Vanessa Hudgens pulls a Patty Duke in Netflix’s The Princess Switch, a holiday romance about a British princess and an American baker who swap lives for a couple of life-changing days. It’s The Prince and The Pauper with a Hallmark movie twist, perfect for playing while you bake cookies or wrap presents.
The Princess Switch begins in Chicago, where Stacy De Novo (Hudgens) has a beautiful little bakery that she runs with the help of her hot best friend, Kevin Richards (Nick Sagar) and his plucky daughter Olivia (Alexa Adeosun). But no sooner do we waltz into this sweet shop than the plot spins us to a far-off exotic locale. See, Kevin and Olivia—cheeky father-daughter duo that they are—secretly entered Stacy in a baking competition in the Kingdom of Belgravia. She got in and all expenses are paid! Still, Stacy’s resistant, because if there’s one thing she loves more than frosting, it’s fussing over her plans. But then a run-in with a handsome ex—and his snooty new girlfriend—convinces her to give this free trip abroad a chance, because the best revenge is living the high life to make your ex jealous.
But trouble—and a vaguely magical little old man—follows Stacy. In Belgravia, she runs into an old baking school rival, who Stacy notes only got good grades because she “sauced professor Kendall’s berries.” Wink, wink, judge, judge. This slut-shamed redhead tries to rattle Stacy by staining her apron, which fatefully sends her on an impromptu shopping trip that puts her in the path of Lady Margaret Delacourt (also Hudgeons), Duchess of Montenaro, A.K.A. the royal soon to wed Belgravia’s Crown Prince Edward (Sam Palladio). Wouldn’t you know it, Stacy and the Duchess are spitting images of each other! Turns out they share some DNA thanks to a disgraced Cousin Cecil and the “vulgar American divorcee” he ran off with decades before. Anyhow, the Duchess is destined to rule this kingdom, but fears she doesn’t really know the place. So could Stacy possibly play princess-to-be while the Duchess plays tourist for a day or two? They’ll definitely switch back before Stacy’s big competition and the Duchess’s big wedding day!
A haircut and a tutorial on curtsying later, Stacy is ready to go. They swap clothes, accents, and of course phone cases, then hijinks ensue. There are snowball fights, posh galas, trips to toy stores, a clumsy game of Twister, and more run-ins with the omnipresent little magic man, who is maybe overly invested in these girls getting their hook-up on. While Kevin and Stacy never had chemistry in Chicago, this less “intense” Stacy who says “splendid” and rips up their travel itinerary has Kevin crushing. And while these two Netflix and chill (seriously, they watch another Netflix Christmas movie as part of their romance), the real Stacy is horseback riding and bickering with Prince Edward, who is enchanted by her strong opinions and take-charge attitude.
Hudgens is a charming leading lady, times two. She’s got a breezy charisma, and her comedic stumbles through both fish-out-water arcs are adorable. But this is far from a sweeping romance. Like Netflix’s infamous Christmas Prince, a pleasant TV actress is paired with a blandsome ingendude, whose only exciting quality seems to be that he’s a literal prince. Palladino and Hudgens share no chemistry, and their dates are chaste and cheap-looking, taking place on a clearly green-screened snowy vista and containing all the heat of an icicle. Hudgens fairs a bit better with Sagar, whose smile carries an enticing sense of mischief, and whose playfulness in snowball fights has big DILF energy. But this romance also lacks heat, probably purposefully, so that this holiday pic can stay fully family-friendly. I can’t even recall now if these would-be lovers ever kiss during their curious courtships.
The other galling issue with The Princess Switch is its low-budget production design. Despite having royals and palaces in play, the costumes never achieve awe-inspiring grandeur. And the reveal of Stacy’s first princess gown is painfully underwhelming. I’ve seen smalltown prom dresses with more wow factor. And this is a problem because if the whole purpose of this film is letting “normal girls” (a phrase repeatedly used by the Duchess) revel in the fantasy of being a princess, then GIVE US THAT GLAMOUR!
On the other side of things, the baking competition offers up cakes that look absolutely horrid! I’m not talking Nailed It!-style disasters. But instead of airy and delectable confections that look like edible art, the baking competition presents towers that are clearly made of plaster and paint. It’s confounding that Netflix—who offers a long list of food porn shows from The Great British Baking show to Parts Unknown and Chef’s Table—would fail us on the food fantasy here!
Ultimately, The Princess Switch is fine. It’s cute. It has holiday decor, festive tunes, gift-giving, snow, and Christmas wishes come true. And it’s chaste enough that even your most conservative family member could watch it without clutching their pearls. But it’s not good. It fails on every level of letting us revel in fantasy, be it romance, fashion, or food. But the upside, its plot is easy enough to follow, you can watch it while doing any number of holiday chores and never get lost, or really miss out.
Header Image Source: Netflix