To begin the winter of our discontent in the year of unmeasurable discontent, Netflix released season four of the critically esteemed series “The Crown.” That same week, however, Netflix released another work revolving around royalty, rivalries and riches. If one isn’t quite mentally prepared to watch the captivating drama and powerful performances of “The Crown,” the plastic tiara alternative arrives in the form of “The Princess Switch: Switched Again.”
In “Switched Again,” the sequel to 2018’s holiday rom-com “The Princess Switch,” Vanessa Hudgens revives her starring roles as Princess Stacy of Belgravia and Duchess Margaret of Montenaro. The series’ first installment centered on Stacy, a gifted Chicago-based baker who loves being organized, and Margaret, a kindhearted and spontaneous European royal unhappy with her rigid life. When Stacy ventures to Belgravia for a baking competition, the two women meet and decide to switch lives. “The Princess Switch” ended with Stacy marrying her true love Prince Edward of Belgravia (Sam Palladio), while Margaret began dating Stacy’s high school best friend Kevin, played by a charming Nick Sagar.
Beginning with a charming animated sequence, the second movie reveals that Margaret stands next in line to assume the Montenaro throne and her coronation is, naturally, set for Christmas Day. This unexpected development throws a wrench in her relationship with Kevin. That’s about as specific as the story gets: The film doesn’t think the particulars of Margaret and Kevin’s relationship are very important — what’s more important is Stacy’s determination to reunite the destined pair. The first 10 minutes round up all the principal characters from the first movie, including Kevin’s daughter Olivia (Mia Lloyd) and Margaret’s loyal assistant Mrs. Donatelli (Suanne Braun). Everyone is sent off to meet at the snowy, but never severely so, Montenaro palace.
“Switched Again” mistakes exposition for nostalgia, spending most of the first half reveling in hollow yet cozy Christmas cliches: sprucing up the palace halls, playing in carefully choreographed flour fights and indulging in a lavish royal ball. Every scene in “Switched Again” is a feast of ruby and emerald decorations; director Mike Rohl captures these gilded sets as welcomed distractions from the heavy-handed editing that takes clear strides to avoid showing Hudgens’ doppelganger characters in the same frame.
While its predecessor exuded wholesome warmth with the lack of a clear villain, “Switched Again” departs from this decision and presents Fiona, a cookie-cutter antagonist who’s also played by Hudgens in an E.T. inspired wig and a Dita Von Teese fascinator. Fiona is Margaret’s devious, greedy cousin, flanked by foolish, forgettable henchmen Reggie (Ricky Norwood) and Mindy (Florence Hall).
The titular “switch” arrives a little late in the movie as the apparent solution to Margaret and Kevin’s relationship problems. If Margaret and Stacy switch places for a night, then Margaret and Kevin can take the time to talk through what went wrong in their relationship. The flimsy plot of “Switched Again,” written by Robin Bernheim Burger and Megan Metzger, peddles the idea that one night could offer enough time to unpack the already vague issues that Margaret and Kevin have apparently never addressed. While logic is usually inconsequential in these types of fantastical holiday rom-coms, “Switched Again” paints the central relationship in frequently frustrating broad strokes.
However, the confectionary storyline between Kevin and Margaret is underscored by a discordant kidnapping plot as Fiona devises a switch of her own. The evil cousin, modeled after snobby and self-obsessed influencers, has spent all her royal fortune and aspires to usurp the throne by taking Margaret’s place at the Christmas coronation.
Hudgens is no chameleon. The actress mostly uses her voice to distinguish her trio of characters with admittedly mixed success. As Margaret, she speaks in a type of British accent that can only be derived from watching maybe two “Bridget Jones” movies, while her Fiona character struggles to stick the landing as a saucy Mae West type. Of course, the culprit could be the cringeworthy script that congeals the rhythm of her dialogue.
In each of her roles, however, Hudgens looks like she’s having fun, and in these types of fluffy holiday movies, that’s good enough. Her supporting cast, particularly Sagar, warms the heart, finding creativity in the film’s roulette of well-worn holiday cliches.