Welcome to Flopcorn, where Reader writers and contributors pay tribute to our very favorite bad movies. In this installment, social media editor Brianna Wellen and staff writer Leor Galil discuss the bizarre appeal of the Netflix holiday extravaganza The Princess Switch.
Brianna Wellen: I first clicked on The Princess Switch on Netflix because I have an undying love for cheesy holiday rom-coms. My mother introduced me to the made-for-TV snow-globe genre of movies because she genuinely loves them, sappy unbelievable plots and all, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve grown to love them in my own way because the plots are ridiculous, the acting is over-the-top, and it somehow still makes me feel emotional by the end. So I know why I watched this movie: it’s in my blood. But Leor, why did you watch this movie?
Leor Galil: I’m still trying to figure out why I watched this movie. It is not my brand, it is far from the list of things Netflix would suggest I watch, even with the amount of time I spend trying to throw Netflix off my scent. But I’ve got a close group of friends with whom I enjoy viewing quote-unquote bad movies, and I get a lot of cheer from the experience. For our most recent film-watching hangout, we wanted that cheer to be holiday themed, so we turned to Netflix’s latest entertainment gruel, The Princess Switch. And it was . . . memorable, partially because it didn’t reflect our normal movie choices. I was mostly shocked by how thin the whole enterprise was, and I’m told it’s similar to Hallmark’s battery of entertainment. How does The Princess Switch fit into this “holiday” (cough cough Christmas) special spectacle?
BW: The Princess Switch was an obvious attempt to build on the success of last year’s sensation A Christmas Prince, which apart from a complete misunderstanding of the field of journalism (but no one ever quite gets that right) was a truly enjoyable movie that in my opinion is better than similar Hallmark films. As far as the normal holiday fare goes, so far Netflix’s attempts are actually slightly less schmaltzy and provide a welcome change of scenery thanks to what I’m assuming is a much larger budget. Almost every Hallmark movie takes place in some small Connecticut town with little spectacle to speak of. The sparks that fly between the big-city lawyer and the down-to-earth carpenter (the careers can be interchangeable, of course) are all we get. And Hallmark rarely challenges its leads to play multiple characters, as is the case with The Princess Switch.
LG: Can we actually describe what Vanessa Hudgens did as “playing multiple characters”? I realize she was given two roles, and one role required her to speak with an accent that suggests she’d spent a weekend in the UK, but she didn’t have much to work with, really, for either character. One is a princess and has shorter hair, the other is a baker who’s allegedly from Chicago, which we can only confirm because she wears a baseball hat that says “Chicago.” (Editor’s note: Technically she is a duchess and won’t become a princess until she marries the prince, even though the movie is called The Princess Switch. This is not confusing at all!)
BW: Well, Leor, let’s consider that she had to play both of those characters on their own plus each of those characters pretending to be the other character, which some might describe as four roles.
LG: I’m surprised both her characters managed to convince every adult that they hadn’t unexpectedly run into their body doubles and decided to switch places!
BW: Hudgens not only spoke with a somewhat-British accent, but with a faked British accent and a somewhat-British-accent-trying-to-sound-like-an-American-but-not-really-Chicago accent.
LG: I’m . . . a little surprised her foreign princess character didn’t try to speak in a southern accent while pretending to be an American
BW: Maybe we should briefly describe the plot for anyone we’ve lost so far.
LG: Wait, you’re telling me there’s a plot?!
BW: Actually, it seemed like there were several plots that just kind of got lost in the shuffle. A baker who lives in Chicago is invited to compete in a world-renowned baking competition in the fictional European country of Belgravia. The competition is taking place at the same time that the duchess of another fictional country, Montenaro, arrives to marry the prince of Belgravia. The baker and the duchess pull a Prince and the Pauper-esque switcheroo for reasons that I’m still unsure of, and fall in love with the respective men that the other person just happened to be spending that weekend with. Is that pretty much it? (Editor’s note: The duchess wanted to experience life like a “normal person” before she got married. For reasons.)
LG: I realize you just typed a lot of words to describe what happens during the course of a movie that apparently is more than an hour long but began to feel like three hours in the last act, but I was a little surprised anyone still makes movies this . . . thin. We shouldn’t struggle to figure out the princess’s main motivation when the people who made the movie didn’t bother to do the basic research of creating a world that feels a little more—maybe not realistic, but certainly more developed.
