Review Roundup: 'Red, White & Royal Blue'
READ TIME: 11 MIN.
One of the summer's most anticipated LGBTQ+ films is "Red, White & Royal Blue," the adaptation of Casey McQuiston's critically acclaimed literary sensation of the same name. The film marks the directorial and screenwriting debut of out playwright Matthew López, who wrote the adaptation with Ted Malawer. The 46-year-old talent has already won two Tony Awards, one for Best Play in 2021 for "The Inheritance", and one in 2023 for Best Book in a Musical for for one for Best Musical "Some Like It Hot".
López told EDGE in a recent interview earlier this week that he was a fan of McQuiston's 2019 novel and was working on the film well before the book took off in popularity. In fact, he was so immersed in the film that he didn't realize it was becoming an international phenomena. The story revolves around the handsome son of the President of United States and his relationship with a British prince. In short, American Alex (Taylor Zakhar Perez) cannot stand the Britain's Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine). Things get worse after a disastrous meeting that calls for damage control by the US president (Uma Thurman). But what surprises everyone is how these two hunks hit and off --really hit it off, which leads to something deeper than no one expected.
But what do critics think of the film that arrives on Amazon Prime on Friday? They are largely positive, but not all. Here is a sample:
IndieWire's Erin Strecker writes that the film "is a delight that gives rom-com fans all the trope-y moments they crave: Embarrassing karaoke scenes! Jane Austen references! Declarations of love while wearing a wet shirt due to rain! 'Red, White, & Royal Blue' is a hopeful, fresh twist on a genre that should charm both fans of the book as well as anyone who enjoys a frothy love tale.
"The best part of this faithful adaptation, directed by Matthew López and written by López and Ted Malawer, is the tentative getting-to-know-you flirtatious scenes that expertly capture the sometimes-awkward thrill of realizing just how much you like someone. It's a smart choice by Lopez to deploy the now-du jour on-screen text bubbles for their fumbling messages, and a smarter one still to physically place the two in the same spaces as they correspond back and forth, including in bed together as the rest of the world metaphorically falls away. Perez in particular is excellent here, showcasing a real charisma and excitement that all onscreen romantic heroes require."
Variety's Peter Debruge points out its uniqueness amongst rom-coms, calling it "an effervescent gay rom-com that might be easily dismissed as a mere trifle, were it not for the still-historic novelty of its existence. Arriving less than a year after 'Bros,' director Matthew López's Amazon-backed, R-rated lark goes even further to normalize queer romance on-screen, taking a classic 'chick flick' premise – the kind once reserved for Mandy Moore and Amanda Bynes movies, à la 'Chasing Liberty' or 'What a Girl Wants' – and recasting it with dudes...
"What is surprising is just how far López is willing to take their attraction, featuring sex scenes that don't shy away from reflecting what these two studs do to one another without revealing any body parts that might offend the Japanese censors... While most of the movie functions as wish-fulfillment fantasy, López takes the Trojan horse approach to raise issues of HIV prevention, consent and personal privacy alongside the film's most important political point: namely, that queer romances can be every bit as corny as their hetero counterparts. As political platforms go, that's hope and change all rolled up in one."
Richard Lawson in Vanity Fair calls the film "cheesy pablum. Based on Casey McQuiston's hit novel of the same name, 'RW&RB' tells the story of the handsome son of the U.S. President and the handsome grandson of the British king falling in love. It's high gloss soap, done up in the garish hues and stagey patter of toss-off Hallmark holiday junk. I can't wait to watch it a hundred more times...
"'RW&RB'is certainly not without its faults. Directed by playwright ('The Inheritance') and debut filmmaker Matthew Lopez, 'RW&RB 'is both airy and melodramatic, a relatively weightless movie that still wants us to ardently feel the passion passing between its leads. Textually, the movie doesn't quite get us there–the novelty of the film's existence is more significant than the actual romance. Galitzine is the slightly more seasoned actor, which is evident in the film's heavier emotional scenes. Zakhar Perez's high-wattage grin and offhanded charm don't always compensate for flat line delivery, but he gets the job done well enough. No one is expecting Meisner here."
Little White Lies
"Despite the twee title and the YA source material," writes Patrick Sproull in Little White Lies, "it's a fun time at the movies, and López, a playwright and unlikely choice for director (given his last major creative endeavour was the six-hour-long AIDS play 'The Inheritance'), is in on the joke. McQuiston's book is both prescient and deeply entrenched in the past – it's a gay romance set against the backdrop of the election of the United States' first female President while, in the same breath, jolly old England is a tea-and-crumpets land of castles, princes and polo. 'Red, White & Royal Blue' is utterly divorced from any kind of recognisable reality, but it allows you to enjoy it as an immensely silly romcom, cut from the same cloth as those gay Hallmark Christmas movies."
Writing in AVClub, Drew Gillis writes: "'Red, White & Royal Blue,' ultimately, isn't revolutionary. It's more traditional than not–which means, thankfully, that it's still a lot of fun... Ultimately, 'Red, White & Royal Blue' is by and large that exact kind of soapy fun. If the geopolitical ramifications of a gay rom-com aren't airtight, it's forgivable. At its best, the film works with its own internal teen drama logic. Would the film be better–or even revolutionary–if it was willing to go a bit deeper? Maybe. But if there is anything we can learn from Prince Henry, it's that tradition isn't necessarily a bad thing, either."
