Updated: Nov 30, 2018
Tis the season for impossibly sweet love stories wherein an uptight city girl returns to her hometown in time for Christmas to save the family farm/dog park/old folks retirement center, thereby meeting the local prince/handyman/widower (but the kind with cute moppets) whose car--vintage truck, actually--is curiously clean for a bachelor. It is never littered with fast food wrappers or half-empty Diet Coke bottles or unlaundered undercrackers from that time he went on a run during his lunch hour and had to change in the back seat. Also, his house has acreage and history and maybe one unfinished bathroom that he is working on. (The bathroom is a METAPHOR, Linda!)
Netflix saw fit to bless us with The Christmas Prince last year and they're dialing up the fromage again this year with The Princess Switch. As a lover/author of sweet romance, I am never going to not watch. Anything remotely Hallmark-ian is my mothership. So, get yer Snuggie. The queso is calling.
We open in romantic, ice-locked Chicago where Stacy Denovo runs "Stacy's Sweets and Treats". The name is rubbish but her branding, packaging and roomy retail space belie the suggestion that she is the 'best kept secret in Chicago.' Girlfriend is doing well. Girlfriend probably has amazing Yelp reviews. Lean in, Stacy.
The good baker has a sous chef named Kevin who has a precocious daughter, Liv, and excellent abdominal muscles. Never fear, we will get to meet both of them. Kevin has just the ticket to pull Stacy out of a year-long break-up funk--entry into a prestigious holiday baking competition in the tiny English-speaking country of Belgravia which has their very own swoony royals.
Nobody needs your logic, Stacy. Liv has already ordered the Team-Let's-Go-Visit-The-Handsome-Prince t-shirts and Kevin has dimples. So off to Belgravia they go!
Belgravia does not disappoint though it helps when we don't think too hard about the geography. Perhaps they are neighbors of Genovia. #thoughtsandprayers for the coming trade war with Anne Hathaway.
While rushing to change an apron ruined by a baking villainess (She used French expressions twice. So.), Stacy has a meet-cute with her very own doppelganger--Lady Margaret Delacourt, Duchess of Montenaro, future wife of Prince Edward of Belgravia.
Then, in less time than it takes to clip on a pearl ear-bob, the impetuous Lady Margaret has a smashing idea. Lady M. wants to go slumming for a couple of days--incognito, of course. Would Stacy mind swapping places? Cutting her hair? Mastering an accent I'm not even sure I'm buying yet?
Ordered, organized Stacy holds out long enough to secure Liv's spot in a Belgravian ballet summer program. The lady-in-waiting stands very still but her face is having a LOT of opinions. Still, the deal is struck and now all that's left is the montage of awkward getting-to-know-you stuff. Whereas The Parent Trap twins(!) spent weeks of painstaking role-playing and rigorous lessons, here, all this is accomplished with a quick scroll through Stacy's Instagram and a glance at the conveniently illustrated Belgravian family tree. And then they try to mimic one another.
I was charmed. I admit it.
Then Stacy gets a haircut. I mean, it's very Jo March hacking off her proto-feminist locks to buy passage for Marmee (shudder) to visit their injured-while-fighting-to-end-actual-slavery father. Except it's just super fancy ballet lessons. But cutting hair at Christmastime is a time-honored tradition so off it goes.
Hijinks ensue when Prince Edward (played by a plausibly handsome actor who, nevertheless, looks a wee bit like the actual Prince Edward who is, it must be said, Queen Elizabeth's least plausible son) decides NOT to go visit the Spanish something-or-other for a couple of days but, instead, intends to get to know his fiancee better. Mind you, their wedding is next week and she's still curtsying to him on the regular.
Stacy does her best to fit into this world wherein it is normal to say SHED-ule but her performance is robotic--like Data on the holodeck enacting his human fantasies. Still, she fills out all the Pepto Bismol pink Chanel knock-offs so no one is the wiser.
Because Prince Edward is back, Stacy is going to have to do things like go to a charity ball and wear an entry-level tiara. (Alas, production costs failed me here. Princess wish-casting requires more bling than a simple diamond scroll similar to any number of items found on a clearance rack at Claire's.)
But first a little horseback riding. The way Stacy fills out her riding clothes are enough to put the sparkle of Dynastic Ambition in Prince Edward's eye and soon the pair are on their way. Finally, on a snow-swept hilltop, Edward tells Stacy that "Sometimes the affairs of state can be a burden," which I have decided is a pile of horse pooh. Tiny country royals are like the voice-over actors of Hollywood--making bank, working in their pajamas, still able to run out for Starbucks without a press of adoring fans...
But Stacy's entrepreneurial spirit is irritated when Edward tells her she doesn't need to concern herself with economic trade deals. Forgetting she is just here for ballet tuition, Stacy insists she should get to be interested in trade, thereby tying Lady Margaret down to a future of sitting in on tariff negotiations for which Lady Margaret will be super thankful, I am sure.
