Gone are the days of the stylish opening title sequence; a stretch of film that the cleverest directors have used over decades as a key tool to set the tone for their movies. Indeed, it’s becoming increasingly rare for filmmakers — either because of algorithms or plain disinterest — to make an early creative flex while simultaneously honouring their key collaborators. And even though this week’s Red, White & Royal Blue appears to buck the trend by opening with a colourful credits sequence, nothing encapsulates the aimless ambition of our times than its complete inability to do anything useful with it.
Based on the popular young adult novel by Casey McQuiston, the movie’s title sequence is scored to Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ “Bad Reputations.” The iconic punk rock number was used in a similar fashion in Freaks & Geeks — the cult classic television show that took particular pride in its non-conformist ways. But they couldn’t have found a less appropriate song for Red, White & Royal Blue even if they’d tried. Nothing about the movie is even mildly transgressive, which wouldn’t be a problem — not every film is meant to break rules — if it weren’t for its overt virtue-signalling.
Like most movies of its kind, Red, White & Royal Blue demands a pat on the back for simply saying the right things, without ever bothering to coat its progressive politics in an engaging story. This isn’t to say that the movie isn’t without its charms, but the filmmaking by debutante director Matthew Lopez is so uniformly bland that even the brief moments of spark fizzle out quicker than a sweatshop firecracker.
The premise, however, is admittedly alluring. The effervescent son of the American President falls in love with the Prince Harry equivalent of the movie’s fictional British Royal Family. Taylor Zakhar Perez stars as Alex Claremont-Diaz, who just can’t seem to figure out his purpose in life, wedged as he is between his working class past and regal present. Across the pond, Prince Henry — played by Nicholas Galitzine — is feeling the burden of being born in a family that is devoted to more to a sense of fast-evaporating duty to the realm than to each other. After a slapstick meet cute at the Buckingham Palace, Alex and Henry discover that the mutual irritation that they’ve felt for each other for years is actually a long-simmering attraction.
They embark on a clandestine cross-Atlantic romance against the backdrop of an international alliance between their two countries, and an impending Presidential election in the United States. The will-they-won’t-they that can sometimes fuel 10 full sitcom seasons is done away with in around 30 minutes. The second act of Red, White & Royal Blue, for reasons that remain elusive even under intense scrutiny, is devoted to Alex’s sudden desire to campaign for his mother, who, by the way, is played by Uma Thurman.
Mainly because the movie (or book) needed a way to create a distance between the two lovebirds, Alex is struck by a desire to rediscover himself, which he fulfils by suddenly attempting to swing the state of Texas away from the Republicans. Middle America, as the movie tells us repeatedly, doesn’t quite endorse the issues that Alex stands for. Meanwhile, Prince Henry is further consumed by his oppressive household, as the movie somewhat successfully highlights how emotional and ideological imprisonment is often as traumatic as physical confinement. “I wasn’t raised by a loving family,” he vents in a particularly heated moment with Alex, who in many ways is the Aladdin in this contemporary fairytale, which is geared more towards the Gen Z than geriatrics.
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The best LGBTQIA+ stories are the ones that never really identify as such. In the wrong hands, the process of foregrounding members of a minority community can often become indistinguishable from the (often inadvertent) act of othering them. By tying Alex and Henry so tightly to their sexual identity, the movie robs them of the chance of leading fuller lives. A scene towards the end, in which Stephen Fry cameos as Henry’s grandfather, the King, feels so blunt that it briefly shatters the movie’s ambient-noise vibe and turns it into something that Anubhav Sinha might have made during the pandemic.
Red, White & Royal Blue will certainly please fans of Netflix’s Heartstopper, or even the reformed Boomers that were raised on an unhealthy dose of Hallmark Channel movies, but slightly discerning viewers will likely be left unsatisfied.
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Red, White & Royal BlueDirector – Matthew LopezCast – Taylor Zakhar Perez, Nicholas Nicholas Galitzine, Uma Thurman, Sarah Shahi, Stephen FryRating – 2/5
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