Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are connoisseurs of terrible movies. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout of a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Ken: A very happy holiday to you again, Jim. As I sip my eggnog here in the winter wonderland that is 50-degree, tornado-ravaged Central Illinois, I hope you will abide with me in Christmas spirit and continue our annual tradition of witnessing Netflix’s A Christmas Prince. This year they’ve gifted us with the sequel, The Royal Wedding. You know my famous love of nuptials, Jim. Were you as excited as I to return to Aldovia?
Jim: Not since the most recent, in-ring WWE wedding have I been so worried that the bride might be hit with a steel chair at any moment.
Jim: You know, Ken, it’s funny to look at something like A Christmas Prince or its sequel as having even been birthed via Netflix. The streaming giant is attempting to steadily work its way in the direction of respectability, putting out films like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs into limited theatrical releases so they’ll qualify for Oscar season—something you can tell they’re hoping will legitimize Netflix (and all of streaming) as a platform for Oscar-worthy films. But then at the same time, they’re also producing incredibly low-rent, low-stakes movies like this.
Ken: I would normally say this shows that Netflix is not being judgy toward its subscribers, as this precise kind of dreck is exactly what some folks (let’s be honest, most of them women) love to curl up under the covers with. But then I of course remember that Netflix shamed 53 of their anonymous viewers for watching this movie at least once for 18 consecutive days.
Ken: Just like another large red entity, Netflix is giving the good little children what they want this year, I guess.
Jim: I like to think that there was a meeting about three years ago, where someone asked “What is the future of this company?” and someone else replied “The Hallmark Channel.” I don’t know how you could think of anything else when you see the cheap, tacky looking opening credits of The Royal Wedding. Why don’t you fill us in on what’s been happening with our protagonist Amber and her hunky hobo king, Richard?
Ken: Well, in case anybody (like me, for instance) forgot where we left off or is unclear about what’s happened in the interim, the movie opens up with former journalist/current lifestyle blogger Amber telling us that nearly a year has passed since she won the heart of Richard, who was crowned King of the British-accented European country of Aldovia. She’s still so normal and down-to-earth, even though she’s about to become queen! We know this because she just announces it aloud to her empty room. Now, a year having passed and Christmas once again upon us, Amber and Richard are planning on inconveniencing the hell out of an entire kingdom by making their wedding coincide with Christmas.
And Jim, a digression: My statement above about famously loving weddings was, our readers might not be aware, totally sarcastic. I f***ing hate weddings. And considering that this year, Christmas is on a Tuesday, I just want to say that no amount of royal clout excuses such a power play. Who do these people think they are, Jim?
Jim: ROYALS, Ken. Fantastical royals. One of the first things I jotted down in my notes while watching The Royal Wedding were the words “glamour fantasy porn,” to describe this type of movie. It’s like the princess-y equivalent of Danielle Steele, and targeted toward the same audience. It’s funny how you see Amber get mobbed on the street by people yelling things like “AMBER I READ ABOUT YOUR SEX LIFE IN THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER,” because those people are essentially the intended audience for this kind of movie.
Ken: All I’m saying is that Amber’s supportive gay friend and supportive black friend had better have had their airfare comped by the Aldovian treasury. It’s funny to see the utter chintziness on display in this sequel. We’re talking about the second chapter of a film series that already began looking like it was filming at whatever winter lodges or air terminals that are slow enough to accommodate a one-camera setup, and yet the crowds gathering here to mob Amber somehow look smaller to me.
Jim: They couldn’t even get back all of the last film’s original cast, something I immediately began suspecting when all of the characters began suggesting that Amber’s parodic New Yorker father Rudy “looks different.” I wouldn’t blame you for not remembering, but the actor looks nothing like the actor who played her father in the first movie. Not that this is ultimately important in any way.
Eyyyy, I’m from Brooklyn so I hug people when it’s inappropriate! Now let’s get some gabagoo!
Ken: Yeah, I’ll cop to completely missing that detail. And that is pretty bad, considering they were probably in production almost back to back here.
Jim: What is important is that Aldovia probably wouldn’t have any money to fly in Gay Friend and Black Friend because it’s having the most vague financial crisis in the history of cinematic economies.
