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‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ review: An adapatation that lacks heart

By August 10, 2023One Comment5 min read
Red, White & Royal Blue

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Red, White & Royal Blue arrives with a built-in, ardant, fanbase. Based on the novel by author Casey McQuiston, the story follows the son of the President of the United States and the Prince of England as they go from enemies to friends, to lovers in a storyline bountiful of tropes that make our faces ache from smiling. McQuiston’s book, albeit flawed, delivers the type of queer representation in romantic comedies we so often yearn for, especially in mainstream media which made the book acquisition for film all the more exciting. It’s a shame, then, that the adaptation, directed by Matthew Lopez, fails to capture the warmth and heart of the book. 

Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez) and Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine) both are living out their lives in the spotlight. Following a very public mess at Henry’s brother’s wedding, the two are set on damage control as they play nice in front of the camera. Once they get to know one another they, of course, fall in love but must keep it private due to their high-profile public lives. 

The structure of the story remains playful and accessible, an easy adaptation in terms of nailing the beat-for-beat developments and timing of the duo’s friendship and the point at which it transforms into something more. The screenplay, written by Lopez and Ted Malawer understands the bare necessities of the film, delivering the type of emotional stakes that make for our favorite romances from New Year’s Eve declarations to rain-soaked confessions. But it’s missing the soul — the chemistry — necessary to make this more than a paint-by-numbers retelling. For all the humor it manges to infuse into the film with Sarah Shahi‘s Zahra getting the bulk of the films best comedic moments, it rushes through the moments that make Alex and Henry such a winsome couple. In a way, the film rested on pretty.

Perez and Galitzine are simply miscast and it’s evident from the moment of their introductions. No adaptation should be beholden to the source material, with film allowing for a different playground and visual language. That said, when the direction in this case offers little to heighten the story, the casting of Alex and Henry becomes crucial and Perez and Galitzine fail to deliver the warmth, chemistry, and heart of these characters. Not only are they — specifically, Perez — too old, but their entire demeanors aren’t befitting those in the throes of early romance, too wise and dry. 

The characterization of Alex is particularly egregious, turning what was a loveable, eager, and stumbling 21-year-old into a man who is assured and capable at all times. We’re meant to root for these characters while also worrying about their abilities to maintain their secrecy and awaiting the moment they can reveal their relationship. The investment required is lacking, as the film is mere snapshots of a relationship rather than a story that digs into the moments that make us love them. 

We needed the in between moments of failure and triumph beyond being told in quick succession of Alex doing well on the political scene. Again, it paints a picture of a couple much more stable than their ages would suggest, taking away some of the necessary emotional stakes. Galitzine fares better, in part due to an often wounded pout he wears that makes him much more vulnerable compared to Alex’s posturing. 

But it’s not just the performances that fail to deliver on the passion and charisma front but the direction, and overall aesthetic of the film as well. It’s a workmanlike production in terms of direction, scenes shot with a familiar, stale framing and glossy finish that does little to engage the viewers. The only scene that plays with form is too silly to take seriously, as our pairing meets each other’s longing gazes as a group of partygoers sink to the ground while the song “Get Low” by Lil Jon — best known for playing at sweaty high school dancers — is playing. Between the direction and cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt, Red, White & Royal Blue comes across as flat, and listless. There’s no spark, no matter the golden hues utilized in scenes of intimacy. 

It’s a shame because there’s so much promise in the inherent story and charisma to be found among the characters. But the writing needed a great deal more patience, as well as a better understanding of what made our couple so inherently likable in the first place. We don’t need sauve and understated but energetic and frisky — unable to keep their hands off of each other while together and unable to not speak their minds.

Red, White & Royal Blue understands the bare bones of the assignment and will please those looking for a basic adaptation with a queer romance at the front. Fans of the book will revisit the existing source material. This was an opportunity to bring a new level of life to the story and while there’s definite enthusiasm that charges the production, none of it manifests in a way that’s visually engaging. They adapted the outline, rather than the story. 

Red, White & Royal Blue arrives on Prime Video August 11. Watch the trailer below.

Featured Image Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

  • Rating - 5/10
Allyson Johnson

Based in New England, Allyson is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of InBetweenDrafts. Former Editor-in-Chief at TheYoungFolks, she is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. Her writing has also appeared at CambridgeDay, ThePlaylist, Pajiba, VagueVisages, RogerEbert, TheBostonGlobe, Inverse, Bustle, her Substack, and every scrap of paper within her reach.

One Comment

  • Eva says:

    I agree on most of it however I think Taylor was actually the only good thing about the film. You can tell he read the books. He understands Alex on a deep lebel. The thing that did him disservice was the script. They removed June, removed the divorce of his parents and by taking all the trauma and separation anxiety away, the only thing that is left is a confident only child. Taylor’s portrayal of Alex is therefore as best as it could have gotten with the script he received. The problem the movie has is that it took away any kind of relationship building moment. I don’t think it’s the actors fault. We didn’t get the emails, which were full of Alex and Henry’s love letters to each other. We didn’t get to explore their friendships with Nora nor Prez, or their siblings relationships with their sisters. We didn’t get to spend time with them, we didn’t get to watch them exchange and learn to know each other, talk about their respective lives and all the anxiety and pressure that comes with it. We got montage after montage, so obviously, if you remove the emotional core of the story it’s going to feel flat and empty.

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