Each year, earlier and earlier, the Hallmark Movie Channel begins its tirade of Christmas movies. Most of them can be boiled down to a simple scenario: indescribably quirky girl who has a tiny, weird business meets a man (who may either be a simple business dude or a prince or something) and they fall in ~LURVE~. My step-mom loves these movies and watches them all throughout the holiday season, and my dad and I have often made fun of them. The truth is, I’ve been quick to write off these movies as stupid fluff without really giving them a chance.
Enter this year. Enter The Princess Switch.
Last year, Netflix entered into its plan to corner the Hallmark Christmas movie market with their film A Christmas Prince, and this year they’ve dived headlong into the market with several Christmas movies with low production values. As someone who watched all of the High School Musical movies in one long marathon earlier this year, I was thrilled to see Vanessa Hudgens starring in one of these Netflix offerings, The Princess Switch. When Todd (friend of the pod, boyfriend of Mary, and HSM expert) watched the first five minutes of the film, he said he had to stop. He stopped before the plot even kicked in. I laughed when he told me this and said the movie had to be terrible and that I would never watch it, not ever.
Five or so hours later, my sister declared we were watching The Princess Switch as a family to get into the holiday spirit. It was a couple of days after Thanksgiving and my family wanted to spend time together before I headed back west for school. They wanted to spend time watching The Princess Switch.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy it just a little. I haven’t watched a Christmas movie in a long time and this one was WILD. It begins with Stacy, a bakery owner who works alongside her best friend Kevin and has just been invited to participate in a televised baking competition in Belgravia, which is a whole other country somewhere that doesn’t matter. The movie follows Stacy as she travels to Belgravia, meets the duchess of Montenaro, switches places with the duchess (because they happen to look so much alike!), and falls in looooove. Mild spoilers for the movie ahead (if you can consider anything a true spoiler in this sort of predictable treat).
For the sake of us all, I’ve split up my thoughts into two lists:
Unbelievable Trash Things About the Movie
· There is an old man, who I’ll just call the Christmas Man, that shows up constantly throughout the film. He’s always around the corner to tell Stacy or Margaret that their wishes can come true, or that they should trust their heart, or some other bit of sappy wisdom. He never fully defines who he is (he’s not the spirit of Christmas or Santa or anything), so it comes off as creepy. He’s just a stalker, following around Stacy and Margaret, intruding in their lives and probably breaking some laws.
· I’m kind of surprised that this contest even exists. So Stacy was invited to participate in a televised baking contest in another country, and the contest is going to pay for two days of sight seeing? This is a little much. It’s a lot. Sounds fake, tbh.
· Brianna Michaels, Stacy’s baking competition, is completely superfluous to the story. She’s angry for no specific reason—apparently there’s a rivalry that stemmed from some incident long before? The film only mentions it in passing. Also, are we sure that Brianna’s plan to sabotage Stacy by cutting her KitchenAid mixer cord is…foolproof? Am I supposed to believe that a professional cooking competition of Food Network caliber doesn’t have a backup mixer?
· I’m not sure what Princess Margaret’s whole LEWK is about. It’s kind of like a Jackie-O kind of vibe, with a matching pink skirt-suit ensemble and very, very flippy hair. Many of her special even outfits, like her ball gown and equestrian getup, are fine—maybe even good—but I’m not buying the skirt-suit as the look of a modern, trendy princess. I’m also kind of appalled that Kevin believed the BS about Stacy cutting her hair on a whim. Nobody cuts their hair so flippy on a whim, Kevin.
Surprisingly Good Things!
· The plot’s not bad! Yes, it’s cheesy, especially with the whole “let’s switch places” thing, but I grew up on films like The Parent Trap (both versions!) and It Takes Two. While this style of plot is predictable, it’s also comforting. We may know what’s going to happen but we also know what’s going to happen when we open a box of Kraft mac and cheese, but that doesn’t make it any less pleasurable. Some movies are comforting just because they are, because they’re familiar or cheesy or sappy. Professional film criticism (though I love it and follow it) has formed itself to have a particular taste in films. This taste often means that “fun” movies get pushed to the side in favor of more arty projects. Some critics, like Todd Vanderwerff and Linda Holmes, have written about Hallmark movies and explained why they enjoy the holiday junk food of film. But, for the most part, Hallmark movies (and other low budget films like them) are cast to the side in favor of things like Suspiria (which, check out our recent episode on that one to see how well we liked it. Spoiler: not much). There shouldn’t be anything wrong with enjoying a dumb movie, nor should there be anything wrong with enjoying artier faire. One move I’m seeing professional criticism go towards is something like “let everyone like what they like.” That’s what I want to live by. Like what you like! I could go on and on about how I think Paddington 2 really pushed us towards this point because critics didn’t know how to reconcile their love of that little bear with all their training and taste. *sigh* I won’t, though.
· The Princess Switch takes place in some weird utopia where no one questions the politics of an interracial couple. Race doesn’t seem to be an issue for anyone in the film, partially because it’s not the job of these sorts of movies to question systematic racism. Nonetheless, it’s nice to see a cast that isn’t completely white.
· Stacy and the prince of Belgravia don’t automatically get married, and I’m here for that. Even though the prince seems to need to get married (for political reasons?) and already has a wedding planned that Stacy could slide right into, Stacy isn’t ready to jump right into marriage and tells her prince that he has to wait a year. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in a fantasy world where people will get married at the drop of a hat, this seems like a realistic and thoughtful move. Yes, Stacy and the Prince are in love, but if they really love each other, they’ll just date a year and then get married. Of course, the film fast forwards a bit and we do get to see the wedding, but hey! At least there’s some semblance of a relationship pre-marriage.
Should you watch The Princess Switch? I’m not entirely sure I have an answer for you. I did watch this movie because my family wanted to, not because I would ever have chosen it on my own, but I didn’t hate it and see its merits. It’s wrong to shame ourselves for liking something just because it’s not “high art” (whatever that means), so by all means take a moment this holiday season to watch something silly. Let yourself believe the fantasy for just a little bit and then get back to your regularly scheduled realism.
Besides, aren’t you missing Vanessa Hudgens anyway? It’s been a long time since High School Musical.