I love rom-coms, maybe even to an unhealthy degree, but even I sighed when I saw the 2-hour runtime of Red, White and Royal Blue. It’s a good genre, but it’s just not sustainable for that long… right? Fortunately, delightfully wrong. Going into this film, I expected a progressive take on Hallmark rom-coms, a fun queer romp and nothing more. I was half right, at least - it was definitely had the sappy sweetness of a Hallmark movie. What I didn’t expect, however, was just how well the film communicated its progressive message, seamlessly weaving its themes into a fluffy romance story to create a film that was both entertaining and had a powerful political message.
Based on the novel of the same name, the creators of Red, White,and Royal Blue probably knew they had a sellable story after the popularity of the original work. Still, making such a politically-charged film was still a major risk, especially in a world where having a black woman play Ariel is considered too “woke” and people complain when female video game characters aren’t designed for maximum sexiness. Almost everyone in Red, White and Royal Blue is a minority: the main couple is gay, Alex is half-Hispanic, and both the president and the prime minister are women. The only notable straight white men in the story are both portrayed as villainous for their opposition to the young lovers’ romance (though the irony of Stephen Fry playing a homophobe is not lost on me). In contrast to “apolitical” Hallmark movies, which often end up coming off as quite conservative due to their love of “traditional values”, Red, White and Royal Blue is unashamedly left-leaning.
It is exactly this unabashedness, however, which makes it impossible for the typical anti-woke crowd to critique the film for being too political. Other works try to be subtle in their diversity and claim a complete lack of politics behind their choices, only to be called out as trying to push some liberal agenda - Red White, and Royal Blue, on the other hand, spits in your face and dares you to call it a commie. The film knows what it is and unflinchingly stands by its message, a sincerity that can strengthen any movie. Even better, thanks to the film's willingness to engage with controversial ideas, it’s able to tell a quite beautiful story. The film’s core message is about the importance of representation and it shows, from its casting choices to making sure that Alex’s character avoids the trap of bi-erasure to the significance of the grand finale. It’s all about the power of being the most authentic you, and the film communicates its message beautifully by being entirely authentic to itself.
The “Swooniest” Rom-com
That’s not all Red, White and Royal Blue does beautifully, though, because even if we entirely forget about its political message, it might be the best rom-com I’ve ever watched. There’s a trope in queer media that the stories always end up being about the struggles of coming out and how hard it is to be gay, but at the same time, though, completely ignoring the greater social context feels wrong too. Red, White and Royal Blue, however, tackles this contradiction with amazing tact and grace. The story is, fundamentally, a love story with gay people, not a gay love story. Coming to terms with one’s sexuality and coming out of the closet is and important part of a queer person's life, and so it's given its moment, but the story doesn't linger on it or dramatise it. At the end of the day, it stays true to itself as a romance, and in managing to do so while still confronting difficult issues, it creates that perfect sense of rom-com fluffiness without having its head completely in the clouds.
And oh boy what a soft and fuzzy love story it is. I don’t know that I’ve ever watched a movie that so perfectly captured the feeling of reading a romance novel before. The whole way through I was sighing and gasping, giggling and blushing - I even put my hand over my heart a few times in an effort to keep it from leaping out of my chest. The film is full of tropes and classic plotlines and it leans into them so well, resulting in an extremely enjoyable, if rather silly, final product. This is the love story queer folks deserve - not one about the difficulties of LGBTQ life but about the joys of it. Heterosexual romances are just allowed to exist and be sappy and stupid, and Red, White and Royal Blue gives itself the same grace, not ignoring reality but living gaily within it.
Wise Men Say…
Watch this movie! It’s not for everyone, of course - given its R rating and political attitude, children and bigots need not apply. Otherwise, though, I cannot recommend this film enough. The dialogue is playful, the plot ridiculous without becoming intolerably silly, and the performances all hit the mark. Altogether, Red, White and Royal Blue is touching, meaningful, joyous, and just plain fun. Regardless of whether you’re looking for dumb fun or left-leaning political commentary, it simply cannot be missed.