The Princess Switch: Switched Again (2020)
Director: Mike Rohl
Screenwriters: Robin Bernheim Burger, Megan Metzger
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Sam Palladio, Nick Sagar
The Princess Switch: Switched Again is the sequel to 2018’s The Princess Switch. It follows Stacy, a former baker from Chicago who is now married to the prince of the fictional Belgravia, and Margaret, the new queen of the equally fictional Montenaro. The film combines The Parent Trap and The Prince and the Pauper with the style of TV Christmas films to tell the story of Margaret getting back together with Stacy’s best friend Kevin, while Margaret’s cousin, Fiona, plots to steal the crown.
The Princess Switch: Switched Again accomplishes everything expected of a populist Christmas movie. Red and amber hues frequently seep out of the frame to wrap the audience in a visual comfort blanket. Montenaro is every bit the Christmas wonderland Belgravia was in the first movie. In addition, the halls, the streets, shops and churches are adorned with an abundance of bright lights and evergreen shrubbery. The few moments where this mise-en-scene is absent express a character’s sadness.
Whether or not this film works hinges on Vanessa Hudgens’ ability to play three characters (Stacey, Margaret and Fiona), and she delightfully meets the mark. Each of her characters feels distinct when they meet on screen (even if it is a bit uncanny). Aside from the overt accent and costume differences, Hudgens ensures each maintain a unique persona and individual mannerisms when acting as themselves. Stacy and Fiona’s campy Margaret performances adequately convey the reality of their switchuation even if it does push the boundaries of rationality.
Margaret and Kevin’s romance is sappily endearing, just like the reunion of the parents in The Parent Trap – it even features Kevin’s daughter helping to bring them together. They have a flour fight in the kitchen, which is as adorable as it is nonsensical and functions as a clever riff on cutesy snowball fights that frequent wintery rom-coms. Their chemistry, and Margaret’s insecurities stemming from the conflict of duty and desire, makes it easy to buy that a soon-to-be queen loves a Chicago baker.
Nearly every other element of the film is, in contrast, weak. Edward and Stacy’s relationship only serves as a vehicle for the plot’s existence. Edward (Sam Palladio) seems so uncomfortable on screen that one has to wonder if his scenes with Hudgens were stitched together the same way as her scenes with herself. Their subplot is a dull exercise in padding out runtime with expository development.
Fiona’s boisterous villainy distinguishes her from modest Margaret and saccharine Stacy, but her comical henchmen prevent her from coming across as a genuine threat. There’s already enough comedy wrought from the sheer absurdity of the same actress playing three characters on screen at once, and the henchmen’s inclusions disrupt the delicate balance of this genre-blended, intertextual film. Parent Trap works because it strives to be an authentic romanticization of reality, but the overreliance on comedic tropes puts Switched Again closer to Hallmark’s Jack and Jill. Fiona’s plot does eventually gain teeth, but it’s too little too late.
Pedants will find themselves wondering why no one used biometric data to verify the queen’s identity, or how her security team was so inept that two people that look like YouTube influencers could grab her. It’s especially problematic when considering that they’re aware of at least one individual that appears identical to Margaret when it comes to facial recognition – what if a foreign power were to utilize that? The further implications of a second, cash-strapped look-alike will surely go unexplored in future movies, but all of the pieces are in place for a real national predicament if these countries don’t pull themselves out of the 19th century and buff up their security (Fiona is the only person to use a cell phone in this movie. It’s baffling).
The protagonists of Netflix’s A Christmas Prince make a brief appearance in this movie; why waste an opportunity to have Amber on screen with these characters by putting her in the wedding party? If you want to make intertextual comedy in the 2020s, there are structural expectations beyond the occasional reference to that movie we all remember. Who’s running the show at the Netflix Royal Christmas Cinematic Universe?
The Princess Switch 2 is the film equivalent of the most consistent fast-food joint in your area. Disney for aging millennials was unlikely to be a ground-breaking film, and it effectively achieves what it sets out to be, but it had potential to be more. This is a great movie to enjoy on Zoom with your family during the holiday season, but it fails to be anything but a silly film for the sake of it.