BW: Part of what makes the conceit of these switch-em-up movies fun (think The Parent Trap) is that we’re just waiting for one of the characters to get caught by someone who knows them well doing something completely out of character and seeing how they wiggle their way out of it. In this instance, the duchess-as-baker is found out almost immediately by her sous chef’s daughter, and no one seems to have met the duchess before, so everyone thinks she’s just a little quirky. There are no stakes.
Stakes are introduced in the baking competition, however, which could have been one of the most dramatic scenes in the movie! A too-shortly-onscreen baking rival cuts the cord to our heroine’s mixer, but it ends up being not a big deal at all.
LG: I mostly forgot about the baking competition, even though that’s the very event that brings our Chicago crew to Belgravia in the first place. And no one besides the rival appears to care much about it either. But perhaps that’s because the baker, the sous chef, and the sous chef’s daughter were more invested in the baker’s love life than the thing that allows them all to survive?
BW: In the movie’s opening scene they all definitely seemed more concerned with the baker getting over her ex than the long line of customers begging for one of their famous . . . cakes? Cookies? I’m not even sure what they’re known for baking.
LG: I couldn’t even see a kitchen! Their bakery looked more like a jewelry store than a place to purchase . . . cakes?
BW: The only other store shown on the hustling and bustling streets of “Chicago” is a shop that just says “Christmas Store” on the window.
LG: Chicago, famous for its glistening bakeries and Christmas Store!
BW: And don’t forget, the hat!
LG: Who could forget the hat? It’s the only memorable part of the movie! I forgot the names of all the characters!
BW: The Chicago hat has somehow become the biggest star of this movie, even more than the mysterious old man who pops up every now and again to talk to our characters about love for no discernible reason.
I feel like a lot of the descriptions of things that happen in this movie can be tagged with “for no discernible reason.”
LG: Which is what I found both frustrating and fascinating in this movie. Netflix, which throws an unknown but large amount of money at a finite but large number of projects, invested in a holiday rom-com that wasn’t romantic or all that funny, made by people who don’t appear to understand how societies and humans function.
BW: This reminded me of one of the most baffling scenes, when the baker-as-duchess attends a fund-raising gala with the royal family and is asked to play the piano. She sits down at the piano, looks a little flustered, then the prince comes over and leads her in the MOST BASIC, one-finger-at-a-time rendition of “Carol of the Bells” ever. Keyboard cat would have hit more notes. And the room erupts in applause.
LG: To be fair, I’ve never seen anyone who has no basic piano training and is also pretending to be a princess actually pull that off. But also no one at that ball knew all of that background information or pretended to notice that a princess who allegedly is quite skilled at the piano had trouble playing it. Or is Belgravian society so misogynistic that the performance exceeded their expectations? We don’t know! All we know about Belgravia is that its denizens speak with British accents!
BW: And that they apparently have the best children’s dance school in the world! Another shoehorned plot point.
The Princess Switch makes no sense, features terrible accents, and feels like it lasts forever. So why do we like it so much?
LG: I don’t know if “like” is the correct word, I’m just fascinated that it exists. It’s B-grade fare that manages to be comfortably innocuous. It’s produced and distributed by an entertainment giant. And it is just “off” enough to feel anomalous. There are a lot of variations of “bad” movies out there, but this hits an unusual combination that I didn’t think could be possible in 2018.
BW: It’s a movie that I genuinely enjoyed being perplexed by with a friend, and would watch in a group again if only to throw my hands up and yell “WHY IS SHE WEARING A CHICAGO HAT?” over and over again.
I can’t help but wonder if Vanessa Hudgens and the director and everyone involved went into this with a genuine love for the material or if they knew it would hit the so-bad-it’s-good sweet spot. In an era where bad movies are celebrated more than ever, it seems impossible to not be self-aware of the possibility.
LG: The only moment that struck me as self-aware was when two of the characters settled down to watch a holiday movie and they selected . . . A Christmas Prince. That broke my brain. This movie broke my brain. And I need that Chicago hat to keep it together.
BW: Well, A Christmas Prince got a sequel this year. We can only hope that in 2019 the Princess Switch Chicago hat will get its own spin-off.