Red, White & Royal Blue: A Courtship That Will Make You Swoon

Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, films like Red, White & Royal Blue might not exist.

Romantic comedy films have long shied away from telling queer love stories. If there are any queer characters at all in a rom-com they are almost always a one-note stereotype, like the “gay best friend” who only exists to help the young heroine pick a killer outfit and provide the occasional comic relief by way of a sassy quip. But moving past the soft 90’s Nora Ephron-esqe romances, and the raunchy comedies of the early aughts, we are starting to see progress in terms of queer representation. More and more often, LGBTQ romances are starting to be shown in their full glory on both big and small screens, most recently with Red, White & Royal Blue.

In this Amazon Studios production based on Casey McQuiston’s book of the same name, Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the son of the first female president, and Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine) have been caught up in a feud since they were young. But after a catastrophic mishap destroying the cake at a royal wedding, the pair have to pretend to be the closest of friends. They embark on a PR nightmare complete with press junket interviews detailing their “bromance” to ease over foreign relations. Soon they start to spend more and more time together (solely for the good publicity of course), and sparks fly.

Alex and Henry stand center frame holding hands in a museum.
Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine in Red, White & Royal Blue. Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

Red, White & Royal Blue is, at its heart, a fun teen romance. It has a lighthearted whimsy that captures what it’s like to fall in love. You catch your breath when they brush your fingertips, your heart gets all fluttery when they lock eyes across the room, and you can’t help but smile when they struggle through a conversation. These simple moments are handled with care to give audiences a swoon-worthy romance. The young actors’ impeccable chemistry certainly helps us believe in their nuanced relationship (what also helps is the fact that they are both conventionally attractive young men, who are always beautifully lit and perfectly framed).

Neither Galitzine nor Perez is a stranger to the teen-heartthrob romance genre. Perez found his rise to fame by playing Marco, a fan-favorite character in Netflix’s The Kissing Booth films. And Galitzine once again plays a prince in Amazon’s 2021 musical adaptation of Cinderella staring opposite Camila Cabello.

A few notable choices help to portray young love in a digital age. Living across the pond from one another, Alex and Henry’s early relationship remains pretty long distant consisting of lots of text conversations complete with little pop-up animations of their messages paired with voice-over of their reading them. Phone calls are visually shown with the two of them chatting in the same room communicating their closeness when they cannot physically be close to one another.

Of course, any relationship in the public eye is sure to fall under some scrutiny, but a queer relationship under the same spotlight faces even more backlash. While there is some resistance from the British monarchy, the message is surprisingly overwhelmingly positive. In a revised coming-out scene Alex’s mom (Uma Thurman) is more than accepting of his bisexuality encouraging him to still have safe protected sex. There is still a great deal of conflict with Alex and Henry’s hidden affair, and the threat of being outed before their ready does constantly loom over them. But Red, White & Royal Blue‘s “enemies to lovers” ship has a refreshing breezy romantic comedy charm to it.

Alex's mom (Uma Thurman) hugs him on the couch in a touching coming out scene.
Taylor Zakhar Perez and Uma Thurman in Red, White & Royal Blue. Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

The true romantic comedy has been on the decline for quite some time now, some have even gone as far as to declare the rom-com dead. Is it because the tropes have been exhausted? Maybe the stars associated with the genre have aged out of the roles? Or perhaps the audience for them just isn’t there anymore. Sure there have been some recent examples Ticket to Paradise (2022) and Bros (2022) were both relatively successful at the box office, but this used to be a staple genre in theaters.

Instead of declaring it dead, I’d argue the genre has found a new home on streaming services, showcasing younger talent. Films like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), Happiest Season (2020), and Fire Island (2022) were all hits on their respective streaming services. Along with younger stars, these films have brought along more diversity, often with leading POC characters or authentic LGBTQ portrayals.

Queer representation on screen is growing, and not just in film. Heartstopper just released their second season to Netflix after the first season found success and resonated with queer youth. Films are moving away from harmful stereotypes and problematic tropes when it comes to gay and lesbian characters. Granted there is still work to do, but progress is certainly being made.

Red, White & Royal Blue is not a perfect film but it is primarily a happy film. Nowhere do you see traces of the “bury your gays” trope or an abundance of blatant homophobia. At its best, it’s a swoony teen romance; at its worst, it’s a bit cliché. But sometimes a cliché cheesy rom-com is exactly what you want to watch.

The film follows the formulaic structure of the rom-com almost to a T, which some have criticized saying that queer romance films should be an opportunity to break away from the straight rom-com formula. My take on the matter is that people go to see a rom-com to be swept up in the story to see characters fall into an idealized version of love; they are meant to be an enjoyable escape. The difference here is instead of ‘boy meets girl’ it’s ‘boy meets boy.’ Red, White & Royal Blue is an unabashedly gay romance, using all of the delightful rom-com tropes we have come to know and love. It’s full of meet-cutes, awkward but endearing encounters, and big romantic gestures. We have seen these plot points time and time again with straight couples but being able to see gay characters fall into these roles has been a refreshing change of pace because gay people deserve cheesy rom coms too.

Written by Cassandra Bauer

Cassandra Bauer is the film critic for The Winonan. Besides watching endless movies, Bauer likes going to local coffee shops, attending yoga classes, and reading celebrity memoirs. She also loves spending time with her friends, working at the movie theater in her hometown, and playing tennis.

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