Speaking of Lady Margaret: She and Kevin are getting along in picturesque ways--snowball fights, open-air ornament painting, toy shopping, etc. Liv has discovered Margaret's true identity--sniffing it out like a child raised solely on Stranger Danger videos--and starts trolling everyone with Christmas wishes about "a new mom". Liv is a master. She should skip the ballet and go straight for an apprenticeship in international relations.
For his part, Kevin is attracted to this 'less intense' Stacy which... I mean, her intensity pays your bills.
Meanwhile, Prince Edward has grovelled to Stacy and is super excited to hear all her opinions about everything. And then, thank you Netflix gods, they go to a ball.
Again, props to the production values. It's a plausible ball. (Though half the extras were all, "Are we bowing when they come in? We're not? Oh we are...How about I just bob a little.") Caught under the mistletoe, our characters cheek kiss like a couple of stuffed Hallmark bears with the magnets turned around.
And then, like she is an international accountantcy detective, Stacy proceeds to ask the king pointed questions about this charity they're all dolled up to support. The king recoils from lady opinions and Stacy is asked to play the piano to cover this awkward lapse in knowing her place. Alack, Stacy does not play the piano.
I was expecting a bungled rendition of Chop Sticks which is why I was fairly impressed with the set piece (fish out of water is put on the spot) as it unfolded in a couple of smart ways. Edward, newly perceptive to the needs of his arranged fiancee, offers to make it a duet. When she doesn't know anything, he says, "How about Carol of the Bells?" (which is actually on theme, You Guys) and then proceeds to hold her hand as he shows her the chords. He even finishes off with a cross around her back to hit the final notes and we get a little bonus touching.
Dear Screenplay authors, I know these movies won't win you the Oscar you dream of. They have a lot of beats you have to hit and a lot of tropes you have to work in. You could have phoned this in. Well done. This was nicely conceived and executed. Sincerely, Warm in my Snuggie
Stacy and Prince Edward rendezvous in a chilly gazebo while she's wearing a tasteful strapless dress that doesn't need any hoiking and he asks her to dance. "Here?" she asks.
That night the Duchess and the Baker use actual cell phones to communicate. "Kevin is like a puppy," Stacy tells Lady Margaret. "If you're nice to him, he'll follow you anywhere." Which statement is so shady it's killing the lawn. And then Lady Margaret gets to see Kevin's non-puppy-like abdominal muscles and a full complement of auxiliary muscles when he comes to borrow her toothpaste and her reaction makes her my favorite. (#TeamKevinsPecs)
The next day, Stacy guilts Prince Edward into visiting the family shelter his charity ball was in aid of. The matron of the place says, "Isn't she wonderful!" in such a gushing manner after Stacy finishes reading a book to the poppets that I was tempted to rise up with the oppressed Proletariat and overthrow our fat Bourgoisie overlords.
An almost-homeless little girl says, "I wish I were a princess too," and Stacy is all, "If you're nice to people, you're totes a princess."
We get another mistletoe kiss and this time, someone's turned the magnets around the right way. When Stacy leaves him that night--after collecting a meaningful piece of heirloom family jewelry--his lips are still kind of chasing her when she shuts the door of her celibate duchess suite and cries against the door. She's going to really miss those tariff negotiations.
Meanwhile back at the cottage, Lady Margaret and Kevin settle down to watch a Christmas movie and, YOU GUYS, they choose her (Stacy's) favorite: The Christmas Prince--a documentary featuring Prince Richard of the neighboring country of Aldovia and his bride Princess Amber. (Netflix is batting 1000 when it comes to naming nascent royalty after mid-80s cheerleaders.)
Kevin goes in for a kiss. He shoots! He...is firmly placed in the friend zone! When Lady Margaret (as Stacy) tells him they ought to forget all about it, he nod-cries like a little girl. Though I am struggling to find this attractive, I recall the full complement of abdominal muscles and I am provisionally appeased. The Duchess and the Baker, both sadder and wiser (sure), switch places in the castle even though they harbor unholy passions for the men they leave behind.
The next morning, Stacy competes in the baking competition, winning even though she produces a cake I find uninspired and pedestrian. And Lady Margaret sits Prince Edward down and explains some home truths about switched identities and her need for things beyond duty and tradition. Things like midwestern sous chef pecs.
Lady Margaret and Prince Edward (who is not even wearing a tie! Is he a farmer?) race off to Wembley Studios...
...to award the ribbons. Lady Margaret sorts everyone out with very little bother even though Kevin's incredulity is not plausible. She settles into his muscled embrace for guilt-free snogging and Liv's approbation. And Stacy gets an extremely public (televised) proposal that promises her--next year--all the baking and small-business owning she could ever wish for.
What should she do?
Rating: Four Christmas Cookies
Highlights: A sneaky royal chauffeur gets a redemption arc. The lady-in-waiting is a masterful $#@!-stirrer. The queen is going to be an excellent mother-in-law who knows, as all women do, how terrifying the threat of lady-swooning can be. And the prince has some genuinely adorable lines about fending off an alien invasion with diplomacy first and laser guns second.