Ken: Yes, our antagonistic forces in this even lower-stakes sequel are two-fold: Amber is chafing under all the tradition being heaped upon her by Aldovian wedding tradition, and the country is in the midst of a financial crisis because Richard’s “modernization” initiative is not producing the financial benefits it should be. Firstly, I fail to see what is not modern about Aldovia. The standard of living seems no worse than any developed country. It’s also silly to think you wouldn’t immediately know where money was going in a kingdom that is as small as Aldovia clearly is.
Jim: Everything regarding the economics plot/Richard’s “Modernization initiative” was my favorite aspect of badness in this movie, for how incredibly vague and trite the whole storyline is. The writers are so desperately wanting you to not bother thinking about it in any way, and they give you absolutely no information to go on. Amber’s summation of the plan is literally these words: “Strengthening infrastructure, schools, tech, it’s smart!”
Likewise, the people picketing and protesting the initiative are just yelling things like “the country’s going broke!”
We used a question mark, so it’s not editorializing!
Ken: Like, that’s not a bad idea, but show us a school that’s falling down or some sh*t.
Jim: The movie literally seems to be implying that the entire European nation of Aldovia, which we’re told has been around for a proud 700-year run, doesn’t employ any accountants or economists.
Ken: These protests are keeping Richard very busy, which takes away from his ability to talk down to his wife when she tries to help him manage the crisis or asks if she can have any input at all in her own damn wedding. A female friend and former journalist (who told me she devoured the last movie without a shred of irony) expressed dismay at Richard’s dismissive attitude toward Amber in this movie, and I’m inclined to agree with her.
Jim: Richard actually isn’t even in The Royal Wedding all that much—did you notice that? He’s much less central to the plot than he was in the first movie. Instead, a lot of the film revolves around Amber butting heads with the queen and the governess of the estate about how much of the wedding she’ll be allowed to plan/contribute to.
Ken: And oh how we labor over that wedding. Every single detail is proscribed by that 700 year tradition. You wonder why the castle guards aren’t still wearing chain mail or whatever. And to make sure this hyper-traditional mating ceremony goes off exactly as intended by the nebulous traditional forces, they even hired a super-traditional wedding planner. (I’m sorry, “designer.”) Jim, maybe you should tell us about Sahil.
Jim: I’m not sure what I can say about Sahil that wouldn’t sound insensitive. I wish I had someone like Hari Kondabolu here, who wrote The Problem With Apu, to speak to this crazed caricature of an effete Indian fashionista, who speaks entirely in the third person.
Ready to infiltrate the Matrix and fight agents of the system.
Jim: What I can say about Sahil, though, is that in one way he’s like everything else in this movie—100% stolen, lock, stock and barrel, from another film. Which is to say, he’s basically exactly like Martin Short’s wedding planner character from Father of the Bride. Everything in The Royal Wedding is like that.
Ken: As somebody who is less well-versed in rom-coms, I confess to not being able to appreciate that kind of theft here. I will say that I think Sahil gets the worst of the film’s tendency to put bad dialogue into the mouths of its characters.
Jim: Both gay characters do, actually. Amber’s gay friend has to say things like “So honey, you’re having some ROYAL PAINS???”
Good day madam; we’ve been assigned as your ethnically and sexual orientationally diverse friends.
Ken: It’s okay because the gay friend and Sahil kind of flirt with each other at the end and it’s implied they match up. Right? That’s a good thing, for the only two gay characters to just randomly hook up at the end with no underlying character reasons for it, right??
Jim: I think that’s called “love,” Ken. As I understand it.
Anyway. The entire wedding plot is summed up by Amber herself within the first 15 minutes when she says “I didn’t realize that becoming part of the royal family meant giving up who I am.” She only has this realization in the week or so leading up to the wedding, rather than any time in the preceding year.
Ken: In this age when you and I know friends who are wailing and gnashing their teeth about the flowers some 16 months before the blessed day, this last-minute lament from her does seem improbable. And speaking of granular details, we’ve got subplots, too! Count ’em off with me: 1. Amber’s father hates the food and tries to make inroads with the Russian castle chef! It’s so zany that this old Brooklyn guy is bear-hugging dignified royal people!
