If you’ve opted to skip the cheesy Christmas content being thrown at you by Netflix this year, or got passed over by the all-knowing algorithm, let this be a reminder there’s still time to change your mind. You might think you’re not the right candidate for cornball holiday programming, but I’d suggest you reconsider—and don’t overthink it.
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding dropped on Netflix earlier this month, rounding out the streaming giant’s slate of original Christmas movies. Like the others before it (including last year’s original A Christmas Prince), Royal Wedding is unadulterated schmaltz, designed to uplift and ring in the holiday season without an iota of shame or ironic self-awareness.
It is what it is, and that’s so unspeakably refreshing right now. Do yourself a favour and watch any of Netflix’s Christmas offerings— The Holiday Calendar, The Princess Switch, or A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding—as soon as you need a morale boost.
I’ve left out The Christmas Chronicles, a more polished, family Christmas outing that somehow manages to feel bland and joyless by comparison, offering a too-current Santa played by Kurt Russell. Excuse me, but I’ll pass on a vision of Kris Kringle who complains about “fake news”— give me Netflix’s Hallmark knock-offs over its prestige studio fare any day.
The lower-budget movies are holiday gold. And we need them at a time when the world is on fire and even the holiday season comes with a sense of dread and unease.
The disasters that marked 2018 aren’t going anywhere, sadly, but your mental health deserves better than the constant onslaught of bad news and political what-the-fuckery.
Enter the new slate of Netflix Christmas gems, which seem designed to fill your brain with positivity and holiday cheer as background noise. These aren’t films that demand excessive thought or even undivided attention—you can wash dishes, make dinner, or have friends over and literally use these as background noise.
In The Holiday Calendar, the stakes are so fundamentally low, that any and all dramatic tension is reduced to choices between equally non-threatening, more or less comfortable options.
Abby is a department store photographer with big dreams of working as a “real” artist, in the big studio that has stood empty down the road for months, seemingly just waiting for her to save up the necessary rent money.
Despite being comfortably employed, Abby wants more, but failure would mean, um, taking a job at her rich parents’ law firm. Yes, in 2018, this is as close as the film gets to representing financial hardship.
When a flirtation with a cute doctor is threatened by the fact that he’s not as perfect as he seems, Abby has to make the incredibly easy choice to end a relationship before it ever even really started.
The film is just a series of such “conflicts” that drive a very thin narrative forward, offering idyllic Christmas scene after idyllic Christmas scene, all leading up to the inevitable happy and romantic ending. Oh, and there’s a magic calendar that doesn’t really impact the plot in any way, but reminds us these events are taking place during the holidays. Is it a great movie? Not even close. Is it a pleasantly saccharine balm at a time when we could all use it? Yup!
The Princess Switch is just as corny, but a little more engaging.
Chicago baker Stacy heads to the fictional European kingdom of Belgravia with her bestie and his daughter for a yearly baking contest, but things get weird when she bumps into Lady Margaret, who is betrothed to Prince Edward. Weird only because Stacy and Lady Margaret are physically identical, both played by former Disney star Vanessa Hudgens. Neither seems particularly shocked to meet her doppelgänger, but Lady Margaret does immediately see an opportunity to have one last hurrah free from the restrictions imposed by a life as royalty (there are those low stakes again).
Okay, so it’s not terribly original. It’s like The Parent Trap and The Prince and the Pauper and It Takes Two and on and on and on. The set-up leads to minor mishaps, but ultimately gives way to two unlikely romances.
But isn’t that what we watch these Christmas movies for? Common themes, tired tropes, infinite comfort and warmth and a sense that everything’s OK?
I can’t even make fun of this movie. It was such a pleasure to watch that I defy anyone not to enjoy it. You get the cheesy, campy fun of a Netflix original Christmas movie combined with the genuinely good acting and overall charm of the hugely underrated Hudgens.
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding picks up a year after the original, which, if you haven’t watched it, is a movie so absurdly silly it can’t help but be amazing. A movie so bonkers its reviews became a genre in and of themselves.
In Royal Wedding, Prince Richard is now King Richard of Aldovia (presumably not far from Belgravia, in what is hopefully a shared narrative universe and part of a simmering, years-long build-up to an Avengers-style royal Christmas epic). Everyone’s back from the first film, including the weird jellied meat served at royal functions, and now everyone is preparing for Amber and Richard’s wedding.
But wait! As queen of Aldovia, Amber might have to give up writing her blog!
As with the other two films, the stakes are deliciously low, and the outcomes as predictable as they are satisfying.
Even Royal Wedding’s political subplot, which threatens to spoil the whole thing, manages to stay safely on the side of naive goodwill, with one royal bad egg responsible for everything that’s awry in Aldovia. With the faintest echoes of a rising tide of populism in the kingdom, this aside is not the best move on the part of the filmmakers, but it’s also just a comically hollow excuse for Amber to flex her rather limited investigative journalist muscles. In short, nothing really distracts from the film’s sole purpose as, well, a distraction.
There are plenty of terrible original Netflix movies out there, but frankly, these self-consciously empty little holiday numbers, designed to be easily digestible, aren’t among them. They are exactly what they aspire to be, and their thumbnails alone tell you exactly what to expect. Anyone disappointed by them is likely going in with completely inappropriate expectations.
You can ignore them, or you can get into the holiday spirit, take a day off from the real world, and imagine a reality free from any meaningful conflict or hardship. You’re going to have to face 2019 anyway, so you might as well be gay and merry on day one.
Follow Frederick Blichert on Twitter.