Jingle bells, ‘The Princess Switch’ smells… and so do most other modern Christmas movies.
God, I miss when Christmas movies were good. Curling up on the sofa with your siblings and being filled with joy and wonderment as some kooky, but lovable character learnt the true meaning of love and Christmas, barely able to contain my excitement for the day of all days to roll around. That’s really not a feeling I get anymore, and while that’s partly due to age turning me into a miserable git, it’s also largely down to just how poor modern Christmas movies are. There’s really no nice way to put it – most modern Christmas films are utter shite. But, like all things Christmas related, they’re also irresistible, and so despite my apprehension, I found myself watching Netflix’s latest attempt at a modern classic Christmas film, ‘The Princess Switch’.
Now, I won’t lie to you and say I hated this film, I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. But not because it’s good. It’s not; in terms of cinematographic technique, plot and character development, it’s abysmal. But it’s a nice, light-hearted film, the type of thing you turn to when it’s a Friday night and you’re scrolling through Netflix, not really wanting emotionally engaging content, because let’s face it, you’re probably going to be playing on your phone the whole time anyway. ‘The Princess Switch’ is your typical Princess and the Pauper story – a Chicago baker and a Duchess of a made-up European country share the same face (both have the good fortune of being played by Vanessa Hudgens) and they decide to switch places for two days so that the Duchess can experience living a normal life. And it’s Christmas. And the Duchess is due to marry a handsome prince, who she doesn’t love, and the baker has a handsome friend who she doesn’t love. Gosh. I wonder how this will end…? This movie is more predictable than Titanic – we know that the unsinkable ship is going to sink just as surely as we can taste the sickly sweet ending of this film.
‘The Princess Switch’ wins bonus points by sheer merit of being a Christmas movie and having Christmas music in the beginning, but by the end, I can’t honestly say that the film felt all that Christmassy; sure, it had the whole mandatory ‘let’s help these poor orphans’ and ‘giving is the true meaning of Christmas’ spiel, but the film lacked the heart and depth of its predecessors. Christmas was very much an after thought to this movie, shown only through the fact that it was snowing and the fact that presents were exchanged – I was by no means filled with the Christmas spirit after watching it. The dialogue was quite awkward and a lot of the acting brought on the odd cringe – there was just so much unnecessary laughter at things real people wouldn’t laugh at, just to portray that everyone’s happy?
The film also included a little shameless self-promotion on Netflix’s behalf – at one point, two characters log on to Netflix and watch the film they released last year, ‘A Christmas Prince’, crying at its happy ending and describing it as their favourite film. You have to admire that ballsy bit of product placement. As with most rom-coms, the film has a ridiculously accelerated timeline – who falls in love in two days? I’ve been alive eighteen years and I’ve never been in love – then again, I also don’t spout shit like ‘normal girls fall in love with normal boys’, so. Guess that one’s on me. To ‘The Princess Switch’’s credit, the ending of the film, while unrealistic, wasn’t nearly as unrealistic as I was expecting, so I by no means regret the hour and a half of my life I spent watching this film.
After watching this film, I found myself pondering a very important question – well, two, I guess, if you include where the hell has Vanessa Hudgens been for the last ten years? – Why are modern Christmas movies so bad? I think that the route of the problem with modern Christmas films is that they try too hard to emulate the old classics, having seen what works and wanting to cash in. But the problem is, we’ve already been there and done that. It’s uninspired and it’s unoriginal. It’s potentially also still catering to a generation that’s passed. Do people still want the incredibly wholesome films of the past, but set in the present day? Have you been on the internet lately? 2018 is anything but wholesome, and the people-pleaser Christmas films of the past rarely have a specific demographic, as they want to appeal to everyone. We still love them because they’ve reached classic status and they make us nostalgic for a simpler time, but new material with this same flavour simply doesn’t hold up well against films like It’s A Wonderful Life, The Muppet’s A Christmas Carol, The Grinch and Home Alone. A new approach is needed, a fresh spin, deviation from that same old formula.
Gone are the days when people want unrealistically optimistic Christmas movies (probably due to the over-saturation of the genre) – ‘Christmas is saved, everyone is happy, all you need is love!’ Pass. Have these filmmakers ever had a real Christmas? Forget about turkey, Christmas is the time for beef – petty arguments, bratty behaviour, maybe the odd family secret being drunkenly revealed. After a build-up that gets earlier and earlier each year, the real event is overwhelmingly mediocre, with a few happy moments sprinkled on in. Relatable humour is very much in right now, and there’s nothing less relatable than a perfect family having a perfect Christmas. Show me a Christmas movie where everything goes to shit and instead of magically fixing it, people realise that perfection is overrated and that they just don’t need to try that hard – maybe then I’ll care.