By Sehaj K Maini Nov. 23, 2018
Holiday films are to me what Tom and Jerry is to children, so I was overjoyed when Netflix released two holiday season films last week – The Princess Switch and A Christmas Prince. They’re my gloomiest holiday binge ever.
I’m not Christian, but when Christmas is around the corner, I put a stocking out just in case Santa wants to visit me. (So what if I’m 25?)
But ’tis the season to be jolly and everyone’s happy, unless you’re the Grinch. Schools and colleges shut down, families get together, ZARA is on sale, New Year resolutions are made, your office HR cannot stop you from taking week-long leaves, and most importantly, cheesy holiday movies make it to your must-watch list.
I’m obviously not talking about Farah Khan’s Happy New Year. I’m talking about the evergreen movies that we watch every year as December approaches, snuggling under a blanket with a mug of hot chocolate by our side. Films that reflect all the good in the world, that make us feel warm and fuzzy – Home Alone, The Holiday, Jingle All The Way, and maybe A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas.
Holiday films are to me what Tom and Jerry is to children – you never can get enough of them. And every December, I look for new films to add to my favourites. So when Netflix released two holiday season films last week – The Princess Switch and A Christmas Prince – I was overjoyed. For the last couple of years, the streaming giant seems to be getting nothing wrong. Netflix has made comedies, crime thrillers, big-budget spectacles; it has pushed the envelope with indie films, and backed the rom-com genre with Set It Up when Hollywood had given up on it. How hard could it then be for Netflix to redefine holiday season films?
With that in mind, I sat down with my extra hot chocolate, set the temperature on the air-conditioner to 16 degrees to manufacture the feel of winter, and was all set to be transported to the streets of Bucharest, New York, or whichever pretty snow-laden city I was supposed to fantasise about. But after sitting through the two films, I felt like the Grinch stole my early Christmas: The Netflix holiday films were as pedestrian as they come.
After my gloomiest binge ever, I wondered why Netflix – which is clearly planning to kill theatre-viewing and is on the verge of world domination – would churn out films even worse than the ones we see on the big screen?
In The Princess Switch – which premiered last week – a young baker from the streets of Chicago (but shot in Romania) ends up at a baking competition in the fictional city of Belgravia (also shot in Romania). There, she bumps into Princess Margaret Delacourt, future bride of Belgravia’s Crown Prince, who is also her doppleganger. That’s right. It’s the grown-up version of Parent Trap. Of course, the two women, who look identical, end up switching places for the most absurd reason and herald a star-crossed romance that sets up 90 minutes of this holiday film. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a commoner stumble upon her life as a princess (Princess Diaries, anyone?) if the film weren’t so lazy.
I was disappointed but as someone who believes in the Christmas miracle, I did not give up. Instead I switched to A Christmas Prince – it doesn’t fare any better. Based in the fictional city of Aldovia (Romania, once again), the film revolves around a young journalist who ends up bumping into the Crown Prince of Aldovia at a press conference and is then mistaken for somebody she isn’t. Wait a second, where have we heard that plot before? It’s almost as if the Netflix team decided to stream two films with identical plots just to get extra credits for their school project.
After my gloomiest binge ever, I wondered why Netflix – which is clearly planning to kill theatre-viewing and is on the verge of world domination – would churn out films even worse than the ones we see on the big screen? The plots of these films were so drab that I made a drinking game out of guessing what’s going to unfold on the screen next.
I get that Christmas and holiday films tend to mimic each other; there are only so many ways in which you can capture the same holiday spirit. And the guilty pleasure you derive out of all of them isn’t that different either. But I don’t remember the last time I dozed off while watching a film that was supposed to transport me to a land of castle tops piled high with snow and princesses in shimmery gowns. Or started daydreaming while trying to figure out if Aldovia sounds better than Genovia or not. That’s not how I planned to start the chhutti season.
How is it that the same creators who comfortably spit out hours of nail-biting shows have failed miserably at spreading some good old holiday cheer? I get that Netflix is trying to reel in the masses with their rom-coms and generic buddy film offerings. And I’m all for it. But if it’s going to peddle weird ideas – like normalising catfishing in Sierra Burgess Is A Loser – and holiday films that audiences would have rejected back in the ’90s, is Netflix really making a dent?
I can’t help but think that these films exist not because they add any value to anyone, but only as a formality – to merely tick off a production house’s checklist. Now please excuse me while I go watch Love Actually for the 56th time.
Sehaj K. Maini is a young filmmaker and writer. The K in her name stands for Kaur. She likes movies, travelling and butter chicken. When she is not working, she is mostly going through an existential crisis.