December 13, 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.]
Before getting into the actual review for this one, one more note:
"The Princess Switch" is actually a trilogy on Netflix, with the most recent version coming out in 2021. While we would love to review all three here, that would just be too long (as you'll see this one is already long enough on its own). So instead, we've decided to review the first installment here to help introduce new viewers who might not have seen it yet — or for those who already have to perhaps find a new reason to revisit it. If you've already seen the first two, you probably already know whether or not you plan on watching the third, so you don't really need a review. Therefore, this is more for those who are on the fence about giving the entire trilogy a chance.
OK, let's dive in...
Tweet-length review: Welcome to "The Princess Switch," a movie that will leave you asking the question, "How many Hudgenses are too many Hudgenses?"
You might recognize: Vanessa Hudgens ("High School Musical"), Vanessa Hudgens ("High School Musical"), Sam Palladio ("Nashville")
The plot: In this modern holiday-themed retelling of Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper," an unassuming, newly single Chicago baker named Stacy (Hudgens) enters an international competition in an obscure European country, Belgravia, only to find out that she is the perfect doppelgänger for the Duchess of Montenaro, Margaret (also Hudgens), who is set to marry the Prince of Belgravia (Palladio) in a few days. Longing to live the life of a "normal girl" before being married to someone she only met a few times, Margaret asks Stacy to switch places with her for a couple of days. Everything goes smoothly and they switch back without anyone catching on.
Just kidding! It all goes to absolute shit in like 20 minutes as they're not nearly as smooth as they think — and it only gets more complicated when Stacy starts to fall for Prince Edward (because he's a prince, duh) and Margaret falls for the dorky-but-surprisingly-chiseled best friend/co-worker that Stacy brought with her.
What makes it terrible and what makes it good: Normally, we break this up into two different sections. But that's just the thing with this movie. What makes it terrible is also precisely what makes it good. It's kitschy (a word I hate but one that certainly applies here), and while there have been some movies along our journey to the center of the Netflix Christmas Universe that have been true "hate-watches," this one falls into a slightly different category.
Although it's a blast to make fun of while you watch it, it feels more like you're laughing with it than at it. I didn't dislike this movie — in fact, this was my third time watching it after I re-watched it last year on my own when the sequel was released — but that doesn't stop me from making fun of it each time, like a family member who you know can take it. That's largely possible due to an extremely likeable lead character (characters?) and because at no point does this movie take itself too seriously. It knows what it is. It's a dumb Christmas movie. And I mean that with the utmost respect.
"The Princess Switch" walks a fine line at certain points and can border on outright bad at times — some of the supporting actors could use a lesson or two — but that's what the best of these good/bad movies do so well. They allow you to make fun of them while still enjoying them and secretly hoping that there's a happy ending for everyone involved.
In that spirit, we're going to do this review a little differently. Instead of telling you what I liked and didn't like, I'm going to list some of the random thoughts I had while watching this movie. If you haven't watched the first one yet, feel free to skip down to my rating and decide for yourself if you'd like to check it out, although I'm hoping at this point you've already pulled it up on Netflix. But if you have seen it before — or are about to hit play for the first time and want to read along — feel free to enjoy (some of) the notes I took during my latest viewing of "The Princess Switch," which is earning a spot in my yearly Christmas movie rotation.
- A Christmas movie that starts with an overhead shot of a city slowly zooming in to street level while holiday music plays? And a self-employed (baker) main character? I can already tell this one is going to be different.
- So it’s a week before Christmas, Stacy is clearly running a busy bakery that’s doing work for places like city hall, and she’s just going to shut down to go off to some baking competition? Like, it was really sweet of her co-worker Kevin to apply to the Great Belgravian Bake-Off to cheer her up, but how about a little more than a couple day warning? No wonder she says no. Although I guess something — or someone — changes her mind.
- Ugh, that someone is a boy? Specifically her ex? Poor Kevin did all that work for her, pleaded with her to go, and you can already tell he’s friend-zoned, and has probably been there for a while.
- First, we have Kevin’s daughter Olivia saying Belgravia is “like a fairytale” and now she’s running into an old mysterious man on the street who is talking about Christmas magic? “I just wish I had someone to spend [Christmas] with.” | “Christmas wishes have been known to come true.”
- And just like that, we’re in Belgravia, where apparently it’s cool to leave roaring fires going in totally empty houses.
- We’ve been in Belgravia for all of five minutes, and we already see a familiar face. The mysterious old man is back! And this time he has glasses and an accent, just to let you know that there’s either something magical at work or he’s the world’s worst conman, because Stacy recognizes him immediately.
- Turns out, the mysterious old man’s real power is exposition, as he explains that there’s a royal wedding coming up but no one really knows what the Duchess looks like because she’s “camera shy.” Come one man, it’s 2018! She'd be all over social media!
- We get our first glimpse of the prince after he almost runs over Stacy, and he doesn’t think very highly of Americans. Shocker.
