what is the self

The Princess Switch: Switched Again: Our Best Attempt to Unswitch and Make It Make Sense

Photo: Netflix

It’s that time of year again, when Vanessa Hudgens gets paid millions of dollars (I think) to play herself multiple times in a Netflix Christmas movie. In The Princess Switch: Switched Again, out now, Vanessa plays Stacy from Chicago, Margaret of Montenaro, and Fiona of Somewhere British, three women who all look exactly like Vanessa Hudgens and have varying degrees of emotional and literal attachments to the royal lifestyle. The Netflix Christmas canon often boggles the mind with its multiple franchises, universes, and interrelated characters, and Switched Again is no different, a taut psychological thriller that offers little explanation or comfort for its viewers. The film is, on one level, an examination of identity and the self, exploring the terrifying notion that, in our relentlessly connected and de-privatized world, anyone could skillfully impersonate you at any moment and there would be no real way to prove that you are indeed yourself — especially if your royal attaches turn on you. Jackson and Rachel simply needed to talk about all of it.

Rachel: Jackson, hello. It’s an honor and a privilege to be here with you today to discuss The Princess Switch: Switched Again, which, up until very recently (yesterday, a week after actually watching it), I believed to be the third movie in the Princess Switch franchise. It is actually just the second. I think I became confused for one of three reasons: (1) The first Princess Switch movie felt like two movies, in that it contained 400 hours of plot in 90 minutes that felt like 40 hours. (2) There are three Vanessa Hudgenses (Hudgi?) in this movie, which made me think there had been a second movie that had focused on the second Vanessa Hudgens. (3) I thought that The Knight Before Christmas was canonically part of the Princess Switch universe. This is not the case, even though it does seem that there is now some official, confirmed overlap between the Netflix Christmas franchises … more on that later. (My similarly confused boyfriend called from the other room, “Is this the one with the sister in the wheelchair?”)

Anyway, do you remember anything that happened in The Princess Switch: Switched Again? 

Jackson: I watched The Princess Switch: Switched Again about 24 hours ago and yet in my memory, it is already just a blur of colors and shapes and Vanessas Hudgens in various wigs, which is, I assume, what all Netflix content may soon become. If I have my general sense of reality right, the movie is premised upon the fact that one Vanessa Hudgens (Margaret, the one with a bad British accent) will soon be coronated as queen of Montenaro, which has put pressure on her relationship with Kevin (the guy from the mythical Netflix land known as Chicago) because he wants to focus on family. Can she have it all? So Stacy (the Vanessa Hudgens from Chicago, who sadly no longer wears her Chicago hat) tries to make things right and get the flame to rekindle between Margaret and Kevin by offering to switch again and let Margaret spend time off the clock of her arduous royal party-planning duties. Finally, there’s a third Vanessa Hudgens named Fiona with an even worse British accent who shows up in a blonde wig and switches places with Stacy-as-Margaret in order to try to get her hands on the wealth of Montenaro, I think?

At this point I would need to start drawing out the plot details in a chart by hand, but anyway, the crucial fact is that there is a third Vanessa Hudgens. What did you think of the arrival of Fiona?

Rachel: I have to say, even though Vanessa Hudgens will now and forevermore be the person who said that millions of deaths from COVID-19 were “like, inevitable” on Instagram Live, I left this movie feeling relatively impressed by her, specifically by her portrayal of Fiona. There is no actual acting to be found or done in this movie — or in any Netflix Christmas film, for that matter — but Vanessa seems to understand and accept that on a cellular level. She doesn’t act so much as she aggressively vamps. She’s basically doing an impression of a person who is acting, especially when playing Fiona, who is some sort of unholy combination of an early-aughts drag-queen parody of Paris Hilton/Christine Baranski in Mamma Mia 2/a horse-tranquilized Tracey Ullman. I’d like to earnestly thank Vanessa for her visible commitment to these three roles. Whenever I watch the Christmas Prince movies, I get a secondhand embarrassment, because I can sense that all of the actors involved are embarrassed. Vanessa is not embarrassed. Therefore, I too felt no shame. I went to bed with a clear conscience and a newfound understanding of the extremely loose legal process involved in royal coronations.

Jackson: In my attempts to make sense of this movie, I discovered an interview where Vanessa Hudgens said she modeled Fiona’s voice off of famed actor Elizabeth Hurley in the film Bedazzled, which explains so much about what is going on here, really. I have to admit that I never once understood exactly what Fiona’s goal is here, other than that she needed money because her father died when she was young and she spent it all partying, and that she absolutely had to move up the coronation so she could be there instead of Margaret. I wasn’t aware that coronations were things you could adjust the date of? It feels like the bestowal of royal power onto a person isn’t like a casual Zoom drinks call you can reschedule if you’re not feeling it. Secondarily, it took me far too long to realize there are two separate white men involved in the three Vanessas’ lives, one named Edward (the prince of Belgravia from the first movie) and one named Antonio (a royal attendant who is flirting hard with Margaret). Frankly they looked too much like identical Bachelorette contestants for me to be able to easily understand the difference.

