While it’s no Parent Trap, Netflix’s The Princess Switch is a competent enough of a diversion, and it’s admittedly fun to see Vanessa Hudgens play two versions of herself.
It’s that time of year again, when Netflix dumps all of its holiday offerings on the platform, and chief among them is The Princess Switch, a title similar in spirit to last year’s A Christmas Prince.
In a move only Netflix could make — and what other Netflix shows have done, such as Big Mouth — it makes a self-referential gag where two characters sit down to pick a Christmas movie. And what do they do? They pull up Netflix and scroll through the selections, and they choose to watch A Christmas Prince. It’s an insane meta moment that can only make you shake your head and laugh in appreciation.
And, believe it or not, that’s not even the most insane thing that happens in this feel-good holiday charmer. The headline is Vanessa Hudgens playing two characters: the prim and proper Duchess of Montenaro, Lady Margaret, and a common baker from Chicago, Stacy De Novo. When Stacy gets invited to a Royal Christmas Baking Contest in the fictional country Belgravia, and her long-time friend Kevin (Nick Sagar) coerces her into attending, she crosses paths with her look-alike, Lady Margaret.
What’s so great about their first interaction is they don’t even acknowledge they’re identical to each other until their second meeting. And then they don’t even consider the possibility that they’re twins separated at birth; they must just be loosely related somehow as if they’re not literally identical. The movie plods its way through 20 minutes of pure exposition to finally get us beyond the conceit and into the actual switch of it all, and that’s when things start cooking. Or dare I say…baking?
While nothing can top a young Lindsay Lohan code-switching between two completely different characters in 1998’s The Parent Trap, there is something giddy about watching Vanessa Hudgens do her best attempt at a British accent (yikes), playing two characters at once, even if there’s really no ounce of nuance. She walks differently! Without the accent, there’s really no discernible difference to these two characters. And that’s why in the script it’s drilled in again and again how type A Stacy is and how she sticks to a rigid schedule, meanwhile, surprisingly, Lady Margaret is the one who’s more spontaneous. It was her idea to switch after all. And the reason for the switch? She wants to feel what it’s like to be a commoner before she ties the knot with Prince Edward (Sam Palladio) in an arranged marriage.
With the switch underway, the hijinks ensue. Presenting as Lady Margaret, Stacy is forced to go horseback riding (she falls off the horse!) and play piano in front of a party full of royals (she only plays four notes!), neither of which are as disastrous as they could be. Meanwhile, Lady Margaret…well, she actually has it pretty easy. And that’s where I was shaking my fists in frustration. More hijinks! More shenanigans! We don’t get nearly enough of these characters getting caught up in the trickery of the switch and stumbling into situations where they could conceivably get caught. If we’re gonna go there, I say just go there. But instead, the movie is bonkers in other totally unexpected ways.
Kevin’s daughter Olivia finds out Stacy might not be the real Stacy after all when she flubs their secret handshake and burns toast (what renowned baker burns toast?!), and best of all, Olivia even begins enjoying the company of Lady Margaret over Stacy. She was so uptight! She didn’t want to date Olivia’s hot dad, Kevin! Meanwhile, for reasons unknown, Stacy posing as Lady Margaret begins falling for the personality-free, blank-faced Prince Edward. The fact that they conceivably stay switched, rather than learning a life lesson and going back, is truly wild.
On top of everything else, there is no feasible way the plan hatched by Stacy and Lady Margaret could or should ever work. It’s half-baked at best, and the reason for the ol’ switcharoo is barely a reason. Luckily, there’s someone watching over them both to help them pull off the scheme without a hitch. This Kindly Man (he is literally credited as “Kindly Man” on IMDb) keeps appearing in both their lives, intervening whenever necessary to push both of their stories in the right direction. Who is this Kindly Man? Santa Claus? An elf? A fairy godfather? God? Who knows! The two Vanessa Hudgens don’t care, and neither should we.