Netflix’s latest holiday confection, The Princess Switch, might be the least original movie of all time, but if you’re a nostalgia freak like me, this might actually be something to celebrate.
The creators of The Princess Switch didn’t just “borrow” from any ol’ flicks. They chose to amalgamate some pretty top-tier fluff—mainly The Parent Trap, Princess Diaries and, yes, The Lizzie McGuire Movie—to make a movie so saccharine, watching it is like eating a cream puff that’s been baked inside a cupcake that’s been stuffed into a pie. The Princess Switch mimics the films that tricked us into thinking the world was a fun place wherein exchanging our mundane lives for royal and/or European ones was entirely possible if only we went on vacation and met our secret twin or a mysterious celebrity that happened to look exactly like us. It may have been written by humans Robin Bernheim and Megan Metzger but I'm pretty sure the Netflix algorithm deserves all the real credit.
Here’s premise: the beautiful but boring Stacy De Nevo (Vanessa Hudgens) owns an implausibly nice bakery in Chicago. (We know we’re in Chicago because they say so constantly and also Vanessa Hudgens wears a hat that says “Chicago.”) Anyhow, Stacy is invited to compete in a royal baking competition in the fictional kingdom of Belgravia—which is probably next door to Genovia from Princess Diaries but they don’t tell us that. At first Stacy is hesitant to go because she’s a very boring person, but then she runs into her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend and decides that baking a cake the size of a Smart Car might be a good way to prove her life has meaning beyond her failed relationship.
When Stacy arrives in Belgravia, she runs into Lady Margaret Delacourt (also played by Vanessa Hudgens) and they discover they have the same face. It’s a bit like when Lizzie meets Isabella the pop star in Rome: the amount of shock these women feel over seeing their doppelgangers is about the same as if they’d found a fifty dollar bill on the sidewalk.
Lady Margaret, tortured by the idea of spending the rest of her life with Prince Ed, the cardboardish man to whom she is betrothed, pulls a Lindsay Lohan and begs Stacy to switch places with her for two days so that she may experience a brief stint of normalcy. And so, while Lady Margaret impersonates Stacy—whose only obligation for the next 48 hours is to act like an American tourist and mentally prepare for the cooking contest—Stacy-as-Margaret is thrust into the royal family, where she must pretend to be proficient at things like horseback riding and playing the piano at charity events. Her struggle is very Mia Thermopolis adjacent; there’s even a scene where she’s taught how to walk less apishly and perform a curtsy. But despite the supposed fictitiousness of the culture she’s impersonating, we all know it’s British, proving that Anglophilia is still a staple of American cinema.
Then of course there’s a double romance and low-key royal conflict and, blah blah, if this movie sounds more like the product of a Netflix algorithm than it does human creativity, well, yeah, that’s probably the point. This movie is a quilt of cliches. But if you’re looking for a respite from pinging news notifications about people dying in fires and world-ending natural disasters, this film may be exactly what you need. Because whether you’re in need of candy-coated escapism or some solid eye-roll therapy, this shit delivers. Here are some more reasons why:
The Parent Trap references keep coming
Just like Annie and her butler, Martin, Stacy and her goddaughter, Liv, have a secret handshake, which Lady Margaret must learn in order to pull off the switch, once again proving there is nothing like a series of choreographed hand movements to prove your identity. The only difference between this handshake and The Parent Trap’s is that no one is going to spend hours learning this jig with their best friend, as many did after watching PT, because, quite frankly, it is grotesque. The choreography concludes with Vanessa Hudgens doing some kind of baller move (a two-armed point n’ slouch) accompanied by an ehh!.
Remember Chessie? The effortlessly cool redhead who waited on the Napa Valley version of Lindsay Lohan? Lucky for everyone, this movie has a Chessie figure as well. But her name is Mrs. Donatelli, and instead cool mom jeans, she dons a sapphire skirt suit. Like Chessie, Mrs. Donatelli serves as a confidante to the leading ladies, and her auburn ‘do is more complex and thoughtfully-crafted than most of the film’s characters. Oh, and there’s also a “let me show you this map of my relatives” scene, just as there was in The Parent Trap. Because how else are you going to learn about someone’s Uncle Greg?