Jim: 2. Royal screwup Simon, who tried to wrest the monarchy away from Richard as the primary antagonist of the first film, returns as a beggar intent on reestablishing his ability to mooch off the royal family.
I’ve been living in the forest since last Christmas, without the proper hair care products!
Ken: 3. Oh no, Princess Emily wants to be the star of her school play so she can kiss the cutest and most harmless Aldovian commoner in school, but the financial situation has caused those damn unions to literally cut the stage lights in the middle of rehearsal! They re-stage it at the palace, meaning that not only is Emily exercising some bizarre Prima Nocte right over this poor kid, but everyone in the palace is a scab.
Jim: 4. “Lord Leopold,” a random, retired aristocrat who didn’t appear in the first film, is called back into service as chief strategist to find out where all this missing Aldovian money has been going. He’s given absolute power in this regard, and it’s not at all obvious from before he even shows up on screen for the first time that he’s going to be the new antagonist and secret source of all the financial woes.
Ken: And don’t forget the most important one, 5. We must find the perfect Christmas tree for the royal courtyard!
Jim: Yes, let’s not forget that. I confess that I was disappointed the wolves from the first film didn’t show up again, forcing Richard to brandish his Royal Pistol.
Ken: He even assures us there won’t be any!
Jim: I just love that the setting for all this melodrama unfolding is an aristocratic (but modern) European country where every federal worker in the nation is simultaneously on strike over lack of payment, and they’re still largely focused on planning the royal wedding rather than where the billions of dollars are disappearing to.
Ken: It all just does not compute, does it? And it doesn’t help that the utter lack of any kind of danger or urgency here almost lulled me to sleep. I particularly love early on when Simon reappears in the crowd, staring down Richard and Amber with a face that makes you think for a minute he’s going to pull out a gun, and then no, he’s just going to show up unannounced at the palace in the most private, guarded chamber of the royal family, to be like “Sorry, can I have money again?”
Jim: Oh my god, I seriously thought he was about to pull out a bomb and start a Haymarket riot. He was dressed exactly as you would dress an “immigrant anarchist” in a historical recreation of those events.
Ken: He was definitely dressed in his “Death to Franz Ferdinand” best, flat-bill cap and all! But no, instead of political violence Amber rallies her supportive friends to help her try to ferret out what’s going on with this financial crisis. This involves, horror of horrors, heading into a bar with some regular Aldovian folk and interviewing an angry, laid-off worker who sent the royal family a shaming Christmas card. Her notes from this interview include her scrawling the word “Fishy” onto her notepad, which is where I just threw my hands up. Then, rather than some assassin trying to eliminate their source, we’re interrupted by the paparazzi. And frequenting bars is apparently bad enough that the royal wedding planners ban Amber from her blog.
Jim: The bit where Amber storms into the governess’ office and yells “DID YOU CENSOR MY BLOG?!” was the most perfect moment of millennial outrage I’ve ever seen captured on film, I think. Which is to say “Did you remove those photos of kids eating cake from my blog? Those were really important.”
The face you make when someone tries to censor your blog.
Ken: DON’T CENSOR MY BLOG, MOM!!
Jim: That governess woman is characterized in such a harsh, bitchy way throughout the whole movie that you’d really expect her to be in on the embezzlement shenanigans or something. She acts throughout as if she’s going out of her way to try to sabotage the wedding.
Ken: I know! I was waiting for the reveal where she and Lord Leopold were secret lovers, or that the whole point was for her to drive a wedge between the bride and groom so that it would keep Richard from discovering the truth or make people even hotter to trot him off to the guillotine or something, but it never materialized.
Anyway, the way our scrappy protagonists discover the damning information is so out-of-nowhere that I’m leaving it to you to explain it. I’m afraid our readers won’t believe us. Do you remember, Jim, if young princess Emily, younger sister to Richard, has ever displayed aptitude in the computer sciences before, in this movie or the previous one? Because you need to tell us what happens next.