New York Times
Amy Nicholson puts it this way in the New York Times: "Like a corgi back-flipping over a bathtub of champagne, 'Red, White & Royal Blue' starts with a giddy premise and has the derring-do to succeed. The setup is thus: Alex (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the wild child of the White House, is commanded to clean up an international PR disaster by befriending Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), the cloistered British spare. In the film's first half, the scions secretly fall in love; in the second, they fret that going public might cause another global kerfuffle just as Alex's mother (a Southern-drawling Uma Thurman) campaigns for re-election.
"It sounds like fan fiction and looks like it, too, particularly when Galitzine dips his chin bashfully – a tic that Princess Diana passed on to her boys. Yet, as in any screwball romance worth its trans-Atlantic sea-salt, the first-time director Matthew López gets us rooting for the cheeky couple's transition from rivals to romantic bedfellows, boosted by the cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt, who photographs the leads so adoringly that you half-expect them to turn to the camera and hawk a bottle of cologne. Thanks to their playful chemistry, we're sold."
The Daily Beast
Coleman Spilde in The Daily Beast writes that they could sometimes watch a gay movie that is unconcerned with its own manufactured notability, a movie satisfied with its central queer characters having no substance at all.
"I'm ecstatic to report that the day has finally come: 'Red, White & Royal Blue' is a movie content with being absolutely nothing. With this film–which premieres on Prime Video Aug. 11 and was adapted from Casey McQuiston's bestselling 2019 novel–queer cinema may finally be level with its heteronormative counterparts. At last, we gay people are allowed to be boring, have absolutely no chemistry with our romantic co-leads, and exist as walking archetypes. 'Red, White & Royal Blue' throws the desire to be special or come first out the window. Now, gays can just be cockamamie and utterly vacuous. Equality is here!"
Carly Line in Collider was less enthusiastic: "All this is to say that director Matthew Lopez, who co-writes the script based on McQuiston's novel alongside Ted Malawer, does succeed at breathing new life into this enemies-to-lovers romance tale for both newcomers and diehard book fans alike. The biggest issues for Prime Video's big-screen adaptation, however, are more definitively found in uneven performances that even the best creative direction and fascinating directorial choices can't completely save...
"When it comes to 'Red, White & Royal Blue's' leading duo, however, it feels like only one half is up to the task of exploring this romance in all of its intricacies, or giving us as close a look into their character's soul as we can get without literally having a line to their thoughts. This is where Galitzine utterly excels in the role – as Prince Henry, someone who has been closeted in his sexuality for his entire life and continues to be so out of what he considers an obligation to his royal duty, the conflict that plays out across his features is heartwrenchingly clear... Perez, on the other hand, does his best to sell his half of the relationship, but in the film's most impassioned scenes, it still feels as though there's a piece of him that's held back from truly committing to the nuance and full yearning of the character."
At Slant, Greg Nussen is decidedly more negative. "From its use of green screen to capture throngs of people at Buckingham Palace to its overhead B-roll shots of Paris escapades, 'Red, White & Royal Blue' is nothing if not artificial. The film is based on the book of the same name by Casey McQuiston, who came up with the idea for it during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and drew inspiration from HBO's 'Veep' and White House palace intrigue. But the pedigree that's most apparent here is that of a pulp romance novel, only one that suggests a gay-themed love story as a sentient 'vote!' sticker.
"Despite its lip service toward 'queer liberation,' as in a ham-fisted press speech by Alex that suggests a Hallmark-grade spin on the final moments of Charlie Charplin's 'The Great Dictator,' the film feels toothless. It seeks to give us an agreeably sexy and frothy romance, and Zakhar Perez and Galitzine's chemistry facilitates that, even when the actors are awkwardly grabbing at each other's faces as if they were attacking a hamburger. But the film also wants to make capital-B big statements about advancements in queer rights in erstwhile liberal democracies, which it can only conceive of doing by unironically praising British efforts at wildlife conservation in Africa and the determination of American Democrats to flip Texas blue.
The Hollywood Reporter
In the Hollywood Reporter, Lovia Gyarkye offers this put-down.
"There's a world in which the film adaptation of Casey McQuiston's novel 'Red, White & Royal Blue' captures the horny energy and political idealism of its source material. It would be a campy romp that leans into the book's bubble-gum logic without losing sight of what made the novel an immediate bestseller.
The version of 'Red, White & Royal Blue' that we have, directed by Tony-award winning playwright Matthew López ('The Inheritance') and premiering on Amazon Prime, lands like a fever dream. It's a tangle of odd tones, roving direction and eccentric performances – a frenetic combo that makes it hard to buy the drama of this fantasy...
"Like all adaptations, 'Red, White & Royal Blue' walks a tightrope between fidelity and innovation. You can see the film straining to balance the novel's themes with its own desires to be a celebratory and anthemic vision of queer love. It's an ambitious aim and, although they aren't mutually exclusive goals, the film doesn't commit enough to its own narrative to ensure either one's success."