Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are both connoisseurs of terrible movies. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout of a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Jim Vorel: Ken, I think you know from the moment that we introduce ourselves with what is obviously a rip-off of “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” that we’re in good hands with Netflix’s A Christmas Prince. Public domain carols and young lady trying to make it in the do-or-die world of New York journalism. How could we possibly go wrong?
Kenneth Lowe: Jim, my expectations for this stinker were sky-high! Quoth a good female friend (and multiple Associated Press-award-winning statehouse reporter): “This movie is terrible. I love it.” If she’s saying that, I almost have to declare this movie a dubious success.
JV: It has the definitive, shmaltzy air of “Hallmark Channel” about it, and I say that as a person who has voluntarily watched a number of Hallmark Channel movies for the express purpose of pointing out their awfulness. I would say “Lifetime Movie,” but the protagonist is never sexually menaced in it, so that can’t be right. Please describe our protagonist to me, as I have immediately forgotten her name. I just thought of her throughout as “Hallmark Tara Reid.”
KL: Oh, you’re absolutely right that this is too tame for a Lifetime offering. The worst thing we’ve got going on here is spina bifida and a very cavalier attitude toward shooting at wolves without a license. As for our protagonist, Amber Moore is a young, underappreciated, “hungry” young reporter. She’s not dating yet Because Of Some Thing With A Guy A Year Ago, despite the urgings of her supportive non-white and gay friends in the office. But despite the fact her job description consists of cleaning up after the messes of other writers, she’s just scored a ticket to go cover the (enigmatic, awesomely-off-the-charts-handsome playboy) prince of … Latveria, was it? Could love be in the cards??
What a hunky hobo dreamboat!
JV: Correction: She just scored a ticket to travel intercontinentally to cover a PRESS CONFERENCE, as this is clearly the kind of thing that a print magazine charters airfare for. Ken, both you and I have worked in print media, at daily newspapers and magazines. Have you ever been sent to a small European country in order to cover a press conference that may or may not happen? Is this not why wire services exist in the first place?
KL: As you and I both know all too well, Jim, the Venn diagram that encapsulates print journalists and script writers is two circles that don’t touch. You’re expecting way too much attention to detail, here. What blindsided me wasn’t the reckless implausibility of sending a nobody to go cover a press conference on the other side of the world that looks like maybe it’s a ski lodge in Vermont. Rather, it’s what happens next: Ms. Moore is apparently mistaken for the governess of the mercurial Prince Richard’s younger sister. The haughty household chief of staff lady doesn’t even check her ID. And once embedded in the household, boy does Amber start overstepping the bounds of ethical journalism.
JV: You thought Vermont? I thought “Aldovia” had a Toronto sort of vibe to it, but I could be wrong. But yes, fantastic work by the “stern governess” character—she finds a young American woman wandering the unguarded palace and doesn’t even ASK her who she is; she instead says are you PLAUSIBLE ALIBI?, and all Amber has to do is basically nod her head in affirmation. By the way: I almost called this scene completely right in advance—I said that she would stumble and knock over one of the gilded suits of armor. Instead it was one scene later, when she shatters a priceless Ming vase, the character trait of “klutzy” being the only way the screenwriters could make this Mary Sue somehow “relatable.”
Impersonating a tutor? Isn’t that a crime punishable by death in Aldovia/Latveria?
KL: Good Lord, yes, the clumsiness. Clumsy so she’s relatable, “hungry” so we think she’s smart and ambitious even though nobody in this movie is either of those things. It’s like a cliché rubric. Of course, we’ve neglected to mention the ticking clock at the center of the plot here, which is that the dreamy-but-reluctant Prince Richard, his father having died, must nut up and submit to being crowned king of Latveria before the end of Christmas Day because I guess that’s what it says in their Magna Carta. Having infiltrated the royal family by straight up lying to them and being met with zero security or verification measures, Amber starts surreptitiously spying on everyone.
