Red, White & Royal Blue review: The sexy gay romcom we've been waiting for
The film adaptation of Casey McQuiston's best-selling debut novel stands out for the authenticity of its sex scenes.
Four years after Casey McQuiston's debut novel took baby gays by storm, the movie version of Red, White & Royal Blue has finally arrived in what's shaping up to be a banner month for queer YA content.
But that's not to say Matthew López's adaptation is similar to August's other big release, Heartstopper season 2.
Far from it, in fact: While both stories do revolve around young gay love, Red, White & Royal Blue is far more adult in its approach to this topic, which actually turns out to be one of the film's biggest strengths.
For those unfamiliar with the New York Times best-selling novel, Red, White & Royal Blue follows Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of America's first female president, and Prince Henry, a key royal in Britain's monarchy, as rivals who soon become lovers.
To say much more than that would spoil things, as the joy of this film is in the moments of discovery that unfold between Alex and Henry.
That's even true for devoted fans of the book, because López has made a few changes to the text here and there - but don't worry, key moments like the cake scandal and that sequence on the dance floor are all recreated faithfully, with as much tenderness and charm as you could hope for.
Everything from Alex and Henry's texts to that first kiss under the tree are achingly beautiful and gorgeously shot.
None of this would quite succeed, though, without the work of Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine, who live and breathe these two central characters as if they've come directly from Casey McQuiston's imagination.
This is exactly the kind of playful, picturesque romcom that gay movie-goers have long deserved - yet still rarely get to see on screen.
But just when you think this film couldn't get any more wholesome, something new sticks out, *ahem*, and suddenly, comparisons to Heartstopper feel even more distant.
After Alex and Henry make out in a secret rendezvous, they joke about how 'hard' they are still - as in "Stonehenge" hard, or even as stiff as "Big Ben". Love, Simon, this ain't.
Later on, there's a scene where oral sex is heavily implied, although nothing overly explicit ever happens on screen. López skillfully works around this, bringing the lust and desire in without showing exactly what Alex and Henry are doing.
It's pitched at the perfect tone for YA fans who know this stuff exists and yet might be too young to see the specifics of it all play out on screen.
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That doesn't mean Red, White & Royal Blue shies away from sex completely, though. In a pivotal moment for the couple, and also the film itself, Henry awkwardly suggests that "we should make love tonight".
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Alex, who's only just come into his sexuality, is nervous about the mechanics of it all, but as the prince puts it, "I went to an English boarding school. Trust me, you're in good hands."
And then those hands get to work in a beautifully shot and surprisingly realistic sex scene that you can absolutely tell was directed by a gay man.
There's an authenticity that's often lacking in similar scenes, and most crucially of all, the film doesn't cut away right before anything actually happens, as is so often the case in other mainstream fare when it comes to two men in love. From the arch of one's back to the big moment itself, there's no ambiguity around what's happening.
There's no effort to make this palatable to straight audiences either, and rightly so, which is perhaps why the MPAA (the Motion Picture Association of America) gave the film a hard R rating for "language, some sexual content, and partial nudity".
Speaking recently to People, López questioned whether this more mature rating would have still been given "if it had been a man and a woman" instead of Alex and Henry.
He's right to question it, as the MPAA has long been accused of treating queer love as more adult than its straight equivalent, from 2014's Pride to Ira Sachs's most recent film, Passages, following an NC-17 rating the director deemed "dangerous cultural censorship" (via The LA Times).
It's a shame, because the sex in Red, White & Royal Blue clearly doesn't warrant such a mature rating.
And it's not like López crowbarred these intimate scenes in just for the sake of it either. Sex is key to the plot - it's how these characters show their affection for each other, and each physical milestone they take further cements the bond that this entire film revolves around.
While we're extremely grateful that more PG fare like Love, Simon, Young Royals and Heartstopper exists, there is something truly remarkable and even audacious about the way Alex and Henry are just so damn horny for each other in this otherwise sweet and fluffy film.
Red, White & Royal Blue truly is the sexy gay romcom we've been waiting for, and we can't wait to see more of this loved-up pair in a potential sequel.
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