- If I met someone who looked EXACTLY like me, so much so that I couldn’t even tell us apart, I would be a little more freaked out. They just do a double-take and suddenly it’s no big deal. Wouldn’t you have a million questions? Perhaps think it was some sort of “Parent Trap” situation — or worse, some sort of “Orphan Black” scenario and she was your “sestra?” I mean, seeing someone who looks like you is one thing, seeing someone who could be your clone? That would be a bit overwhelming.
- The biggest question at this point is how do these two identical people exist, and they explain it away by saying that they are possibly distant cousins after one of her ancestors fled to America, but never say for certain one way or the other. OK?
- You’re just a baker and a Duchess asks you to do her a huge favor that could get you in big trouble — I imagine impersonating a royal is bad — and you don’t ask for some jewels or something in return? You just ask for ballet school for your goddaughter? That’s nice and all, but maybe aim a little higher?
- I’ve seen “The Devil’s Double.” There’s no way they’d be able to pull off this switch in an afternoon — even with a montage this glorious. But I guess the suggestion is that they look SO MUCH alike that people wouldn’t even suspect a doppelgänger. On a related note, Stacy cut her hair, so good luck telling them apart I guess.
- We've been taking way too many notes, let's slow it down a little bit here.
- Stacy and Kevin have been best friends for 12 years, they work together every day, and she comes home acting totally different with a new hair cut and a semi-British accent. And he couldn’t tell? But the two people who presumably know her the least — the king and his butler — immediately tell something's off?
- Of course the daughter figured it out right away. I knew that handshake would come back, but I think she knew before that. Great BS meter on that kid.
- The green screen when Stacy and Edward go horseback riding is absolutely hysterical.
- And now the mysterious old man is back telling Kevin not to give up on his love for Stacy (who is actually Margaret)? And Olivia just wishes for a new mom? Geez, Kev, they're really laying it on thick. I hope you're paying attention.
- Is... is this girl trying to get her dad laid?
- It's about this point in the movie when my wife informs me that Prince Edward is played by an actor who can really sing. And yet they go this whole movie — one that includes several carolers and even a piano duet with Stacy and Edward — without ever having either Vanessa Hudgens or Sam Palladio sing? That seems like a missed opportunity, but in terms of walking that fine line that a good-bad movie needs to, that might've pushed this one too far into the bad. Maybe it was ultimately the right call.
- Now the mystery man is at the party at the palace to push Edward in the right direction? This guy sure gets around.
- Forget the fact that she's outside in the middle of a frigid winter night wearing a sleeveless ballgown and somehow isn't cold, but I think Stacy is falling for Edward during their dance at the gazebo.
- And now Kevin walks into Margaret's room without his shirt on — spoiler: he works out — and suddenly she is probing Stacy for more info about him and his relationship status? I think I see where this is headed (duh).
- "The most important part of being a princess is caring about other people?" Stacy, who is very much not a princess and is only pretending to be one, tells a little girl at the orphanage. "And if you do that, then you're a princess in your heart." I’m pretty sure it’s the jewelry, and the gowns, and the castle, and you know, the prince. Why would you lie to an orphan like that?
- There are no presents for the orphans despite the huge castle and lavish parties? Is this actually a movie about the wealth gap?
- The near run-ins with Stacy and Margaret — or people coming close to finding out — are one thing, but the princess (previously a recluse) is clearly out and about now. There would be pictures of her all over social media and the news. Plus, when the wedding was announced there would’ve HAD to have been a pic. How does no one recognize her when she's walking around as "Stacy"?
- Perhaps the most important note in this entire review: This movie sort of breaks the entire Netflix Christmas Universe. How? Well, "The Christmas Prince," which we'll review next week, is a movie in this universe, and apparently one of Stacy's favorites. Why is that a problem, since Netflix often has its characters watch other Netflix properties during these movies all the time? It's a problem because — spoiler alert — in the second installment, "The Princess Switch: Switched Again," the two main characters from "The Christmas Prince" make an in-person appearance at Lady Margaret's coronation. We've already talked about the wider implications on the NCU based on Hudgens' referencing "The Christmas Prince" in "The Knight Before Christmas," but now it gets more complicated. Essentially, "The Christmas Prince" both exists in this universe and the characters are real people. And since in "The Christmas Prince," there's a reference to Belgravia, we also know this trilogy exists in that movies universe — on top of them both existing in the same universe. How is that even possible? Or does that mean that all of these characters exist inside a Netflix universe inside a Netflix universe and it just keeps folding in on itself like that scene in "Inception" when Elliott Page swings the two mirrors closed and all you can see is an endless repeating image?
- Oh man, I just missed like half the movie trying to wrap my head around that one, but I can still tell that both Stacy and Margaret have fallen in love with the other's "person" and now they have to figure out how to pull off the real "switch" before they get caught.
- We'll leave the ending for you to enjoy on your own, because this has gone on for far too long and I think you get the idea. Plus, the way this all plays out is even more ridiculous than you'd expect. And that's why this movie is the perfect combination of good and bad. Some people are going to love it. Some people are going to hate it. And some people are going to hate how much they love it. You can count me among Option 3.
- Finally, what if I told you this movie had a sequel where there were even more Hudgenses? Is that something you might be interested in?
Rating: On a scale from a partridge in a pear tree to twelve drummers drumming, I give this eleven pipers piping.
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