“Red, White and Royal Blue” is a 2019 romance book by Casey McQuiston that tells the story of love conquering political pressure, bigotry and even the Atlantic Ocean.
It also happens to be my favorite book, and it was adapted into a movie a little less than a month ago.
Because the book means so much to me, my expectations for the film were too high going in. The movie fell short, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a beautiful love story that should be shared with the world.
For those of you who haven’t devoured the book several times like I have, “Red, White and Royal Blue” follows the story of Alex (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the son of U.S. president Ellen Claremont (Uma Thurman), as he navigates his early 20s as one of the most popular young adults in America. After a disastrous cake tragedy at a royal wedding, Alex is forced into close proximity with Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), the prince of England, for some “good ol’ fashioned damage control.”
Spoiler alert: The two fall in love, but the main conflict of the story comes when they are grossly outed and struggle with their identities in the political arena and the consequences of loving each other in public.
“Red, White and Royal Blue” is a beautiful story of representation. Alex is a proud Mexican-American, his mother is the first female president and a member of Alex’s security detail is transgender.
The chemistry between the leading men is off-the-charts. Fans were pointing out the perfection of the casting choice before the movie trailer was released. Even photos of the two on set were enough to know that these two were a match made in Hollywood heaven.
While the movie doesn’t allow time to delve into the complexity of Alex and Henry’s lives that led them to this point, the actors find a way to draw out the most important traits and show audiences why Alex and Henry fell for each other — and help us fall in love with them too.
Unfortunately, director Matthew Lopez had the challenge of cutting a 400 page book down to a two hour movie. He mostly did a great job, but he cut integral characters, combined two characters into a new one and changed small details that would have been fine in their original format.
However, Lopez and screenplay writing partner Ted Malawer made some tough calls that turned out alright, like combining two dates that featured the same characters and progressing Alex and Henry’s relationship in much the same way.
Some of the dialogue was wittier and one-liners were punchier than their original ancestors. My personal favorite was Sara Shahi’s take on the serious but passionate and cynically humorous Zahra. She was a scene stealer whenever she was on screen.
However, the cast list left much to be desired…
The most featured character to meet the chopping block was Alex’s beloved sister, June. In the book, she provided sage older sister wisdom and logical expectations for Alex to strive for. I think her loss is felt in the film, as the book’s White House Trio’s energy isn’t the same when it’s just Alex and Nora (Rachel Hilson), the vice president’s granddaughter.
Another character to be lost to the pages of the book is Leo, President Claremont’s second husband.
This change really bothered me. I felt inspired to read about a divorced woman holding the highest office in our country. While this is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, I think it says a lot about the character of the United States in the book’s universe that they would elect a woman who didn’t get it right the first time around, who had made mistakes but was happy with her choices and her life.
Instead, President Claremont (aka mom of the year for her comical yet supportive reaction to Alex’s coming out speech) is happily married to Alex’s dad, Oscar Diaz (Clifton Collins Jr.), who also holds public office as a U.S. senator from Texas.
My least favorite part of the movie was the writers’ attempts to combine two characters: Rafael Luna, an openly gay senator from Colorado, and Spencer, a good friend/fling that helped Alex start to question his sexuality before the book begins. They are loosely sprinkled into Miguel Ramos (Juan Castano), a slimy journalist who has a history of trysts with Alex.
It is implied in the movie that Ramos, a queer journalist of color, outed two political heartthrobs to get a good story, his five seconds of fame or possibly some sort of twisted revenge. For context: In the books, Alex and Henry are outed by the Republican candidate running against President Claremont in her bid for reelection, and it ultimately costs him the election.
This change was not a good call at this time in our history. I know it removed the need for additional characters in an already busy movie, but the change is borderline dangerous.
At a time where journalism is threatened by prominent political figures and Republicans are getting away with harming the LGBTQIA+ community every day, the creative team of “Red, White and Royal Blue’’ opted to steer away from presenting a very realistic modern problem. The creative team had the opportunity to drive this point all the way home, and they slammed on the brakes before they had the chance.
Ultimately, I will think of “Red, White and Royal” much like I do the “Percy Jackson” movies: They stand well on their own and are enjoyable films, but please never compare them to the books because the books are so much better.
That being said, check out the movie “Red, White and Royal Blue” on Amazon Prime, and if you like it, please don’t just walk—run to pick up a copy of the book because I think you’ll love it even more.