate with a son so publicly out of the closet. The closer they get, the further a future together seems to be. Can love conquer politics and royal decrees?
I would have loved to write that Red, White & Royal Blue hasn’t suffered the same fate as Bros and isn’t as treacly twee as the Hallmark movies it has borrowed most of its sets from (a 57 million budget doesn’t go far) but it sadly has. It’s not even about the cheap look or that first-time director López injects zero style into the filmmaking, robbing the tone of anything resembling creative energy. Like Bros, Red, White & Royal Blue is a movie that wants to be so “with” it that it can’t see how much it’s functioning without. It’s without two leads with convincing chemistry as anything other than friends. Both are, evidently, straight-presenting, and it shows. The friendship between the characters is ultra-bro-ish until the script dictates that it not be, and even then, it’s not like a rom-com where either of the leads has this lightening moment realization that yes, they have actually been head over heels for the other the entire time. If ever there was supporting evidence for gay men playing gay characters, look no further than the two leads of Red, White & Royal Blue.
While Galitzine excels in the dramatic arc his character is given (too late in the film), Perez is miscast from the word go. I’ll give you that they look cute as a button on the poster, but a photograph doesn’t sustain a movie. It’s unfortunate that Perez is in considerably more of the movie, even scenes shared with supporting cast members are awkward and feel like attempts by more experienced actors to shake something loose in Perez that isn’t budging. Taken as fantasy, I guess it would explain the lack of paparazzi throughout the film. However, I wouldn’t know in what modern world two handsome young celebrity bachelors have ever been left alone by hungry photographers, never mind when they are frequently holed up together or out on the town.
Even though it’s rated R, Red, White & Royal Blue is incredibly tame, and from what I gather, only received the restrictive rating for a lovemaking scene that shows no nudity and is mostly about hands with spindly fingers clasping and unclasping. You can draw your own conclusions about why the MPAA saw fit to give a gay romance with no vulgar language, blood, or violence a more severe rating than other films with buckets of gore, sex, and blue language. At nearly two hours, López and his co-adapter Ted Malawer can’t find the proper ending, making us sit through a handful of false climaxes. I’ll go out on a limb and say there will be many people endeared to these characters by the end and won’t mind spending these extra moments, but I was already Over It, Tired, and Royally Disappointed.