It’s Fine That ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ Is Just Fine – Esquire UK

It has been a little over a week since the release of Amazon’s gay romcom Red, White & Royal Blue (though, as with Heartstopper, one of its romantic leads is bisexual), and you might still be nursing some reaction-based whiplash. In The Guardian, it’s a “bland gay romance”, The Independent notes that there’s an “air of liberal fantasy to it all”, Vulture’s headline declares it “Brain-Breaking”. Conversely, audience reviews are, widely speaking, passionately positive: TikTok in particular is obsessed with the film, and the slick work of director Matthew Lopez certainly helps that virality. One video which sets teary scenes from the film to a Taylor Swift song (never accuse these accounts of not knowing their audience) has been viewed over 3 million times. Is it really possible that this film is more divisive a summer release than Barbie?

In truth, the film, which follows the enemies-to-lovers romance between the US president’s son Alex (played by Taylor Zakhar Perez) and England’s Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), is absolutely anything you want it to be. Charming gay romance? Sure. An exploration of British-American relationships? Okay! A geo-political drama about long-distance relationships and underpinned by an exploration of identity? I’d listen to you. You could laugh, or cry, or smile, or simply sit there for almost two hours (the run time is truly unfathomable) and think, “Okay, that was a film I just watched.”

Red, White & Royal Blue certainly has ambitions just north of forgettable. Henry’s favourite film is In the Mood for Love (a believable touch). Alex has serious plans for American politics (less convincing). There is a lot of stuff around sex but not that much sex itself (the film has a 12 rating). Scenes of late-night phone calls and international longing are inventively shot. And it’s certainly striking that Alex’s mum (the president is played by Uma Thurman, with a moreish Southern accent) talks to her son about Truvada, sexual positions and HPV (hoo boy!). Whether these elements feel like good taste, boundary-breaking gay representation or simply gestures towards those things will depend on your cynicism and, more than likely, your current relationship status. It is easy to love something when you are in love.

It’s entirely unsurprising that the film became Prime’s most-watched on its debut weekend, and that it is now one of the platform’s most-watched romcom of all time. It is based on a bestselling novel of the same name by Casey McQuiston, it has eminently marketable leads and the film asks you not to think too hard. Besides, it is not like there’s a shortage of LGBTQ television shows and films to watch. And yet, as with any project that is one of the first of its kind, it’s a little disappointing that this gay romcom is not a stone-cold classic. As with two gay romcoms from last year, Bros (starring Billy Eichner and directed by Nicholas Stoller) and Fire Island (starring Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang), a lot of pressure is put upon these projects.

They are going to fall short of those expectations, and right now the romantic comedy – which when done well, should appeal to all audiences – is in a Netflix-sanctioned exile. We are a long way from indelible films like Notting Hill. We are even further away from When Harry Met Sally… in which Nora Ephron’s writing transcended any of the genre’s barriers. Recent romcoms, even the watchable ones, have been trapped in a cycle of self-awareness, happy to point out tropes but too lazy to do much about them. With its limitations and overall fine-ness, Red, White & Royal Blue fits right into that trend. Perhaps that’s enough for now.

‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ is available on Amazon Prime Video

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