Around this time last year, Bros bombed at the box office. While this was the first major R-rated, gay romantic comedy from a major studio, the movie’s marketing left much to be desired, and audiences just didn’t turn up for its release. Despite rave reviews from critics, Bros ended up falling short financially, which begs the question: can this year’s R-rated, gay romcom, Red, White, & Royal Blue, avoid that same fate?
While Bros presented a novelty for the LGBT+ community, it also didn’t really distinguish itself from other gay media. Many gay reviewers have criticized the film on this merit, arguing that the film is a ‘gay romance for straight people.’ Unfortunately, straight people didn’t turn up either. The opposite was arguably true: in the face of continued homophobic aggression in this country, gay productions have come under fire from conservative groups, and Bros was no different. I’m afraid that Red, White, & Royal Blue will inevitably have to deal with that regardless of their quality.
Now, going on Red, White, & Royal Blue‘s trailer alone, it’s still not entirely clear how the film will distinguish itself from other works in the genre. The novel’s plot is a fairly standard boy-meets-boy, enemies-to-lovers storyline, and while there haven’t been any mainstream projects that center around a fluffy, gay romance, it’s fairly common to find independent productions or works that deal with similar themes.
In fact, the ‘gay romance’ genre has been growing more prominent in recent years. Take Netflix’s Young Royals, a series that also focuses on a prince (Edvin Ryding) falling in love with another teen boy (Omar Rudberg) with whom he initially gets on roughly. Or maybe Heartstopper, Netflix’s other hit, starring Joe Locke and Kit Connor), about two teen boys falling in love. The Young Adult genre is teeming with novels about young, complicated gay love as well, making it something of a crowded topic (though one in which gay men ironically struggle to find creative freedom in).
On the other hand, early reviews for the film have arguably laid the groundwork for how it can succeed: the chemistry between leads Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine. Early reviews have noted that the two share an electric, passionate connection on camera, and that might actually be enough to attract positive word-of-mouth from audiences. It’s undoubtedly an intriguing promise: relationships between two men are hardly ever depicted on-screen, and they’re fairly chaste for the most part.
That’s why it’s also interesting that particular praise has been given to the film’s intimate scenes, which drove the movie’s rating up to an R. Nonetheless, some speculation has emerged regarding this assertion. While Bros was definitely a very sexually charged movie that was a good candidate for an R rating, historically, gay intimacy has been graded much more harshly by the MPAA than its straight counterpart. It’s quite possible that Red, White, & Royal Blue is only rated R because it features two men in bed rather than a man and a woman.
That might be an issue for the film: an R rating has, historically, made movies less accessible to the wider public. In theatrical releases, studios are fastidious about this: the higher the movie’s age rating, the more restricted its audience, and the less money it makes.
But Red, White, & Royal Blue will be a streaming release. Currently, most studios refuse to share their streaming profit margins publicly, and the reported success or failures of many of their projects is usually based entirely on the studio’s word. That makes it difficult to gauge whether Red, White, & Royal Blue‘s age rating might affect its reach.
If Red, White, & Royal Blue succeeds, then its performance could mean some big things for projects dealing with Achillean men. Studios will often greenlight projects that might appeal to a successful film’s audience, and that could mean more gay representation in an industry that desperately needs it. Of course, the strike still needs to be sorted out before these projects come to light — and studios need to pay their writers and actors — but maybe some of those films could simply star a gay main character rather than necessarily having to be romantic in its genre.
Though it’s great that gay romance is finally being depicted on film, it’s also high time for more diverse Achillean content. Give us a fantasy film with a gay main character, a gay gunslinger in a Western, or maybe even a gay erotic thriller. It’s time for more freedom for gay narratives. Red, White, & Royal Blue looks fun, and it’s past time that gay men get a low-stakes narrative with a happy ending. Let’s keep working towards more.