December 21, 2021
Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year. No, not the time of year when you gather with friends and family and everyone you love to celebrate making it through another year by exchanging expensive gifts and drinking way too much. We're talking about the time of year where it's actually socially acceptable to watch Christmas movies.
Outside of the mainstream theatrical holiday films, there have also been the made-for-TV masterpieces, most notably the Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (and to a lesser extent Lifetime Christmas movies). Those are... much less reliable and often fall into the genre of the kind of movies you'd typically expect to find on those channels.
But in the last three of four years, a new genre of Christmas movie has been created: The Netflix Christmas Movie™️ (or NCM for short). And just like with their regular content, they've been churning out NCMs at a breakneck pace. Sure, there are plenty of those craptastic Hallmark- and Lifetime-type movies also available on Netflix, but the streaming giant already has multiple trilogies of their own, plus others that have sequels and spin-offs and even some existing in the same cinematic universe, the Netflix Christmas Universe, one that will conceivably continue to expand until we reach the singularity when all of the known universe is consumed by either the Netflix or Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But for this exercise, we're going to stick to Netflix originals. And we're going to review them. Not all of them, but 12 of them (technically more since we'll be grouping some together) over the next few weeks as we present to you the 12 Days of Netflix Christmas Movies. So sit back, grab a cup of hot chocolate (or spiked eggnog if you prefer) and let's get started...
[NOTE: All of what follows comes with the disclaimer that I'm full aware I'm reviewing Netflix Christmas movies and not Academy Award contenders, so when I say something is "a good movie" it's all relative. And as a warning, while some of these movies may be family friendly, not all of these reviews are. They may also contain some spoilers but, come on, it's a Netflix Christmas movie.]
Tweet-length review: "A Christmas Prince" might not be the best Netflix Christmas Movie, but without it we might be reviewing Lifetime or Hallmark holiday movies instead.
You might recognize: Rose McIver ("The Lovely Bones," "iZombie"); Ben Lamb ("Divergent," "The White Queen")
The plot: Aspiring New York journalist Amber (McIver) takes on an assignment to cover the transition in power in a small country called Aldovia, where the crown prince (Lamb), a noted playboy, is M.I.A. and has just days to accept coronation or power will be transferred to the next in line for the thrown. You know, the thing all pop culture magazines care about.
While there, Amber assumes the identity of the American tutor who was recently hired for young Princess Emily, the precocious yet impish little sister of king-to-be Richard. Amber uses this new identity to get close to the royal family to get the scoop about Richard, but Emily is quick to discover that Amber is not who she says she is, and is instead a journalist looking to write a scandalous story about her family. In exchange for Emily keeping her secret, Amber agrees to write about the real Richard, who is not nearly the person the tabloids make him out to be.
Naturally, as Amber spends more time around Hot Mike Birbiglia, she begins to fall in love. But in the process she discovers a secret about Richard that he doesn't even know, one that not only threatens to expose her true intentions if she tells him, but could possibly upend the entire Aldovian monarchy. Boy, that escalated quickly.
What makes it terrible: Everything about this movie is just a little ... off. And that's fine considering Netflix was still finding its footing in the Christmas genre — after all, an argument can be made that this is the one that started it all for the Netflix Christmas Universe. They obviously have thrown more money at and started pumping out more Christmas movies in the years since, but with "A Christmas Prince," Netflix may have learned that they didn't need to spend a lot of money to make a successful holiday flick.
But this was 2017, they hadn't really dipped their toes into holiday movies yet and were clearly hesitant to make a big financial commitment to the genre as is evidenced by some of those aforementioned idiosyncrasies.
Right from the start, you get the feeling that something isn't quite right about this one. Sure, there's the standard holiday movie trope of a slow zoom in on New York City with stylized opening credits — and we're about to get many more tropes like dead parents (yes, plural), an orphanage, a writer and a little kid who figures everything out before all the adults — but there's something both vaguely familiar and oddly unrecognizable about that song playing in the background. I swear I've heard it before...
Apparently, Netflix — a company with a $263 billion (with a B) market cap was too cheap to pay for "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and instead went with Alan Paul Ett's "A Happy Holiday." You know, that old classic.
