Red, White & Royal Blue “ is a harmlessly enjoyable fantasy rom-com. It’s not Nora Ephron or Nancy Meyers, nor is it really trying to be. It’s more in line, aesthetically, tonally, emotionally (in other words not really emotional at all), with one of those early aughts trifles where a normal American girl discovers she’s actual royalty or a not-normal American girl (usually the president’s kid) starts dating. This is “What a Girl Wants” meets “First Daughter” except this time the romantic partners are men.
The movie, directed by Matthew López, the Tony-winning playwright of “The Inheritance,” who co-wrote the script with Ted Malawer, is based on a popular novel by Casey McQuiston that quickly became a New York Times bestseller upon its debut in 2019 and got the attention of Amazon Studios. McQuiston’s story dealt a hate-turns-to-love story between the son of the American president (a woman) and a senator who begins a secret romantic affair with a British prince. Prince Henry is gay. Alex Claremont-Diaz isn’t quite sure how he identifies. But both are certainly closeted. Other characters are trans and pansexual, though not solely defined by that. The president is a woman, married to a man of Latino heritage. The LA Review of Books described it as “propulsive” and “pulpy” and “fantastical.”
López keeps “Red, White & Royal Blue” in a solidly fantastical space. You don’t ever quite believe anything you’re seeing — from Prince Henry’s ability to go undercover at a Texas bar by simply putting on a baseball hat, to the horrendously fake snow adorning a pivotal New Year’s Eve scene. And yet, like a beach read, it goes down easy and has enough surprising wit and edge that makes it a cut above a lot of mediocre rom-coms. Plus, this has Stephen Fry as the King, Uma Thurman as the U.S. president and an ethically dubious Politico reporter.
Taylor Zakhar Perez (of “The Kissing Booth”) and Nicholas Galitzine (of “Cinderella”) star as Alex and Henry, who met once years before in an unseen “Pride and Prejudice”-style misunderstanding that have our two strapping leads hating one another from the start.
“Red, White & Royal Blue” tries to keep things modern and cool, with its best approximations of CW-style “West Wing”- meets-”Veep” White House and campaign staffers who say things like “you’re yucking my yum.” Sometimes they work.
There’s no “Call Me By Your Name” or “Passages”-level passion here, but López and his actors do go well beyond what their prudish predecessors ever attempted, which is not nothing. We even get a cheeky cutaway to the Washington Monument.
And yet these characters also leave a lot to be desired.
Ultimately, it’s not earth shattering but it’s also perfectly pleasant for what it is and what it knows it isn’t. “Red, White & Royal Blue” is a beach read in movie form and one that can and should be watched with friends. LINDSEY BAHR, MDT/AP Film Writer