If you’ve ever wondered what a screenplay written by the Democratic National Committee for the Hallmark Channel might be like, I’m afraid I have your answer. Red, White & Royal Blue, a gay — excuse me, queer — romcom streaming on Amazon Prime is one of those rare films that leaves you feeling infringed. Some part of it may live in my brain forever — and that seems unjust.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m a big fan of gay movies, even the corny ones. This, however, is post-gay queer chick-lit and not even in the same universe as movies written by, and for, gay men. Hell, I even thought Love, Simon was a cute movie. Red, White & Royal Blue makes sense when you look at the teen romance novel of the same name on which the film was derived. Specifically, the author of that book, Casey McQuiston. She looks like a generic Brooklyn resident who just showed up one day during the George Floyd riots and never left. She’s also — brace yourself — a thirty-two-year-old queer nonbinary woman who refers to herself as a they/them and “was raised by the internet and have a certain fluency,” as she told one interviewer.
“They” attributes “their” breakout literary excellence to having ADHD. “My brain is extremely chaotic… I’m constantly reworking for continuity and flow because I’m such a nonlinear writer,” said the young Virginia Woolf in one interview, where she revealed her research for the book came from visiting the website whitehousemuseum.org.
There’s something deeply sad about a woman who writes gay romance novels. The characters are juvenile, flat and completely unbelievable, with Red, White & Royal Blue being no exception. It tells the story of a love affair between the son of the president of the United States and the “spare” prince of England, named Henry (not Harry). It’s Pride and Prejudice for idiots; Aladdin, but the American street urchin is rich and powerful, too. But in this femme fantasy world, the two young men become the writer’s neutered, defanged and declawed little gay pets.
Toys might be a better word than pets. I caught myself thinking about a fascinating, twenty-year-old research study conducted by toy manufacturer Lego. The study still upsets left-wing journalists to this day; Lego has all but apologized for it. Among its many findings relating to innate gender differences in boys and girls, the study revealed that when playing with toy characters, boys construct scenarios of good versus evil, while girls are more concerned with seeing themselves in the characters. As one commentator put it, “When a boy plays with a toy of a character, he tries to become the character, and when a girl does the same thing, she tries to make the character become her.”
The Barbie movie is all the rage now, but Red, White & Royal Blue seems more like a grown woman playing Barbies, or Kens, rather. McQuiston describes herself as, “a very indulgent writer. It’s like candy, it’s dessert, really getting into those moments.” I’ll say. The film is set in a gynarchy where everyone from the British prime minister to the president of the United States and all senior staff are women. Even the Secret Service agent charged with protecting the president’s son is a chubby chick, who isn’t there for comic relief, sadly.
From the outset, the unfortunate viewer finds himself dreading the eventual sex scene between the two male leads, which you know is going to be overly dewy and twee. That uncomfortable moment, however, is nothing compared to the pillow talk afterwards, where the first son, an aspiring lawmaker, waxes on about the noble calling of American politics. Even the biggest homophobe would find his soliloquy more revolting than the sodomy that preceded it.
The prince’s brother, heir to the throne, who we assume is a sort of Prince William analogue, is an ugly, sniveling, harrumphing meanie — but that’s all we know about him. His realm is tradition, monarchy, heteronormativity — Boo! Hiss! Jeer! The film attempts to create a matter-of-fact post-masculine world, and in this gynopoly the other two or three heterosexual male characters, like the Prince William analogue, are also intentionally mere props; straight men speak a total of like three times in the whole film.
Naturally, the president’s son, like his own analogue — the destructive, faux-naïf Meghan Markle — is vaguely Of Color and, also like Markle, you’d never know it if he didn’t constantly remind you. My last name is Diaz! the world’s most powerful college student — who could just as easily pass for Italian, Scottish, Portuguese, anything, really — laments at one point in the film, a testament to the victimhood he’s experienced by having a low caste last name in these Racist United States. Tweens on TikTok would get the reference, even if it makes no sense to anyone else.
His mother, the president, played by Uma Thurman, was inspired by, according to the book’s author, both Hillary Clinton and Wendy Davis — a Democratic Texas state lawmaker who got a splash of national attention in 2013 when she staged a filibuster against abortion regulations in the Lone Star State. Davis ran for governor the following year but was clobbered by Republican Greg Abbott. In 2020 she attempted to enter Congress but was defeated again by Republican Chip Roy. And we all know what happened to Hillary.
But here, the Davis-inspired Texas feminist rose to president of the United States, where she’s always grumbling about trade deals and other super important boss lady things. And while the storyline is a lazy, reimagined Markle/Harry romantic comedy, the son is clearly inspired by another American embarrassment, Beto O’Rourke, both in appearance, cartoonishness and grassroots Texas liberalism. He’s a Markle/O’Rourke amalgamation, which is quite inventive if you think about it. The film is set in an election year and, against all odds, spoiler alert, the first son’s kooky plan to flip Texas blue succeeds and he saves the day for the Democratic Party after the campaign’s strategy to win the Rust Belt fails.
Meanwhile, once news breaks of the affair, even Prince Henry’s disapproving father, the king and arch traditionalist played by Stephen Fry, who only gets a couple minutes of screen time, isn’t the real villain in this story. That’s reserved for a sleazy, horny Politico reporter — bringing us to the singular point of realism in Red, White & Royal Blue: that gross, lying sex pests stalk the bylines of liberal media.
In the final scene, as the royals cope with the scandal of the younger prince being gay — now national news — hordes of rainbow-flag-waving Brits amass outside Buckingham Palace in support. Now everything’s fine. The End. Personally, I found myself rooting for the prince to obey his father and dump the moronic American, who’s clearly going to break his heart at some point. Still, one must wonder, if a back-up prince were revealed to be gay, would it be that big of a deal? They’ve navigated Prince Andrew, after all. And, if history has taught us anything, the problems caused by a nuisance royal love interest can always be solved by a car crash in France. Just kidding!