JV: She starts with the Prince’s young sister, afflicted as you suggested with Spina Bifida. I enjoyed how she was introduced as this bratty problem child, and then IMMEDIATELY opens up and bares her soul and disability-related insecurities to Amber about two minutes into their first conversation. Really tough nut to crack there. And of course, palling around with the young girl gives her plenty of opportunities to brush up against the Prince, who has the reputation of a partier and womanizer. But would you believe that those attributes are completely fabricated by the tabloid media? In reality, the guy just loves tickling the ivory to perform wholesome Christmas carols and playing with orphans.
Emily: A shortcut to pathos.
KL: Yes, shocking! Though, I have to say I wasn’t surprised that the reporters all over the world were lying about the prince’s endearing humility and decency. I remember those long nights you and I were working in the same newsroom, burning the midnight oil, making up filthy lies about rich, powerful celebrities who could bankrupt and ruin us with a simple libel lawsuit.
JV: And you know how much the American media obsesses over royals from tiny, inconsequential Eastern European former bloc states. Which is what I assume Aldovia to be, although everyone just speaks British-accented English. It reminded me of an American movie set in ancient Greece in that way. Everybody just sounds like a butler, and they eat “jellied meat” at high-society royal functions, served with colorful plastic toothpicks. But enough about that. Clearly our duo quickly develop feelings for one another. But there’s a twist to this whole “line of succession” business …
Because nothing says “royal cocktail party” like colorful plastic toothpicks and solitary black olive slices, right?
KL: Ooh, ooh, I have a fan theory for that! See, I think they’re all actually speaking Aldovian and even Amber is fluent. We’re actually watching a dubbed version of the thing. Fight me on Reddit. Anyway, yes, Amber’s cavorting with his sister in the snow and tailing Richard into the forest leads to what it inevitably must: A fucking wolf attack which Richard saves her from with a gun. (What are Aldovian gun licensing laws like?) They retire to his secluded cabin where he opens his heart to her even further and she responds by… filching his birth certificate from a hidden compartment in a desk… WHICH ALSO CONTAINS HIS ADOPTION CERTIFICATE, OH SNAP!
JV: Yes, because he was secretly adopted by the king and queen, Richard isn’t actually eligible to take the throne he’s been running away from! Instead, the line of succession states that it must go to the next eligible male heir down the line, his douchey cousin, who has teamed up with his gold-digging former girlfriend, inserted to be the object of Amber’s jealousy. And then there’s the matter of the deceased king, who seems to have been some kind of Leonardo da Vinci-an crafter and inventor of secret compartments and hiding places and acorn-shaped Christmas tree ornaments. We can assume his death must have been very swift, as it nearly ruins a very complicated Christmas proclamation.
Queen Alice Krige discovers an important piece of deus ex machina.
KL: I like to think that he died while writing it. It might explain why in the same letter he names The Black Beast of AAaAAAaaaaargh as the Minister of the Exchequer (presumably). Anyway, my favorite “Aldovian” tradition is that during the coronation there’s a “Are there any objections?” part, just like there isn’t in weddings. And Douchey Cousin and Two-Faced Ex choose this moment to spill the beans on Richard’s illegitimacy, instead of literally any time beforehand. They happen upon this fact by simply breaking into Amber’s room. Real evil geniuses.
JV: Douchey cousin is nothing if not dramatic. He picks the most public of times to plunge the dagger into the Prince’s back, and also expose Amber for the tabloid fraud that she is. This is the film’s “all is lost” moment, I suppose, only partially undercut by the fact that Amber then fixes everything within the next five minutes.
KL: It is a fairly quick turnaround, resolved by Amber sleuthing out that the aforementioned right-before-death royal writ is inside the acorn Christmas tree ornament, and finding out that it grants Richard claim to the throne without blood ties. I have to hand it to this movie—I’ve never seen an ending resolved via deus ex acorn Christmas tree ornament. But yeah, it is, and Amber interrupts the coronation of Douchey Cousin in the instant before the crown touches his brow, which as we all know is the actual moment political power is transferred, right? I can feel my blood sugar reaching dangerous levels, Jim, so you should probably take us home to the ending.