Vanessa Hudgens as Stacy is basically Meghan Markle
With Stacy’s impeccable power suits, slick-backed hair, and transformation from all-American sweetheart to royal bride (that’s not a spoiler because you can see it coming from the three-minute mark), her narrative is weirdly similar to Meghan Markle’s, again proving that we will never get over the Royal Wedding. As reported by Glamour, Vanessa Hudgens even watched the Royal Wedding while in hair and make-up to prep for her role. She said: “I got to kind of put myself in [Meghan’s] shoes and see what that would look like for me as an actual reality, and as the full picture what that would feel like.” (Huh?)
It isn’t totally white-washed
Three of the movie’s leading actors—Vanessa Hudgens, Nick Sagar, and the adorable Alexa Adeosun—are not white, which is nowhere near full representation for people of colour, but it’s better than the usual paste parties we’re used to seeing in Hallmark-type movies.
Unfortunately, the wokeness pretty much ends there. Although there is a compelling portrayal of single fatherhood and some decent feminist rhetoric voiced by both Stacy and Lady Margaret, these moments are overshadowed by the fact that both these women opt for coupledom at the end—with dudes they’ve known for only 48 hours. “I’ve loved you more than anyone I’ve loved in my entire life,” Stacy says to Prince Cardboard, again proving she is boring and has no friends. The movie concludes with a garish wedding between Stacy and the Prince, and the bouquet toss would leave us to believe that Lady Marge and Kevin are next on the matrimonial deck. Heteros are clearly still the ruling class in this kingdom.
Plot holes! Body double mistakes!
Personally I love pointing out the blunders of high-budget movies because it’s nice to feel like I’m smarter than the rich people who made the film. The internet seems to share my feelings. Since the movie’s debut, people have been having a lot of fun pointing out mistakes, like the fact that Lady Margaret apparently has the same pinky-finger tattoo as Stacy. But honestly, if I met my literal body double, the fact that she had the same tattoo as me would be way less surprising than that fact that she also had the same nose.
People are also confused by the fact that Kevin asks to borrow some toothpaste from Lady Margaret even though it’s day TWO of the trip. But listen, maybe Kevin just sucks at oral hygiene. Or maybe he just wanted an excuse to enter Lady Margaret's chambers shirtless, pecs in full bloom, which is what happened, and I’m not complaining.
The green screen work is a trainwreck
Oh my good god, the green screen. So about halfway through the movie, Stacy goes horseback riding with Prince Cardboard on a snow dune. In one shot, the camera shows them from behind, snow blowing up against the horses’ asses as they plod along, but in the next shot, we see the two actors from the front and suddenly the flurries have stopped, the air is still, and the viewer is treated to that uncanny, floating-head look that is usually reserved for bad fantasy movies. Oh, wait, this is a bad fantasy movie! Ok all good then.
There is a BAKING COMPETITION
Netflix has seen your viewing history and knows how much you love The Great British Baking Show, so they decided to make the climax of the movie into a Great British Baking Show of its own. Unfortunately, the actual competition only lasts about five minutes and is marred by yet another plot hole. Stacy, nearly finished her towering masterpiece, realizes the cord on her stand mixer has been cut. Sabotage! “How am I going to puree the berries?” she asks Kevin, who is her sous chef, and who calmly suggests she “do it by hand,” like any capable woman. The hole here is that Stacy has already made every other cake component, apparently without a mixer, which is unlikely. Because not every job can be done by hand.
The dialogue will leave you breathless
Here is a selection of lines, out of context, that I thought amusing to imagine a person writing down:
“A warm horse is a happy horse”
“Someone’s crushing big time on Prince Mothballs”
“If the mouse king shows up I’m outta here”
“And what are you making for your piece de resistance? Cheetos a la mode?”
“Oh yeah like when you sauced professor Kendal’s berries?”
“I slept like a royal log.”
“Your sugarwork is commendable, the filling is interesting, the puree is not as smooth as I’d hoped.”
“I suppose I found out I’m just a normal girl, and normal girls fall in love with normal boys...like you!”
“Kiss her daddy!!”
So, overall, am I personally offended that this is the kind of “content” Netflix producers are looking for? Yes, I am a writer, so this is devastating. But did I watch the film and escape into a blissful land of fake snow and haute British-ish couture for an hour and forty minutes? No, because I watched it twice, making my bliss time three hours and 20 minutes.
Follow Mica Lemiski on Twitter.
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