'Red, White & Royal Blue' - gay romcom's fluff, fun and flaws

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Tuesday August 15, 2023
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Taylor Zakhar Perez, left, with Nicholas Galitzine in 'Red, White & Royal Blue' (photo: Prime/Amazon)
Taylor Zakhar Perez, left, with Nicholas Galitzine in 'Red, White & Royal Blue' (photo: Prime/Amazon)

It's 51 minutes and 34 seconds before the clothes start flying off Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine. Come on, but isn't that what intrigues you most about "Red, White & Royal Blue," Amazon Prime's new modern fairy (in every sense) tale rom-com that borders on the preposterous?

Perez and Galitzine are stunningly gorgeous, exhibiting a modicum of sexual tension that is the main driving force and the primary reason to watch this fun, vacuous, love-conquers-all movie. It's the formulaic romantic comedy culture clash adapted for gay audiences. In case you have any doubt you are watching a fantasy, later in the film Texas votes Democratic in the 2020 Presidential election.

Based on queer non-binary Casey McQuiston's bestselling 2019 novel, it's the enemies-to-lovers-saga between uncouth rebellious Alex Claremont-Diaz (Perez), son of the first female President of the United States (Ellen Claremont) and Britain's stuffy snobbish Prince Henry (Galitzine), spare heir, fourth in line for the throne.

The two guys have been rivals, feuding for years. Alex, attending the swanky royal marriage of Henry's brother Philip (the homophobic villain, complete with an Adolf Hitler haircut), fueled by drink, tussles with Henry, resulting in a two-story $75,000 wedding cake toppling over both of them.

It's headline news in the tabloids (Buttercream Summit; a Cake-tastrophe) leading to a diplomatic incident endangering an upcoming trade agreement. Neither Madame President (Uma Thurman) nor British authorities are amused, so Alex and Henry must repair the damage by making nice in front of the cameras with sentimental photo ops at children's hospitals and lies manufactured for TV interviews.

And voila, forced to spend time together, they realize the other one isn't so bad after all, that their previous disdain was a misunderstanding. What was once friction —antagonism as flirting— now ignites erotic sparks, leading to the elimination of said expensive designer shirts/pants mentioned above and quickies in public places including Paris.

Both need to repress the truth about themselves and their secret relationship, reinforced by traditional cultural and political barriers plus obligations to parents and royal duty. Predictably the romance will be outed, with Alex accepting he's bisexual and Henry admitting he's gay as a goose, fomenting another crisis that could upend President Ellen's chances for reelection. Will Henry and Alex live happily ever after?

Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine in 'Red, White & Royal Blue' (photo: Prime/Amazon)  

The film is directed, co-written, and executive-produced by Matthew Lopez, playwright of the gay seven-hour Tony Award-winning opus "The Inheritance," based on E.M. Forster's "Howard's End." So you might be fooled into thinking the film's dialogue might be sparkling.

There are some witty lines (i.e. "I went to an English boarding school. Trust me, you're in good hands," as they initiate sex, or, after sex: "He grabbed my hair in a way that made me understand the difference between rugby and football"), but there are many more cringe-worthy corny comments such as, "You've been yucking my yum all day," or "I want to see your mouth covered in barbecue sauce and then I want to lick it off."

One wishes Lopez had used more of the clever dialogue in the book, especially those scenes that rely heavily on texting and phone calls to reveal the repartee and increasing affection of both characters. One gimmick that works has Alex and Henry visually together in bed while they're texting thousands of miles away, to suggest intimacy.

The film was released with an R-rating, which is absurd, as there are virtually no nude scenes (one five-second flash of ass), and no similar heterosexual movie would earn that same designation. The sex is purely suggestive, "filthy acts" implied more than explicitly enacted.

The way it's photographed, we've a fairly good idea of what sex feat they're engaging (i.e. Henry's legs in mid-air with Alex striding on top of him, can lead to only one conclusion) yet it all feels perfunctory. Their previous name-calling was more steamy than the actual mechanics of any insinuated "dirty deed."

Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine in 'Red, White & Royal Blue' (photo: Prime/Amazon)  

As for the acting, Perez and Galitzine look like swooning models who've just stepped out of a perfume ad. Perez is serviceable, while Galitzine acquits himself handsomely having to stand up to centuries of queer denial and royalty as prison, making it almost impossible for him to be openly who he is. In a brilliant casting twist, the homophobic King James III, bound by ancient monarchic rules, is played by Stephen Fry, one of the first British out actors, who's also a vocal activist for LGBTQ rights.

Thurman as President Ellen has one of the worst Southern twangs in recent memory (though not as awful as Tom Hank's Colonel Parker in "Elvis"), but brazenly plays it like the campy role it is, giving gravitas to howlers like, "Honey, we need to get you on Truvada as soon as possible," so improbably she succeeds.

Sarah Shahi excels as Zahra Bankston, the White House Deputy Chief-of-Staff who's onto the Alex/Henry dalliance from the get-go, playing both a kind of supportive older sister to Alex but also a steely tough no-nonsense crisis manager. The rest of the underused cast are miniscule with scant screen time to shine or develop.

How should we construe "Red, White & Royal Blue?" It's fun, frothy, wish-fulfillment at times cheesy fluff, an outlandish plot with absurd elements like Prince Henry appearing incognito in a Texas bar with no one recognizing him because he's wearing a baseball hat. Imagine Prince Harry attempting to perpetrate such a stunt! We even witness Rachel Maddow playing herself, providing commentary on a phony media storm concerning the Alex/Prince Henry brouhaha.

Unlike the book (recommended), we're given no background material or insights about either character's history or why they interact with each other the way they do. In fairness, the film never pretends to be more than what it is: the Hollywood equivalent of a Harlequin potboiler beach read, easily digestible and easier to forget.

However, there's something faintly hypocritical about a movie urging queer liberation when both characters, despite being outed, spend almost the film's entirety hiding who they are. Yet there's an undeniable appeal here about two public figures who can have almost anything they want, yet being in love, are prevented from getting together by forces seemingly beyond their control.

So, it's an enjoyable, feel-good, fiendishly addictive, smutty-lite summer entertainment and a pleasant trifling diversion in these oppressive times, as long as you don't reflect on how implausible and unapologetically silly it all is.


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