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The Princess Switch review: Not the classic holiday rom-com 2018 deserves

Netflix's take on the classic switcheroo narrative is not the streaming service's finest hour.

Hudgens times two.

It was a great day for rom-com fans when Netflix announced that, off the back of the success of delightful summer fave  To All The Boys I've Loved Before, it would be investing in more sugar-high-inducing movies for 2019 and beyond.

But The Princess Switch, its rom-com high hope for the Christmas season (among a roster of holiday content), is not exactly what I had in mind.

The film follows New York baker Stacy as she travels to Europe to compete in a baking competition, where she meets a duchess called Margaret who just so happens to be her spitting image. The two switch places so Margaret can dodge the advances of the prince she's been set up to marry, and hilarity (by which I mean some mildness awkwardness) ensues.

That's right, it's The Parent Trap meets The Princess Diaries, but with none of the potential to become a classic. And quite frankly, Vanessa Hudgens, in the two main roles of Stacy and Margaret, deserves better.

Hudgens injects magic and charm into the movie, with its bland supporting cast of characters. These include an annoying, all-knowing old man who appears in various guises to offer "advice" and ask signposting questions, and a prince so lacking in charisma you'd feel tired just at the thought of ever having to make conversation with him.

It most closely reminds me of noughties-era made-for-TV Disney Channel or Olsen twin movies that occasionally made it to the UK on a VHS recorded off the telly by someone's cousin in Philadelphia and then smuggled across the Atlantic in a suitcase via Orlando.

If that was the case here, maybe Netflix could have got away with its totally unconvincing and overblown depictions of Europe. But in the streaming age, where the service is pushing the film just as hard to European viewers as Americans, cross-cultural ignorance just doesn't fly.

Let's start with the fictional European countries of Montanaro (is this supposed to be Montenegro?) and Belgravia (a wealthy area of London irl), the capital of which is Wembley (don't even get me started). Everyone speaks with cut-glass accents in the Queen's English, and yet uses language that is intrinsically American ("conservatory", "attorney", "pants"). It's hard to tolerate such levels of lazy.

The same can be said of the film's use of the princess tropes. Sacking in a career as the one of the world's most talented and prolific bakers to join the royalty is probably not the girl-power narrative the world needs right now. Plus, in 2018, when most real European princesses are too busy living their best Instagram lives in LA to worry about marrying cardboard cutout princes, the whole premise feels regressive.


Princess narratives in 2018?

Gabriel Hennessey/Netflix

As an aside, for a film that's ostensibly about princesses and baking, there's not actually a lot of baking, or even a princess, in the Princess Switch. The princess, Margaret, is actually a duchess, who is supposed to become a princess by marrying a prince. It sort of works? But it's a leap.

I can also confidently say I have never seen Europe look more American than it does in The Princess Switch. Many of the exterior shots look like western sets blasted with snow guns, others like they've been filmed in the fairytale land section of a theme park. And then right in the middle is about three seconds of random stock footage from the Grand Place in Brussels to try and inject some credibility into this farcical staging. "Look! Europe!" it screams, not a cast member in sight.

This right here is some iffy editing, and it's just the tip of the iceberg. There are some points at which, as viewers have noticed, Vanessa Hudgens' face has not been swapped in for that of her body double. Then there's a secret handshake (a device lifted directly from The Parent Trap), which is supposed to give the game away. But the moments where Stacy actually teaches Margaret the handshake and the moment in which Margaret is actually found out are missing, leaving the viewer to fill in the blanks.

It's entirely possible these scenes just didn't make the final cut -- a shame, because it feels like the viewer is often hurried through the narrative in a way that doesn't allow for comedy, drama or joy. Given that The Princess Switch is just over one hour and forty minutes long, the whole thing feels remarkably rushed.

And yet for its many, many flaws, there is something quite charming and enjoyable about this botched attempt at a Christmas rom-com after all. It's no Love Actually. It's no The Holiday. But for all its many faults, a strong argument could be made for sticking it on the telly on Christmas Day as a cross-generational people pleaser.

Children might be more forgiving of its inconsistencies. Cynical adults will take great pleasure in scoffing and eye rolling. Meanwhile, everyone in a food coma can happily nap through to the final scene safe in the knowledge they are missing absolutely nothing.

At the very least there is a lot to laugh at (if not with). Take this line of Stacy's (as she's pretending to be Margaret), for example. "You know what they say: a warm horse is a happy horse, and there's nothing better than a happy horse."

Winner winner, Christmas dinner.

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