Rachel: Jackson, I have to say, I have no idea who you are talking about. Who is Edward? We Need to Talk About Kevin. I’d like to openly express my gratitude for Stacy’s hot baker friend Kevin, who is, again, hot, but also totally unselfconscious about the fact that he is fucking a woman who is a clone of his best friend. (Side note: Are they clones or is it just strong Italian genes? Or is this the It Takes Two school of never explaining how two people are identical twins but not related?) One of my favorite things that happens regarding Kevin is when Stacy, who introduces the film by reminding us that she is “Stacy from Chicago,” explains that Kevin and Margaret broke up but were once “the cutest couple ever.” Half of this couple looks exactly like Stacy!! What a truly psycho thing to say!

Jackson: I did very much appreciate that Kevin has a scraggly depression beard when we see him again in this movie, which implies that he might be suffering from a whole host of psychological strains under the surface, due to the experience of dating a woman who looks exactly like his best friend! The princess switching has just been too much for poor Kevin’s mind. I hope his daughter grows up and finds a very good therapist she can talk to about all this, because there’s a lot to unpack.

Rachel: I agree. Not to mention the fact that Kevin’s daughter is from Chicago, which is, famously, a horrible place to live within the Netflix cinematic universe. We’re blessed with four more minutes in Chicago in The Princess Switch: Switched Again, all set entirely in the “new location” of Stacy and Kevin’s bakery, a terribly lit, mall-like structure that has no windows, wherein Stacy and Kevin discuss how “inheriting the throne is huge.” Stacy’s prince husband does not come along, despite the fact that he spends the entire movie horned-up and desperate for Stacy. He’s like, “Uh, no, you go on ahead to Chicago without me,” implying that the prospect of spontaneously visiting Chicago is too torturous to even entertain, even if it involves the prospect of long-delayed sex. Another gloriously non-subtle moment I enjoyed was when the camera randomly settled upon two gay men dancing at the royal ball — also lit like a Walmart — and then moved on, clearly very proud of itself (the camera, that is) for its Diversity and Inclusion.

Jackson: The kingdom of Montenaro is, of course, famous for its inclusivity — specifically of women who happen to look like Vanessa Hudgens, but also of others. Speaking of the whole genetics question, at one point Fiona says that she’s realized she looked like Stacy/Margaret back in her “Ariana Grande” phase and shows a photo of herself with dark hair in a ponytail. If Ariana Grande, a Nickelodeon star turned pop star, exists in this universe, does Vanessa Hudgens, a Disney Channel star turned Netflix holiday-movie empress? Or has the High School Musical series been wiped from existence? I mention this only because it seems inevitable that Vanessa Hudgens would have to play herself in one of these movies should they continue, in an homage to the classic that is Ocean’s 12.

Rachel: I’m glad you brought up the mind-melting intersections not only between the Netflix Christmas universes (the Christmas Prince couple pops up briefly at the royal coronation, which felt like Netflix personally accusing me of being on drugs), but the actual universe, the Ariana Grande universe, and The Princess Switch universe. I do think that we’re inching ever closer to a third or even fourth Princess Switch film wherein Vanessa Hudgens appears in Montenaro to promote a Princess Switch film. But as the prophecy foretold, this will mark our universe’s immediate implosion. So let us not speak too deeply of it lest we accidentally summon it too soon.

Jackson: I’m not entirely kidding when I say that Vanessa Hudgens’s presence in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Netflix adaptation of Tick… Tick… BOOM! implies that the movie is also part of the Princess-verse. But more importantly! We have to talk about the film’s series of grand finales. First, there’s a scene at a fake coronation, where both Fiona and Antonio are unmasked! (I still didn’t know who he was, but apparently his whole deal that he was secretly evil, like Hans in Frozen.) Then! Margaret races to catch Kevin at the airport, and they throw a wrench in many European flight patterns by getting married on the spot. Finally! There’s the actual coronation. It was like watching the end of Return of the King.

Rachel: The grand finale(s) were really special, not least of all because one of them involves a direct plea from Netflix for prison abolition. Margaret, in a moment of grace, agrees to reduce and/or commute the sentence of her cousin Fiona, who, just moments earlier, was attempting to kidnap and replace her. The second grand finale, taking place at the airport, is a treatise on the state of the airline industry, a gentle nudge to create more direct flights between Chicago and everywhere else (including Montenaro) as well as a more lenient boarding process that allows a passenger to stop and perform an impromptu wedding ceremony without fear of recrimination. My absolute favorite part of the ending, though, was when everyone started laughing really loudly and hard for no reason. That really took me out of the moment in an important way.

We would be remiss not to talk about this film’s transcendent script before we go. What was your favorite line of dialogue? Mine was near the end, when Margaret was being told about her cousin Fiona’s deception. “Is it true?” she gasped. And one of the other Vanessas (I can’t go back and figure this out, I just can’t) replies, “Nothing has ever been more true.” Nothing. Has. Ever. Been. More. True!!

Jackson: Personally I liked another line in that scene, where Fiona puts forth the daring legal argument for mercy to Margaret: “Since I technically didn’t kidnap you, am I really guilty?” This implies that Montenaro might have a system of laws wherein kidnapping is fine if you just kidnap the wrong person. But I loved when Edward (I think? the guy who was on Nashville) arrives back to discover that Fiona has messed up the whole princess switch-up and he goes, “Who’s upstairs and where is my wife!?” Mostly because everyone just lets Fiona stay upstairs for a while instead of confronting her at this moment, as if “upstairs” is this position of immense power that cannot be disturbed. Who’s upstairs? God? Another Vanessa Hudgens? Are they not the same?

The Princess Switch: Switched Again: Make It Make Sense