When Buddha says, “There is suffering,” it’s meant to be a neutral statement to which anyone can relate regardless of class or caste. Certain experiences are integral to existence as a human being. Standing in opposition to and in service of suffering is love, another near-universal condition that people will experience similarly whether they are born a cute Chicago baker or a cute Maldonadan Duchess.
Stories like Prince and the Pauper keep bringing us back because of this universality of human experience. We’ve often used reversing the roles of people born in disparate circumstances to remind ourselves there’s nothing special about being rich or especially failing about being poor.
Netflix’s The Princess Switch deprives us of any such class commentary; in the style of many holiday romances, nobody here is visibly struggling to make ends meet. Everyone has the hallmarks of wealth.
Our baker is a small businesswoman who has done quite well for herself, lacking in nothing but love. There’s no shock to receiving the finery of a duchess. She’s not exactly coming out of the gutter to a palace. There’s also no culture shock visiting Belgravia, which is on the map next to Aldovia (from A Christmas Prince), and wherein people appear to have posh English accents. These are very Western nations.
What we leave behind, then, isn’t so much a Prince and the Pauper story (despite the appearance of it). We’re also not getting glimpses of what an alternate life might have been for these women in different situations. This isn’t Sliding Doors. Heck, they weren’t even aiming for The Parent Trap.
No, Netflix doesn’t want there to be any metaphor. Netflix wants to put Vanessa Hudgens in a bunch of opportunities to look very cute opposite two men. I would like to say, Vanessa Hudgens, nice job, ding dong. It took me a minute to figure out who one love interest was because he looked like My First Generic English Ken Doll, but the other one? Nice, Vanessa Hudgens. Nice.
When you see something polished so shiny and so devoid of meaning, it’s hard to think it isn’t deliberate. Electing to only show upper class circumstances in an adaptation of a story specifically about class commentary is, perversely, the exact kind of political statement the studio means to avoid.
“You’re overthinking a Hallmark-style romcom Sara,” sayeth you, and that’s absolutely true.
In my defense, all movies take a lot of people to make. Many of those people genuinely care about cinema and the movies they make, even when it’s a commercial product. I hold the work of the unseen crew in esteem highly enough to offer the exact same degree of criticism I offer movies by auteurs.
Besides, Barbie as The Princess and the Pauper (2004) is probably equal in commercialism level and it was *way* more thematically substantial.
I’d be more likely to shrug off the Choice to flatten the Prince and the Pauper (Mark Twain’s mustache would quiver) if such light froth didn’t feel like work to get through. There’s no music to the editing–neither rhythm nor flow. Vanessa Hudgens is lovely, but not so lovely to keep me entertained for a full movie. Her multiple personality act feels like an act, which means the put-on gets tiring.
At one point they started watching A Christmas Prince (yes, really) and I wished that I could go back to that one. It felt faster.
Image credit: Netflix