‘Tis the season for holiday movies. Yes, the theaters are packing people in for seasonal family fare, such as “The Grinch” and others. However, the holidays bring out the best in one particular sub-genre. There’s nothing more delectable than the cheesy Christmas movie. Hallmark has perfected the genre in the past. However, Netflix, with their endless selection of content, has picked up the mantle. To ring in December and begin the holiday season, I sat down with friends (and maybe some eggnog) to binge Netflix’s three latest Christmas additions all in one sitting. Yes, Christmas cookies were involved throughout.
“The Princess Switch”
The only subgenre more delightful than a bad Christmas rom-com is a life swap movie. While Mark Twain would shake his head, “The Prince and the Pauper” formula has never been more fabulously dumbed down than in “The Princess Switch.”
Vanessa Hudgens embarks on the role of a lifetime as she takes on the titular roles. We first meet her as Stacy DeNovo, a Chicago baker who always plans things out and plays by the rules. She gets accepted to a prestigious baking competition in the totally real country of Belgravia. Thus, she packs her bags and heads to Belgravia with her hunky, sensitive “best friend”/sous chef named Kevin (Nick Sagar) and his ADORABLE (it requires all caps) daughter, Olivia (Alexa Adeosun) in tow. Once she arrives, a chance encounter causes her to bump into the reclusive Margaret Delacourt, Duchess of Montenaro (also Hudgens), who is about to marry into Belgravian royalty and become the princess. The two look exactly alike, exchange pleasantries about a distant relative who went slumming in America and decide (for very little reason) to swap places for two days.
What ensues is a perfect storm of bad Christmas movie moments. Margaret falls for Kevin because he’s sweet, has a six-pack and has a spunky daughter. Meanwhile, Stacy develops feelings for Prince Edward (Sam Palladio) because of they both like schedules. There’s a baking contest with stakes that are both frighteningly low and high at the same time. We get carriage rides, fancy accents and lots of shenanigans. Every shot is either in front of a green screen or on an unused “Westworld” set they dumped snow on. It’s a mess, but it’s a jolly fun mess.
Most of this comes from the actors. Vanessa Hudgens treats this as her “Sophie’s Choice” and succeeds roughly 25% of the time. She’s engaging and sweet as Stacy DeNovo. As Margaret, however, Hudgens resembles a little girl wearing Mommy’s grown up clothes to play house. She’s infectious as she rips through this indistinguishable accent. However, she never lets her smile down and always stays winning and engaging. Her moments with Palladio’s prince are morsnooze-worthyhy. However, her chemistry with Sagar is as red hot as the movie will allow it. Sagar steals the show more than once as he lets Kevin be vulnerable, sensitive and (more importantly) funny. “The Princess Switch” is not high art, but it’s great fun, especially with some hot cocoa and a roaring fire.
“The Christmas Chronicles”
Chris Columbus has had a long history with Christmas movies. While he directed the box office classic “Home Alone,” he’s also directed or produced everything from “Jingle All the Way,” to “Christmas with the Kranks” and even “Rent.”
Serving as a producer on “The Christmas Chronicles” (with “Angry Birds” director Clay Kaytis at the helm), one buckles in for an experience that, at best, may seem enjoyably bad. To much surprise, “The Christmas Chronicles” fares better than one might expect. It hits every Christmas trope under the tree, but does so with great glee and charm.
The Pierce household has always been a family of true Christmas believers. Unfortunately, after the death of patriarch Doug (Oliver Hudson) on duty as a fireman, the Pierce family is a little low on Christmas cheer. Oldest son Teddy (Judah Lewis) has gotten in to stealing cars. His mother Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) finds herself at the end of her rope. Only Kate (Darby Camp), the youngest, has any sort of Christmas cheer left, as she devises a trap to capture Santa (Kurt Russell) on camera. The trap works a little too well and both Kate and Teddy sneak onto Santa’s sleigh. However, when they surprise Santa, they cause him to crash, stranding them in Chicago.