That kind of sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
For example, journalists play an important role in this movie as the main character both is one (or is trying to be one) and has quite a few run ins with others. And while they get some things right — like their overall curmudgeonly attitude and their disgust when a press conference gets called off at the last minute — they miss the mark on others, and pretty badly. Like early on in the movie when Amber confronts one of the writers at "Now Beat" magazine who she is editing and asks why he turned in 650 words for his piece on New York Fashion Week when it was only supposed to be 300.
A few things about that... First, who is turning in a draft for a print story that is more than twice as long as the assignment? Second, who is assigning a 300-word story on something as big as Fashion Week? (Do you know how long 300 words is? My intro, the first four paragraphs of this story, is 297 words.) And third, who is then forcing/allowing a junior editor to completely rewrite their story? This guy might be the worst journalist ever.
Or he would be if Amber didn't break about every single tenet of journalism ethics. Forget passing 101, she didn't even make it through the syllabus. I mean, I don't want you to see some of the awful notes I've taken while watching these movies (or working on any other story for that matter), but if you're going to make it a point to show your journalist main character's notes, then try to make them a little better than this...
Honestly, most of those aren't even notes. They're the thoughts you should have when you look back at your notes — you don't need to write those down. Like, do you really need to write multiple times that you have to figure out what's really going on? I get this is your first story, but presumably you've taken notes in a class or a meeting at some point, right?
Ethically, an entire college course could be taught on all the things Amber did wrong while covering her first "story," including lying about her identity to and taking advantage of a minor with a physical handicap. But the craziest thing is that might not be worst. And unfortunately we don't have time to get into all her, let's say, problematic choices here.
Speaking of Princess Emily, that continues our theme of things just being a little bit off. Her character suffers from spina bifida. And while I'm all for inclusion, if they're going to force this into a movie — there was really no plot-driven reason to give one of the main characters a physical ailment — then they should at least try to give that role to someone who suffers from a similar condition.
And finally, since we're running a little long here, we'll just mention Amber's two friends from back home, who weren't great in this and unfortunately only take on bigger roles in the final two installments of this trilogy.
What makes it good: For all the crap I just gave this one, there is something to be said about things being just "slightly off." Considering this was one of their real first attempts at a cheesy holiday film like this, it's impressive how much of the bones are already in place for a solid Christmas movie — and for more evidence of that look no further than the fact that Netflix not only made two more "Christmas Prince" movies, but they also made three "Princess Switch" movies, and those basically follow the same general regular-girl-posing-as-someone-else-meets-and-falls-in-love-with-prince arc. But the biggest thing "A Christmas Prince" might have in common with "The Princess Switch" is that it perfectly walks the line of not taking it too seriously, which allows you to both laugh with it and at it. This time, however, I'll spare you my minute-by-minute thoughts and terrible jokes. (Except I will also add that this has another thing in common with "Princess Switch," in that the most "Christmas" thing about them is that they take place at Christmas/there's some sort of Christmas deadline and that they take place in snow-covered winter wonderlands. For these, however, unlike some of the other rom coms we've reviewed, it seems to work.)
That overall tone this movie strikes might be the best thing it has going for it. That, and the rapid movement from scene to scene without much time wasted — just six minutes into the movie, and Amber is already in picturesque Aldovia — which is how it's able to clock in at a crisp 92 minutes. I've criticized a lot of movies in this series for being too long. This was not one of them.
And while "A Christmas Prince" doesn't quite hit the bullseye, there is actually a lot to like, even in some of the things I directly criticized above.
For example, I did like Honor Kneafsey as Princess Emily, even if I had questions about some of the character decisions the writers made. I also thought cousin Simon (Theo Devaney) made a very hate-able bad guy. From the minute you meet him, you kind of want to punch him right in his stupid face, and that's the perfect quality for a villain. And if you, like me, enjoy him, you'll be glad to know he gets even more screen time in the future installments.
My favorite part of this movie, however, is it takes place in a world where journalism isn't dying and print magazines have enough of a budget to send a nobody reporter halfway across the world to a tiny ass country over Christmas on a whim — and then not even run the story she produced, which was actually more in-depth than anything her editor could've hoped for. Like I said, it's those quirks that are the best part of this movie.
And, obviously, given the impact this had on the rest of the NCU, we've got to give it some bonus points for that.
Rating: On a scale from a partridge in a pear tree to twelve drummers drumming, I give this eight maids a-milking.
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