Christmastime is upon us once again, and therefore, so, too, is Vanessa Hudgens. The actress, singer, owner of Cecil B. DeMille’s mistress’s house, and possible collection of clones has returned to her great cinematic project on Netflix with The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star, the third installment in a series of films about obscure European monarchies and the mutability of human identity. Since we have previously gotten together to discuss Vanessa’s efforts in The Princess Switch: Switched Again as well as the allegedly unaffiliated The Knight Before Christmas, we felt it was only natural to continue our inquiry into what exactly is going on here.
But first, some basic plot info. In this sequel, the Chicagoan Vanessa Hudgens Stacy and the aristocratic Vanessa Hudgens Margaret are hosting a big Christmas event in the country of Montenaro. But when the precious Star of Peace, on loan from the Vatican, is stolen, they have to rely on blonde party-girl Vanessa Hudgens Fiona to get it back. While the previous two movies were more in the rom-com vein, this one is definitely trying to be Ocean’s Eleven, except with a crew made up only of Vanessas Hudgens.
Jackson: To start, I just have to say this Princess Switch installment simply did not include enough switching. The movie maneuvers a conceit where Margaret and Stacy have to go back and work with Fiona, which means that eventually Vanessa has to play Margaret and Stacy impersonating Fiona, but Fiona pretty much just stays herself. And the movie doesn’t even introduce a third person who looks exactly like Vanessa! I hoped that the number of Vanessas in each film would increase algorithmically, or ideally geometrically, with each new Princess Switch, and felt robbed to see them cap out at three.
Rachel: For this reason, I have to believe that this franchise is going to continue and eventually wrap up with Vanessa Hudgens playing herself. Ideally in this final film, she would kill off all other versions of herself, because that’s the only way I am going to accept that this franchise is over. Otherwise, what are we even doing here?
Jackson: If they’ve already switched genres into a heist movie, they could easily continue into horror. I look forward to the press tour when she convinces everyone that it is about trauma.
Rachel: Okay, but this third movie actually is already about trauma. Romancing the Star — which is a really confusing play on Romancing the Stone, considering the fact that these two movies have nothing in common — is ostensibly a reference to the Star of Peace, which is a precious church artifact stolen immediately after the palace borrows it by a rich man whose hobby is stealing precious things. But I think the title is deceptively nuanced. It also refers to the film’s emotional undercurrent, which centers on Fiona and her inability to love because she went to boarding school. Fiona is terrified of being vulnerable, so she wears a blonde wig and talks weirdly and refuses to let herself get close to anyone, including her identical family members and her would-be love interest Peter (Remy Hii). It’s revealed midway through the film that this fear stems from the fact that her mom was always going on vacation at Christmas and leaving her at a Hogwarts-esque educational institution where she had to sit by a fire and wail. Fiona suffers deeply from the mother wound, and this film is about how a billionaire professional private hacker must melt her cold heart. It’s also about how Montenaro is extremely Catholic. As a Jewess, I was really confused about what was happening vis-à-vis the monarchy’s relationship to the Catholic Church, especially because previous installments suggested it was a secular institution. Jackson, can you explain.
Jackson: As someone who was raised by Catholic parents and never baptized, I will do my best to untangle the theology at play. It seems like Montenaro, the most Christmassy monarchy in Europe, has some sort of special relationship with the Vatican, which just lends it jewels for stuff? And this has been happening for a while — because people keep referencing former rulers who lost the jewels they had used for special events and then had their nations nearly collapse, so this is a high-stakes operation. This offers no clarity on where exactly Montenaro is in Europe and how its extreme Catholicism lasted throughout history. (Did they fight in the 30 Years’ War? What happened during the World Wars?) Anyway, like Catholicism, The Princess Switch 3 is also about the concepts of repentance and forgiveness because the movie centers on Fiona trying to confront her own past and prove her worth to the larger Montenaran society. At the end of the last movie, Stacy argued that Fiona should do community service instead of going to prison. This one picks up that vaguely abolitionist thinking by having Fiona serve out her time via community service at a nunnery. It’s all a daring way to ask: What is atonement, and why does it mainly involve other people pretending to be blonde like you?
Rachel: A powerful question, Jackson. The Netflix Christmas cinematic universe has always had a wobbly relationship to justice. For example, in the Christmas Prince series, a family member (named Count Simon) similarly tries to overthrow the crown and is ultimately allowed back into the fold and even pops up in this movie (at the party where the heist ultimately goes down) to remind us that we are never far from another Netflix Christmas movie. The overarching message that Netflix wants to convey seems to be that family is more important than being punished for a crime, even if that crime is trying to overthrow your family.
Relatedly, I want to address the evolution of the various romantic relationships at play within Romancing the Stone: Margaret and Kevin seem to have thriving sexual chemistry and a sense of mutual respect, but I am concerned about Stacy and Prince Edward, who seem to have developed an unhealthy attachment. Every time Stacy wants to do anything, namely, switch places innocently with her doppelgängers, Edward becomes nervous and frightened. Stacy has to soothe him like he is a dog in a thunderstorm. I wonder if their marriage is doomed. This is also reflected in the fact that Stacy dresses the worst of the three Vanessas Hudgens. Maybe she is depressed?
