The Princess Switch, the latest entry in Netflix’s Christmas movie programming, is the kind of joyously nonsensical absurdity that snow day dreams are made of. It begs to be watched out of the corner of one eye while you wrap a couple of presents and then gently doze off a sugar high. Nothing ever happens in this Princess and the Pauper story that will require your full attention — but it is all so satisfyingly formulaic, so gleefully saccharine, that you’ll be happy just to have it on in the background.
The formula is as follows: Stacy (Vanessa Hudgens) is a Type-A Chicago baker who loves following the rules. Duchess Margaret (also Vanessa Hudgens) is a free spirit who longs to leave behind her life of royalty and experience life as a normal girl. When their paths cross and they realize their uncanny resemblance to one another, what can the pair do but switch places?
Margaret dons Stacy’s baseball cap, Stacy grabs Margaret’s kicky beret, and off they march through an idyllic small European country where everyone speaks English. It’s stocked with all that a Christmas romance might require: plucky orphans on whom one can demonstrate one’s purity of heart, charming cobblestone squares in which to have a good-natured snowball fight, and snow-capped mountains through which one might take a horseback ride fraught with sexual tension. (No wolves, though :( )
Luckily, each Hudgens has a suitably handsome and available man at her side with whom to develop said sexual tension. Stacy’s platonic best friend is a cute single dad who’s never been attracted to stick-in-the-mud Stacy but is blown away by wild Margaret. Margaret, meanwhile, is trapped in a diplomatic engagement to Prince Edward, who barely knows Margaret and doesn’t think much of her mind for foreign policy, but is enraptured by Stacy’s leadership skills and mind for details.
In large part, Vanessa Hudgens’s natural charisma is what makes The Princess Switch as charming as it is. Her giant eyes and brilliant smile light up the screen, and it’s incredibly fun to watch her trail around in a peach silk nightgown and elaborate hat, making up lies in a surprisingly passable British accent. It’s even fun to watch her sob over The Christmas Prince in what is apparently going to be a running gag in this year’s batch of Netflix holiday movies. (The same thing happened in The Holiday Calendar, and to be honest, it’s too cutesy of a gimmick to land even in these particularly cutesy movies.)
Hudgens might not ever quite manage to make Stacy and Margaret feel like noticeably different people (Tatiana Maslany she’s not), but she plays both of them as so plucky and so committed that it doesn’t really matter. Put it this way: I wasn’t always positive which character I was watching onscreen, but I always knew that whoever she was, I was rooting for her.
As for the rest of the movie around her … look, it’s a direct-to-streaming Christmas movie. You know what you’re getting here. There’s a ball with fairy lights and enormous dresses! There’s a snowball fight with a cute kid! There’s a sexy piano duet! There’s a lot of cuddling up in cozy sweaters and clutching warm beverages! (Again, though: no wolves.) It’s all very schmaltzy, all very ridiculous, and all very fun to half-watch while you’re a little bit drunk on eggnog. And really, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?