Kurt Russell deserves to be in everything. Whoever had the idea to cast him as Santa deserves a raise. Russell exudes fun, charm and maybe even a little sex appeal as Santa Claus. An early scene involves him going into a crowded restaurant and begging for help from all the patrons. He uses their wish list and what makes them naughty or nice to goad them into help. It’s a masterful scene that works thanks to Russell’s great delivery. There’s even more fun to be had as Santa finds himself in more hot water, even ending up in jail. The movie rests on Kurt Russell delivering the goods as Santa Claus and he absolutely overdelivers.
Even the family narrative at the center works well enough. Lewis hits the sullen teenager beats a little too hard, but it’s nice to see his character go on a clearly defined arc. Camp has already showed herself as a young actor to watch in “Big Little Lies” on HBO. Here she takes what could have been an annoying kid performance and makes Kate a young, smart and energetic girl that one can’t help but root for. We feel for their family’s loss, but also find it fun to watch them go on this grand adventure.
It was jarring watching this after “The Princess Switch,” mostly due to the production values. The movie seems a great deal more expensive and features some large CGI set pieces which have room for improvement (to put it nicely). Santa’s elves appear to be a cross between Gremlins and minions, but never quite capture the personality that made both of those creatures such classic figures. “The Christmas Chronicles” might not look like a million bucks, but it’s got heart, energy and laughs to spare. It’s a legitimately fun holiday watch for the whole family.
“A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding”
It wouldn’t be false to say this was Netflix’s most anticipated sequel offering. The classic trash-terpiece “A Christmas Prince” cements Netflix’s place as a repository for glorious trash. That film had everything one could want in a cheesy holiday romantic comedy. There’s a journalist who takes very poor notes. A moody prince doesn’t want to accept his place on the throne. A harrowing toboggan accident provides some much needed gravitas to the proceedings. It all culminates in a genealogy lesson. “A Christmas Prince” epitomizes the adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
It’s hard to see who would find treasure in the film’s sequel “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding.” It’s not just that the movie is poorly made, written and acted. That was a given. What’s most criminal is that the movie has no fun. Gone is the romance, the whimsy and the preposterous logic jumps. Never mind, that third element is still there, but with diminishing returns.
This mainly falls on the central story, which shifts focus away from the wedding at hand and into the financial problems of Aldovia. What’s more interesting than the government conspiracies of a fake country? After a year of enjoying their engagement, Amber (Rose McIver) and Prince Richard (Ben Lamb) come back to a country in turmoil. The working class of Aldovia are on strike as many believe the Royal Crown has been embezzling money and stopped paying them their wages. Yes, we spend a ton of time here. Fun right? The country shuts down with no workers at their station. We’re clued into this because Princess Emily (Honor Kneafsey, best in show again) isn’t able to put on her Christmas play, which is really just an excuse to kiss a boy.
Meanwhile, Amber clashes with Royal Tradition as she tries to plan the royal wedding her way. However, this meets the disapproval of both the taciturn Mrs. Averill (Sarah Douglas) and the Royal wedding designer Sahil (Raj Bajaj). Bajaj impressively manages to marry every Indian cliche that has ever been depicted on film with every gay stereotype known to man. He makes Martin Short in “The Father of the Bride” look as lively as Albert Nobbs. This is less the problem with Bajaj, who attacks the role with gusto. It’s more the issue of the movie, which spends no time setting up any sort of plot or conflict. Instead, it just trots out these broad characterizations and gives them nothing to do. For example, Sahil is just one of two thankless gay ciphers (we can’t forget Amber’s token gbf).
Netflix Christmas Movie Power Ranking
- “The Christmas Chronicles” – Best for: Family nights in, or for Kurt Russell completists
- “The Princess Switch” – Best for: Wine night with the friends, Hallmark movie aficionados
- “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding” – Best for: Franchise completists, not really anyone else