Jackson: It really seems that Edward and Stacy’s relationship has not recovered from the stress the events of Switched Again put on it. I feel like they might be freer if Stacy was allowed more time to be herself outside of the confines of Montenaro — preferably in Chicago, which she mentions zero times in this film despite her hat-based love for it previously. And I agree, I think Vanessa’s performances as Fiona, ranked, would be Margaret as Fiona, straight-up Fiona, and then Stacy as Fiona. (Margaret has the lead because it seems like Vanessa is looser when she has the extra layer of goofiness to play with and because Margaret’s Fiona impression is built around her going “meow.”) In terms of the film’s third couple: Fiona and Peter are pretty cute together. It feels natural for a lonely girl to fall for a guy whose main talent involves helping her navigate security lasers around a precious artifact. On that note, what did you think of Vanessa’s recurring homage to Catherine Zeta-Jones dodging around lasers in Entrapment?
Rachel: Paired with the Romancing the Stone reference, it only raised the question: Who are these movies for? Obviously, they are for me and you, but who else?
Jackson: The Michael Douglas–CZJ household (sorry, casa) is literally their entire target demographic.
Rachel: God … when you’re right, you’re right. It does feel like Vanessa’s portrayal of Fiona is an homage to the concept of a Catherine Zeta-Jones performance, if not the reality of one. I will say that I was very impressed by Vanessa Hudgens’s laser choreography, assuming it was her and not a body double. I was not impressed by the fact that she wore her hair in a stylish, long Princess Jasmine ponytail during the laser choreography. This seemed like a real laser-choreography-rookie move to me. Speaking of rookies, I want to talk about the primary moment that has stuck to the insides of my brain long after watching this film. It happens very early on. After the Star of Peace is stolen and the security guards are drugged and everyone is apoplectic, the cops show up. One of the Vanessas asks one of the cops if they’ll promise to get the artifact back in time for Christmas. The cop replies solemnly, “That would be a piecrust promise. Easily made, easily broken.”
This line has haunted me for days. Not only does it make no sense — piecrusts are hard to make, and I consulted with a baker friend of mine to confirm that they are also hard to break — but I just can’t fathom a situation in which a police officer would say this to someone, even in the NCCU. Moreover, I have never heard anyone say it in my entire life, and the way this cop delivers the line suggests that it is in fact a common saying. Shortly thereafter, one of the Vanessas says, “If the police don’t have any leads, it’s up to us to think of something they have not thought of.” In a normal movie, this line would be staggeringly nonsensical — it’s up to us to do the job of the cops? — but after hearing the cop say the words “piecrust promise,” I started to wonder if Montenaro’s entire infrastructure was made up of people who are not only corrupt but totally insane. Perhaps this movie really is just about the failure of justice on every level.
Jackson: I was also haunted by the piecrust promise line! It’s said so casually, and it also implies that the entire country’s culture and possibly industry is built around cozy Christmas activities, which makes it seem that much more like a cutesy theocracy. To the point about the cops: When Fiona involves Peter in their planning, he points out that they can’t go to the police about the art thief who has stolen their jewels because Hunter “has friends everywhere.” Shouldn’t these people have some more authority over their own country’s police force? I’m very concerned about the political situation here. Anyway, instead of trying to come up with ways to defund their clearly corrupt police force, the Vanessas all do eventually succeed in stealing back the Star of Peace. But then Peter pulls a fast one and switches it out with a sports ball of some sort so that Fiona rushes off to confront him and he can make her talk to her mother again. It’s an awfully aggressive way to try to resolve family conflict. But it does seem to work on Fiona? (Side note: Amanda Donohoe does a lovely stern British mom, but I do wish Fiona’s mom was just Vanessa in Old-style old-age makeup).
Rachel: I said the exact same thing!! What a missed opportunity. There was such a big buildup to the reveal, and I can’t fathom why they didn’t do it that way. Speaking of an entire country built around Christmas, I found myself lost in a temporal sense many times throughout the movie. I wrote down every time everyone said, “It’s Christmas,” when it wasn’t actually Christmas yet. “Call the old girl. It’s Christmas.” “I can make an exception. It’s Christmas.” “Sir, it’s Christmas.” “Especially at Christmas.” Over how many days or weeks does this thing take place? Where are we in time?? The same thing happens in the upcoming Netflix Christmas films Single All the Way and a Castle for Christmas, which are still under embargo but are absolutely mind-exploding. Everyone refers to Christmas as a nebulous sort of time and place and moral code, when I think they just mean that it is December.
Jackson: As someone who deals with enough Christmas overshadowing because he has a December birthday, I resent this larger Christmas creep. Keep it to the 25th and the 12 days after, people!
Rachel: Let’s talk about the ending. This movie concludes in the exact same way as the book The Goldfinch (would-be lovers teaming up extralegally to find art that one of them is sort of responsible for losing) and then in the same way as Spencer (dance breaks around a castle). Except that everyone treats the precious artifact in question very recklessly by throwing it around in a sack for the entirety of the film and nobody is openly bulimic. But The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Stone also ends with all of the leads making out and then staring up at the sky, which twinkles mischievously. My three remaining questions for you: (1) Which man does Vanessa have the most chemistry with, judging by these make-outs? (2) Would you drink a candy-cane martini, and what do you think is in one? (3) Does the final shot of the stars, implying that the universe has a kind of sentience and agenda (the agenda being that all the Vanessas get to make out), suggest that God exists within the NCCU?
Jackson: (1) After a close rewatching of the film, I think it’s gotta be Fiona and Peter, only because they keep making out instead of just doing light pecks. (2) Absolutely not, a candy-cane martini sounds even worse than an espresso one, and I feel like it probably contains peppermint schnapps. (3) Earlier in the film, there is also mention of a freak storm that has rerouted Kevin’s daughter’s plane, so it must be an act of God that has suddenly cleared the sky and allowed the stars to glitter like that. God exists; God loves the extended concept of Christmas; God is pursuing some sort of grand celestial design to replace all of humanity with Vanessa Hudgens clones one by one.