Made-for-TV Christmas movies are lawless territory. There is no plot that can’t be reused, no trope that can’t be recycled. If cinematic homogeneity is frowned upon, then these movies are rebels with a Claus.
“The Princess Switch,” which premiered Friday on Netflix, doesn’t care if you’ve seen it all before — and that’s probably for the best. The streaming service has wisely chosen to lean into the delightful cheesiness of traditional holiday fare, as seen with last year’s smash hit “A Christmas Prince.” It recognizes that we deserve to forget about our troubles and watch Vanessa Hudgens play a pair of look-alikes — Stacy De Novo, a pastry chef from Chicago, and Lady Margaret, a European duchess — who temporarily switch lives and each find love.
Much like seven-layer bars that Stacy might make, “The Princess Switch” combines seven beloved ingredients — movie tropes, in this case — to produce an absolute treat. Here’s a closer look at each one.
The fictional country ending in -ia
Screenwriters seem to agree that names ending in -ia evoke power and regality: Genovia from “The Princess Diaries,” Aldovia from “A Christmas Prince” and, now, Belgravia. (As a Sonia, I endorse this.) Belgravia is the fictional setting of “The Princess Switch,” which was actually filmed in Romania. It is ruled by a family that includes Prince Edward (Sam Palladio), heir to the throne and fiance to Margaret, the duchess of somewhere called Montenaro. Edward and his country both seem nice enough, if bland (Genovia’s very interesting pear obsession has yet to be trumped).
The ol' switcheroo
After a few scenes in fake Chicago filled with painfully explanatory dialogue — “And that is why Kevin Richards is the best sous chef in the business,” Stacy declares in reference to her platonic pal (Nick Sagar) of 12 years — we finally arrive in Belgravia. Stacy has been invited to compete in a reputable baking competition, and she runs into Margaret while prepping for it. They do a double take and quickly accept that they must have some distant relative in common.
Stacy and Margaret get along swimmingly, so instead of wasting time by dumping chocolate syrup on each other a la “The Parent Trap,” they get right to it: Margaret wants to experience life as a regular person in Belgravia before she marries Edward, whom she barely knows, so she convinces Stacy to switch places with her. That way, Margaret can hang out and sightsee with Kevin and his daughter, Olivia (Alexa Adeosun), before the competition.
This is apparently a good idea because Margaret keeps a low profile, so the general public has no idea what she looks like. That said, it is never explained why she needs to pretend to be Stacy, or why Stacy doesn’t tell Kevin about it.
The woman who doesn’t know how to let loose
You don’t get to be the owner of Stacy’s Sweets and Treats, Chicago’s most beloved pretend bakery, by being fun or relaxed. Kevin repeatedly tells Stacy to chill out and try things she has never done before, but she responds by exclaiming, “You know I’m not good at spontaneous!” This is how most Katherine Heigl rom-com characters would also respond. Edward helps her evolve into someone who plays Twister at toy stores.
Margaret, on the other hand, is bubbly and uninhibited. She plans the switcheroo. She cries at the end of “A Christmas Prince,” which, yes, she and Kevin watch in this movie. She is conveniently everything he is looking for in a partner.
The woman who introduces an old-fashioned family to her modern ways
Remember “What a Girl Wants,” the 2003 movie in which Colin Firth plays an English lord even stuffier than most of his other characters? (This is not at all a knock on Firth, who is most excellent at playing these characters.) His Henry Dashwood needed the rebellious American daughter he never knew he had, Daphne Reynolds (Amanda Bynes), to remind him what true happiness and compassion look like.
Stacy winds up being the compassionate American — a role also taken on by Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) in the “Princess Diaries” movies — when she suggests to Edward and his family that they get to know the people who run and benefit from the charities they financially support. A novel idea! (She does this in a bad version of Margaret’s already bad British-esque accent, of course.)
The baking competition
“The Princess Switch” is a holiday movie, so it only makes sense that it involves a baking element. The Hallmark Channel has produced a ton of this kind in the last few years alone: 2014′s “The Christmas Secret,” in which a divorcée lands a new job at a bakery; “A Cookie Cutter Christmas,” released that same year, about rival schoolteachers who compete in a holiday baking contest; 2016′s “Christmas Cookies,” in which a corporate woman is sent to shut down a cookie company’s factory; 2017′s “The Sweetest Christmas,” which involves a gingerbread-house baking contest; and more.
The secret handshake
Stacy and Olivia express their love for one another through an elaborate handshake, which is also how Olivia discovers that the woman she’s talking to might not be Stacy after all — that and, you know, the fact that the professional pastry chef suddenly forgets how to toast bread. Secret handshakes are an easy way for people from different generations to bond, which we learned back in 1998 from Annie (Lindsay Lohan) and Martin (Simon Kunz) in “The Parent Trap.”
The magical person who knows all
There are many, many flaws in Stacy and Margaret’s plan. The main reason they pull it off? A fairy godfather of sorts, played by a random old man who is never identified (except by IMDb, which calls him “Kindly Man”). He first shows up in Chicago to make sure Stacy says yes to competing, and later prevents Edward and Kevin from seeing the look-alikes together in the same store. We are all thankful for this magical person’s service.