The key to a successful romantic comedy is an elusive mixture: chemistry, heat, and charm are all needed in equal measure to ensure a believable, swoon-worthy pairing on screen. Red, White, & Royal Blue, the film adaptation of the beloved Casey McQuiston novel of the same name, has all three in spades. The movie, like the book, follows the enemies-to-lovers romance of American First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez) and the U.K.’s Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine). After a PR fiasco at a royal wedding, the pair are forced to spend more time together to repair the damage. What starts as a forced necessity becomes an actual friendship, and eventually, a delicate romance. However, societal expectations, homophobia, and Prince Henry’s devotion to his position threaten to tear the two apart.
One thing that makes Red, White, & Royal Blue stand out from some of its contemporaries is its willingness to let its characters breathe and just be. Alex and Henry are queer and are allowed to be that, but not defined by it. Particularly Alex, played with warm charm by Zakhar Perez, is simply bisexual and Mexican American. It’s who he is, but not all he is, which can be a common pitfall for movies with a diverse cast of characters.
Alex speaks some Spanglish and drops some familiar needles in terms of ethnic representation but it feels natural and easy. He also has a keen interest in helping his mother’s re-election campaign and believes in the possibility of using his position to change things for the better. Henry is gay but also an aspiring writer, a tortured Prince, and a semi-Mr. Darcy-like foil to Alex’s headstrong Elizabeth-like tendencies. They are both fully fleshed-out human beings and so their romance is compelling because we can believe in it outside of the silvery glimmer of the screen. Zakhar Perez and Galitzine’s performances are buoyed by a lovely supporting cast of characters, including President Ellen Claremont, played by a wonderfully big (but not unbearably so) Uma Thurman.
This humanity in the writing and performances gives this story a believable foundation to build upon and infuse with heat, too. Red, White, & Royal Blue doesn’t shy away from sex, which makes it a refreshingly honest take on the genre as well. If you’re looking for Alex and Henry to fall into bed and wake up the next morning after a simple fade to black, you have the wrong movie. What you get instead is something tender, intimate, and steamy – a welcome rush of intimacy at a time when sex in mainstream movies is slowly re-emerging. It’s honest, sexy, and further proof that the movie trusts its audience enough to treat them like adults.
Balancing the tones of the movie, however, is where the movie has some weak spots. Its ambitions of being cute, steamy, and serious are admirable but prove tough to execute. Moments like the inciting incident of the wedding cake fiasco feel a little too screwball to fit in with the rest of the picture, causing a bit of tonal dissonance that can be hard to shake. Its more fantastical elements (Texas turning blue for one) are part of the problem, but also offer a kind of escapism from the world that we could all use from time to time. It’s silly but welcome nonetheless.
Overall, Red, White, & Royal Blue is a refreshingly honest, sweet, and sexy watch. The romance at its center feels real and lived even if it stumbles on its own ambitions from time to time. Most importantly, it allows Alex and Henry to be more than their identities, making for a compelling, believably human romance that’s worth seeking out.