It seems only fitting that a movie centered on a Christmas baking contest in a made-up country with a made-up prince would turn out as sickeningly sweet as Netflix's Vanessa Hudgens-helmed The Princess Switch. Inspired by the classic princess-and-the-pauper fairytale (which has already been done to perfection by Barbie), this Hallmark-style romantic comedy is exactly what you would expect from the genre. And though that's not necessarily a good thing all of the time, here the tropes result in a fun, albeit predictable, movie-watching experience.
The Princess Switch follows Stacy (Vanessa Hudgens), a recently single baker from Chicago who switches identities with Duchess Margaret of Montenaro (Vanessa Hudgens, but with a vaguely European accent) while in the totally real country of Belgravia for a baking contest. Things get complicated, however, when Stacy falls for the dashing Prince Edward (Sam Palladio) of Belgravia — and Margaret's betrothed — while Margaret falls for Stacy's best friend and coworker Kevin (Nick Sagar).
Now, to spice things up as I watched this film, I decided to make a rom-com trope bingo card to see how many tropes I could check off before the end of the film. You can use the card yourself with any rom-com. Every time the movie fulfills a common trope, check off a box, and see if you reach bingo before the credits roll.
Here's the blank card:
Not even ten minutes into this film, I'd already checked off several boxes. Because I'm not a cinema snob who hates fun, this amused me. The Princess Switch is completely aware of what kind of film it is, and like literally any rom-com with Christmas in it, the film embraces the cheesy factor wholeheartedly. For example, this mysterious old man pops up literally everywhere in the movie, nudging things in the right direction as required. You know, your classic fairy godmother ... just minus the female part and the hair.
Vanessa Hudgens is exactly what she needs to be as Stacy and Margaret, even if her accent as Margaret is less than believable. In princess/pauper situations, most people relate more to the pauper, but she breathes life into both of her characters with an authenticity not unlike her character Gabriella from the High School Musical films. Stacy is by the book, keeping to a rigid plan in everything that she does despite having the freedom to live her life however she wants. Margaret, by comparison, is free-spirited and spontaneous but held by duty and rank. The movie reminds us of this often — and not subtly.
My biggest complaint about this movie is, honestly, the switch itself. And yes, it's a fairy tale so suspension of disbelief is important, but Margaret literally asks Stacy to switch places minutes after they meet. Minutes! She trusts this stranger to impersonate her as royalty just because ... they look alike?
Belgravia must have awful secret service.
Confusion (and slight horror at the state of Belgravia's diplomats) aside, the hijinks after the switch are pretty fun. Stacy's motivation for switching places with Margaret is actually really sweet, and Hudgens has fun with it. I can confirm that watching her play someone with a British accent trying to imitate an American accent is highly amusing.
And in case anyone was wondering, Stacy and Margaret are totally feminists.
Now, onto the men.
The love interests are gorgeous, and one of them can sing, which is honestly just unfair. It's odd seeing Sam Palladio playing European royalty and not crooning country music on Nashville, but he makes the transition wonderfully. When you've got the level of dreaminess that he does, it stays with you whether you have a Southern drawl or British accent. That said, I'm not ashamed to admit I had to pause the movie and laugh for a few minutes when he first popped up in a suit with that accent.
Similarly, Nick Sagar portrays one of the most down-to-earth and likable love interests I've seen in a long time. Kevin doesn't need fixing. His daughter doesn't act like a brat. He treats Stacy/Margaret/Stacy-as-Margaret with respect and kindness. He's the ultimate package, complete with abs. Maybe it says something about society that I'm showering praise on a male character for meeting the bare minimum standards of "not being awful to women," but that's a topic for another day.
This movie is, at its core, two love stories. It's about human connection, love transcending social status and how we cope with the baggage we carry with us. Hudgens' chemistry with Palladio and Sagar sparkles, and I found myself enjoying both romances, even if the Edward/Stacy romance is clearly the focus of the movie more-so than the Kevin/Margaret one.
Look, this movie is as cheesy as they come, but should anyone expect anything different? It's a fun(ny) fantasy, improbable and adorable and optimistic. As long as you go into it with that in mind, you should have no problem enjoying it.
After all, what's life without a little bit of holiday magic?
In case you're curious, this is how my bingo card looked by the end of the movie. Beware potential spoilers.
No bingo for me this time, but with the sequel to A Christmas Prince coming out soon, I'm sure I'll have a winning card in no time.