JV: Amber, having avoided the need for regicide to put the handsome prince into power, immediately leaves the coronation and somehow travels back to America without anyone stopping her or saying “hey thanks or whatever.” She goes to her father’s diner in NYC, where they serve Brooklyn’s cheapest sandwich and a coffee for $4.95, only to find that the prince has FOLLOWED HER BACK and is waiting in the street to propose marriage! He says something along the lines of “Will you be my queen, Hallmark Tara Reid?” and she replies in the affirmative, because she’s pretty sure that she’s gotten to know most of what there is to know about him in the week they spent together. Oh, and she wrote an article on her own blog that got “20,000 likes,” so you know … good for her?
A week is a reasonable amount of time to wait before asking someone to share in the governance of a small European nation, right?
KL: Her superpower is not having the absolute shit sued out of her, if not facing down charges of fraud and espionage! I really identified with her as a fellow man of letters, what with telling her corrupt mudslingling boss to take her job and shove it and then immediately finding fame and fortune as a blogger. Which is, you know, totally what today’s media environment is like. And since we’re on that topic, tell me, Jim, whether you were as insulted on behalf of your female colleagues as I was?
JV: What, just because she only finds success after receiving a princess makeover and strolling down the stairwell like it’s She’s All That? Well, now that you mention it …
KL: That’s a beautiful cherry on top of the regressive sundae of her character. This is assigning way too much credit to bullshit like this, but could it be related that tacky Middle Americans are buying “Rope. Tree. Journalist.” T-shirts while they’re always watching movies like this, which portray reporters like conniving, incompetent snakes?
JV: You and I have both seen the press portrayed as scum in practically any movie that isn’t about the press uncovering some kind of corruption, so this is no surprise. The only thing the American public hates more than missing out on the juicy details of a royal wedding in a nation with roughly 50 people (if the extras in this movie are to be believed) is the thought of a young person trying to report unbiased news because they think that’s a morally sound career choice.
KL: Good point. And thank you for bringing up the … judicious use of extras. Which leads me to the general chintziness on display here. I think I once got a sweet commission for selling that royal throne at Pier One Imports.
I’m the Wiz, and nobody beats me!
JV: The array of jobs you have worked in your life never ceases to amaze me, Ken. If you told me that you had been an extra in this movie, I would not have doubted it for a second. Closing thoughts: Does the fact that Netflix actually chose to be the sole distributor of a movie like this lower your opinion of them as a service? Keeping in mind that this company still has what I believe is a 34-picture deal with Adam Sandler.
KL: Here’s what I’ll say about that: A court once ruled that a gangster was not slandered by a news outlet because slander lowers the public’s opinion of somebody and the court determined the public’s opinion of him actually couldn’t possibly be lower. Similarly, my opinion of Netflix can be neither raised nor lowered. It gives us Stranger Things and Bojack Horseman, and it turns right around and keeps giving us Adam Sandler and now this. There’s never been a more laissez-faire market in entertainment.
JV: Just be glad that I don’t ask you to watch any Adam Sandler movies, Ken. I solemnly swear that I will not do this, unless he puts one out that seems like a good pick for this column, in which case I will make you watch it.
KL: I’ve long been resigned to that eventuality, my friend. I do want to say that I’m mostly astounded that this movie’s heaviest hitter is probably poor Alice Krige, the grieving queen of Aldovia. Another fan theory: Her son having ascended the throne and surely eager to start producing an heir all up in Amber, she decides to cash in that Space X ticket, falls into a wormhole to the Delta Quadrant and gets turned into her Borg Queen character from Star Trek: First Contact. They name it for her because she’s got royal experience, you see.
JV: And with that, you’ve managed to bridge what is sure to be a massively lucrative Star Trek/A Christmas Prince fandom crossover. Until next time, live long and prosper this holiday season, Ken.
KL: You too, sir.