‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ Review: Condensed Queer Joy

Fitting everything that Casey McQuiston's beloved novel encompasses into 2 hours was always going to be tough, but Prime Video's adaptation rises to the challenge.

Mal
Mal
7 Min Read
Prime Video

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Red, White & Royal Blue officially premiered on August 11, 2023, though due to Prime Video’s release schedule many fans were able to watch the movie late in the evening of August 10. Unsurprisingly, the movie’s hashtags were trending on social media within minutes of Alex and Henry gracing screens!

But did Prime Video do a good job?

Book adaptations are notoriously tricky to get right in movie format, and any version of Red, White & Royal Blue was going to have more hurdles to jump than most. Scrutiny of queer media, and the criticism leveled at it, tends to far outstrip works of the same genres that feature only heterosexual relationships. It’s an unfair reality, and one that Prime Video seemed aware of in the weeks leading up to the release, as they unleashed a torrent of promotional material to show fans of Casey McQuiston’s bestselling novel that despite whatever changes they had to make, the essence of Alex and Henry’s relationship would still be there.

Red White & Royal Blue is the story of Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), First Son of the United States, and his rivalry-turned-friendship-turned-romance with Prince Henry of England (Nicholas Galitzine). The two begin the movie by causing an international incident that has their families forcing them to play nice for the cameras. Being buddies in front of the press turns into something far more, risking an international incident of a whole different kind.

The core of that story remains unchanged in the adaptation. There were, however, several changes made to the plot for length and cinematographic purposes. Most seem fairly inconsequential, but some definitely left fans scratching their heads; the omission of Alex’s sister June and Senator Luna, and the retconning of Alex’s parent’s divorce, were puzzling choices for the chopping block. The changes to Alex’s background lessened some of the shared experience with Henry that enabled them to bond so well in the book, and the movie had to rely more on the actors’ — admittedly fantastic — chemistry to bring their relationship to life.

Zakhar Perez and Galitzine did a lot of the heavy lifting in making Red, White & Royal Blue a fun watch. McQuiston’s book dialogue gave the screenwriters some fantastic lines to work with, and the leads delivered them with charm and comedic timing in spades. The banter back and forth between the pair was a true highlight of the movie, and nowhere was it more obvious than in the text message scenes. Lifted from the book and improved rather than cut down, Henry and Alex’s exchanges when they are on opposite sides of the pond were a delight to watch. The merging of their two worlds into one scene, back and forth, was exceptionally well produced and the camera shots of them fading in and out of each other’s spaces enabled them to have far more joint screen time in the first half of the movie than would otherwise have been possible.

The chemistry and brilliant character work by Zakhar Perez and Galitzine were not the only performances of note. Vice President’s granddaughter Nora (Rachel Hilson) had a spitfire charm to her that made it easy for her to steal scenes, and Zahra (Sarah Shahi) was every inch the tough, loving, smart-mouthed Chief of Staff that fans loved in the book. Uma Thurman did a good job with the authority of her role as President Ellen Claremont, though her character came across somewhat harsher than she felt when McQuiston wrote her (and the less said about her Texan accent, the better).

Red, White & Royal Blue as a book isn’t a short read. Making the pacing work for a two-hour movie was always going to be a struggle, especially with any kind of dedication to giving viewers scenes they wanted to relieve from the novel. There are sections of the film that feel rushed as a consequence of that, though Prime Video did a good job treating fans to some unexpected Easter eggs and extras to make up for it, such as a cameo by McQuiston herself as President Claremont’s speechwriter, and a bonus end-credits scene that brings back a thread of the humor that carries Alex and Henry throughout the whole movie. The final result is a condensed feeling, though it doesn’t overly impact the romantic moments that fans are here for.

All of the missing characters, minor plot retcons, and accent abominations could easily have ruined a lesser story. However, with Red, White & Royal Blue they got one very important thing correct — something much harder to describe in a review than production values and acting choices. Alex and Henry feel right. They feel like themselves, and for a story that arguably has some very emotional moments, they make the takeaway feeling of Red, White & Royal Blue one of pure, wholesome, queer joy.

Red, White & Royal Blue will throw every rom-com trope at you, and it’ll do it in flashing rainbow color. As it should; as it was meant to. Rom-coms get to be tropey, they are made for it, and this adaptation never forgets that for a moment.

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