Jim: As far as I know, Emily has never displayed any traits at all besides “has spina bifida” and “says cheeky things.” So if you’re asking whether they adequately established her as a COMPUTER SUPER HACKER, the answer would be no. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop her from going full-on ’90s hacker, like she’s in The Net.
You’ve got to give me 30 seconds. I need 30 more seconds to crack the mainframe.
Ken: It’s all riding on the keyboarding skills of a precocious little lady with a disability! And she truly saves Christmas in the end. I laughed when she totally just clicked out of her hacking screen when the governess asks what she’s doing and she just goes “Playing this violent video game!” and like, that diffuses the situation.
Jim: As long as she’s not blogging, I suppose.
Ken: This essentially ends the film, with Richard calling out Leopold and announcing to the whole country that, “Never mind, we found all the money.”
Jim: Not only does he announce that they instantaneously recovered every bit of the missing funds from a dozen shell companies, but all of that money will just be handed out in parcels to the Aldovian citizenry for Christmas. You might argue that the writers of this film don’t have a tenuous grasp on love or romance, but compared to their familiarity with due process and economics, they’re scholars on the subject.
Ken: Yes, I will say that your movie, which is set in a nebulous country, should never make your viewers ask what kind of political or economic system allows a monarch to just casually seize off-shore funds and convict and imprison a guy based on one piece of evidence.
The most Hallmark image in the entire movie, complete with a quartet of perfectly aligned cocoa mugs.
Jim: Queen Alice Krige literally says she’s throwing him in an honest-to-god dungeon, and she doesn’t seem to be joking.
Ken: She will assimilate his biological and technological distinctiveness into her own, Jim. But maybe we’re calling for a higher level of scrutiny than movies like this warrant. Are we being Grinches/Scrooges? Should we just embrace the warm, uncontroversial, predictable holiday spirit that A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding is serving up to us?
Jim: No! If they wanted to do a light comedy about the wedding, they could have done it. Instead they chose to make a wedding movie where the main plot revolved largely around “modernization initiatives” and striking workers. We are nothing if not fair.
By the way, did you cringe as I did during the conclusion, when they started loading up potential romantic plots for a third entry in the Christmas Prince series?
Ken: I very much did, Jim. It’s bad enough we’re 0-2 on Netflix’s bold experiment here, but they don’t need to threaten us with the inevitable third installment. What do you think Vegas odds are on Amber and Richard consummating their relationship around, oh, say, March 25?
Jim: You just know that’s going to happen. They set up so much for a third film, within the space of moments. Beyond the inevitable “we’re having baby” main plot (it’s going to steal from Father of the Bride II this time), they set up romances for Rudy/Russian Cook, Emily/cute peasant boy, Black friend/Simon, Gay friend/Sahil, and they had Queen Alice Krige catch the freaking bouquet, so now she’s on the table, too. It’s going to be madness.
Ken: Oh … oh God. Jim … are they preparing us for an Aldovian ripoff of Love, Actually???
Jim: I don’t think there’s any doubt, Ken.
Ken: We’ve got to stop them before it’s too late!!!
Jim: Closing thoughts? Any other things that stood out to you as particularly amusing?
Ken: You know, I wish there were some other standout detail I could point to here that was in any way inspired or inspiringly terrible, but the truth is that there is very little meat on this goose. If anything, there were fewer batsh*t, bad-good moments than last year’s entry, which served us up a fateful acorn ornament message and a freaking wolf attack. How about you? Did this do anything for you, at any point?
Jim: I’d just like to call attention to the hilarious genericness of Aldovia’s “European” bonafides. Various characters in this movie use British expressions like calling bathrooms “the loo” or exclaiming “brilliant!,” and they all have vaguely British accents, but hey, this is Aldovia, people. 700 years of history and shit. Really proud nation state. Very unique.
Ken: I’m sure we’ll be back within its august borders a year from now, having our cab stolen by some other character who later shows up at the palace. May your days be merry and bright until then, Jim.
Jim: I wish you a Christmas filled with similarly Hallmarkian movie bullshit, Ken.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and you can follow him on Twitter. Kenneth Lowe is a contributing writer for Paste Movies, and you can read more of his writing at his blog.