Life

The surprisingly empowering message at the heart of Netflix’s new Christmas movie

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Spoiler alert: this story contains major spoilers for the entirety of The Princess Switch, including the ending.

There comes a time in every woman’s life when she finds herself, exhausted and spent, slumped on her couch ready to watch something mindless on Netflix for a few hours.

It is for this very reason that Netflix has commissioned its brace of guilty pleasure Christmas movies, which started last year with A Christmas Prince and continue this year with that movie’s sequel, the unimaginatively titled A Christmas Prince 2: Royal Wedding as well as The Holiday Calendar, The Christmas Chronicles and The Princess Switch.

These movies are all of a piece, as mindlessly consuming as a bowl of Maltesers and all as deliciously guilty as the next. Like a Michael Bublé album or a box of Quality Street, you know exactly what you’re going to get with one of these Christmas movies. Enlisting every beloved romcom trope - from life-swap storylines and atagonistic love interests to sassy best friends - these movies are predictable in a cosy, worn-in kind of way. 

Take The Princess Switch, for example. There’s nothing particularly new in the plot, which is essentially the lovechild of The Parent Trap and The Princess Diaries right down to the secret handshake and makeover montage, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. And amidst all that cheese and all that formula-following is buried treasure, an empowering message and a fantastically feminist ending that is a step in the right direction when it comes to romantic comedies. 

Seriously, hear me out.

The Princess Switch follows two near-identical strangers both played by Vanessa Hudgens: Stacey, a no-nonsense baker from Chicago nursing a spectacularly broken heart and Lady Margaret Delacourt, Duchess of Montenaro, engaged to be married to Prince Edward of Belgravia at Christmas. (Yes, it appears that Americans think that Belgravia is its own country, complete with palace and tea-drinking royal family. No further questions at this time.)

After the two have a chance meeting at a Belgravian baking competition, Margaret begs Stacey to trade places with her so she can learn what it’s like to be a normal girl, just once, before she is absorbed into a life of royal duty. 

Stacey agrees and a whirlwind 48 hours in each other’s shoes takes place. Margaret gets to throw a snowball, eat a stack of pancakes and gets an eyeful of Stacey’s best friend Kevin and his six pack, while Stacey wears a tiara, dances at a royal ball and impresses Prince Edward with her compassionate heart during a visit to a children’s shelter.

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So far, so The Prince and the Pauper. Everything trundles along merrily like Santa Claus in his sleigh in The Princess Switch, hitting every beat you think it’s going to hit. There’s hijinks about a potential run-in between the life-swapped Stacey and Margaret, there’s a magical meddling old man (Santa?) who helps propel the plot forward, there are conniving baking rivals trying to steal Stacey’s thunder and one particularly scheming butler. (When are they anything but?)

OK, here comes the spoilers. By the end of the movie and a long, languorous 48 hours spent living each other’s lives, Stacey and Margaret aren’t sure that they want to switch back. 

Margaret has bonded with Kevin and his charming daughter Olivia, falling in love with his spontaneity and sentimentality. Stacey, on the other hand, has fallen for the trappings of princess life. She loves the walk-in closet, the adoring prince charming in a tuxedo, and she loves having the power and ability to do good on a grand scale. 

Just the two of Vanessa Hudgens

This all comes to a head at the big baking contest, when Stacey and Kevin win first prize. Prince Edward steps forward to present them with their medals and the jig is not only up, it’s soaring. Margaret confesses that she’s fallen for Kevin and Prince Edward shares that he’s fallen for Stacey, too.

Kevin, bless his spontaneous, sentimental heart, is totally fine with this change in events and doesn’t seem to have a problem with the fact that he’s been so desperately deceived for the past few days. Stacey, on the other hand, isn’t so sure. “You can’t be in love with me,” she tells her Prince. “It isn’t right. Things happen according to plan and this isn’t planned… I’m not a Duchess or a Princess, I’m a baker from Chicago.” Shakespeare wept.

But Prince Edward perseveres, telling Stacey that she is his “destiny, this was the plan, we were meant to be together.” Then, he gets down on one knee. 

Stacey’s just a regular baker from Chicago

In romantic comedies, this is usually the moment when the man would unspool some profound gesture, incommensurate with how much time the couple has actually spent together. This is literally what happens at the end of Netflix’s A Christmas Prince, when Prince Richard is so overwhelmed for the love of plucky reporter Amber that he leaves his snow-dusted kingdom of – sigh – Aldovia, jets to New York and proposes to her right then and there on the spot.

Prince Edward doesn’t do that, though. “If you’re still in love with me a year from today,” he asks Stacey, “will you marry me next Christmas?”

While this is technically a proposal, there’s something about the wording that renders it a cut above the usual rom-com dialogue. Prince Edward doesn’t put a ring onto Stacey’s finger. He doesn’t assume that the magical, romantic cocoon of the past 48 hours will necessarily lead to a happy relationship together. He asks her whether, if in 12 months they still feel the same way about each other, it might be OK if they make it official.

Of course, this being a Christmas movie and this being Netflix, the movie ends with Prince Edward and Stacey’s marriage. We don’t get to see the intervening 12 months, but I like to think that they involved everything a normal couple goes through as they figure each other out. 

A carriage ride for two

I hope that Stacey and Edward got to have a fight about Stacey’s close relationship with her “sous chef” Kevin. I hope that Edward’s insistence on wearing a suit finally wore thin on Stacey, and she demanded that he don some normal clothes for once in his life. I hope that they fought about what to binge-watch on their nights at home in the palace – on Netflix, naturally – and who was going to be on book-reading duty at the children’s shelter every month when they visited.

I hope so. Prince Edward’s considerate proposal with all of its care for Stacey’s life and emotions, gives me that hope.

And this ending makes watching this cheesy guilty pleasure of a movie that little bit more empowering. 

The Princess Switch streams on Netflix now. 

Images: Netflix

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Hannah-Rose Yee

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