- A Christmas Prince – 4 Stars
It’s a classic setup. A plucky young reporter gets herself into the royal palace by pretending to be a tutor so she can write a story about their playboy prince, who is preparing to become king in the wake of his father’s death. Okay, maybe not the holiday romcom premise you were expecting, but that is exactly how this Netflix original set itself apart when it premiered on the streaming service last year. iZombie’s Rose McIver starred as the reporter, Amber, and Ben Lamb, whose previous credits include Now You See Me 2 and Divergent, played the handsome Prince Richard, who officially is next in line for the throne of the fictional land of Aldovia, but whose tabloid reputation is reminiscent of Prince Harry while his blond hair and strong jawline makes him a dead ringer for a young Prince William. Of course, Amber and the prince start to fall for each other (spoiler alert) as she realizes all those playboy rumors might just be rumors. But she still has a job to keep, which means she still has to write her story, which means that eventually the prince will learn her real name and why she tried so hard to get close to him. What’s a working girl to do?
Then there’s the shifty-eyed cousin who’s second in line for the throne and more than happy to do whatever he can to push Prince Richard to abdicate the throne. You know exactly how this is going to go, but it’s a delightful ride nevertheless (although a bit stressful if you manage to get caught up in the emotion of it all, like my mother who is currently yelling at the screen). The actors deliver emotionally engaging performances, for the most part, and the plot moves forward smoothly without feeling overtly manipulated or obligatory. The script could have used a dialogue polish, but where else would we get the obligatory cheesiness of the genre? A Christmas Prince is a classic modern fairytale with a holiday twist. Not terribly original or inventive, but an enjoyable, feel-good ride nevertheless.
- A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding – 4 Stars
The first film did so well that Netflix delivered this year with a sequel, appropriately enough centered around a royal wedding much like we all witnessed earlier this year between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding” keeps much of the formula of the first film—it all begins with a rude cab stealer, there is a crisis threatening Aldovia that centers around rumors about now King Richard, there is a suspicious old family friend and our heroine finds herself a bit out of water as a commoner adjusting to the royal lifestyle. Once again, Amber and Richard find themselves having to build a romantic connection, this time centered around the prospect of them co-ruling a kingdom together. And of course Amber’s investigative reporting pops up again too. There are definite Princess Diaries 2 vibes here as well. The overall vibe of the film has shifted a bit from the first movie to insert a bit more comedy, mostly with the inclusion of a much more animated version of Amber’s father and an over the top, very gay wedding planner (Father of the Bride anyone?). It also is a bit strange that no one seems to remember that Amber originally wormed her way into the royal family by pretending to be someone else in order to write an expose about her now groom-to-be. In some ways the film does feel a bit like a peek inside what Meghan might have gone through, seeing her personal fairytale moment transformed into a symbol of royal tradition. The film takes its own take on the royal wedding, though, sprinkling it with all the familiar trappings of a classic fairytale. The movie is a touch cheesy, yes, fairly predictable and sometimes the characters feel a bit undeveloped, but it still left me with a smile on my face and maybe a few tears in my eyes (although I will definitely deny if asked in person). An additional props to Netflix for pushing the diversity a little in this new film, even amidst an already established cast.
- Merry Kissmas – 3 1/2 Stars
A clear riff on the 2011 tv movie A Christmas Kiss, the 2015 movie Merry Kissmas centers around a young woman named Kayla, whose life is totally changed by a random kiss with a handsome stranger in an elevator. When we meet Kayla, she is pulling double duty as the business manager and fiancee of famous director/choreography, Carlton Wells. If you’re thinking that’s a terrible combination, you would be right. Carlton is wrapped up in his newest project, a production of The Nutcracker, and refuses to acknowledge her as anything but his business manager until the show is over. Enter unbelievably handsome, yet somehow tragically single, chef Dustin played by Brant Doherty, whom Pretty Little Liars fans will recognize as the dastardly Noel Kahn. The movie seriously lacks depth, refusing to even entertain anything more than the two-dimensional and obvious. Carlton is self absorbed and rude. Dustin literally bakes free cookies for the dog shelter. Kayla complains again and again that her fiancé pays no attention to her so that the viewer doesn’t miss the fact that her subsequent cheating is totally excusable. The kiss itself is totally unnecessary and shockingly unmotivated, despite the fact that they were in an elevator with mistletoe. The film also has a massive problem with consent, which they get away with mostly because the person who is repeatedly kissed without permission is the guy, not the girl. “I’ve never been miffed at you before” is an actual line in the movie delivered without irony, as well as the obligatory “you two belong together” and a repeating joke about Dustin becoming the male version of a cat lady that wasn’t super funny the first time. Also, spoiler alert: One of the biggest plot points revolves around Dustin talking to an elevator. If A Christmas Wedding Planner was saved by Jocelyn Hudon, Merry Kissmas is saved by Brant Daugherty, who proves over and over again throughout the whole film that he is able to deliver terribly written lines convincingly while pretending he doesn’t know his character is terribly written. (Although PLL fans shouldn’t be surprised considering all of Noel’s storylines after breaking up with Aria.) The film is awful, but engaging. Despite cringing at most of the lines and plot points, I had to keep watching this movie to see what happened next. I blame Brant.