Like a corgi back-flipping over a bathtub of champagne, “Red, White & Royal Blue” starts with a giddy premise and has the derring-do to succeed. The setup is thus: Alex (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the wild child of the White House, is commanded to clean up an international PR disaster by befriending Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), the cloistered British spare. In the film’s first half, the scions secretly fall in love; in the second, they fret that going public might cause another global kerfuffle just as Alex’s mother (a Southern-drawling Uma Thurman) campaigns for re-election.

It sounds like fan fiction and looks like it, too, particularly when Galitzine dips his chin bashfully — a tic that Princess Diana passed on to her boys. Yet, as in any screwball romance worth its trans-Atlantic sea-salt, the first-time director Matthew López gets us rooting for the cheeky couple’s transition from rivals to romantic bedfellows, boosted by the cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt, who photographs the leads so adoringly that you half-expect them to turn to the camera and hawk a bottle of cologne. Thanks to their playful chemistry, we’re sold.

The film is a heavily trimmed adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s zesty 2019 novel, a TikTok smash whose hashtag boasts more than 500 million views. López (best-known as the Tony-winning playwright of “The Inheritance”) wrote the script with Ted Malawer, and the two add theatrical flourishes that feel over-florid: a late-night phone chat visualized by having Galitzine magically appear in a whirl of digital leaves; a museum stroll voice-over that’s so odd, you wonder if it was a postproduction fix for something gone awry; and, most goofily, an across-the-dance-floor stare-down where Alex and Henry lock eyes as the other revelers, grooving to Lil Jon, get so low that they appear to be playing Duck, Duck, Goose.

But the story smartly zeros in on the couple’s cultural gap — or, as Alex expresses it, “He grabbed my hair in a way that made me understand the difference between rugby and football.” Henry has borne a heavy crown since birth and wears his privilege matter-of-factly, though he dreams of anonymity. The Yank is, true to stereotype, brash and idealistic. He remembers being an invisible suburban kid who vowed to accomplish goals that were out of reach for his father (Clifton Collins Jr.), a Mexican immigrant. (Perez also seems aware that his angular cheekbones and roguish swagger make him resemble a young Al Pacino.) Their centerpiece sex scene is intimately staged with Galitzine tracing Perez with his fingertips as though his character wants to remember the moment forever.

The D.C. sequences are snappy, freshened-up versions of the banter we’ve long seen on TV. (Sarah Shahi as the president’s no-nonsense aide and Aneesh Sheth as a gruff Secret Service officer are standouts.) Though the credits list a royal etiquette adviser, it’s hard to gauge if this depiction of the monarchy is accurate (paisley loungewear, tiny topiaries, gilt-framed everything) or just a gaga fantasy that allows a prince to coo, “I went to an English boarding school. Trust me, you’re in good hands.”

Red, White & Royal Blue
Rated R for swearing and some royal hanky-panky. Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes. Watch on Amazon Prime Video.

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