Warning: Spoilers below!
Every good romantic comedy needs a sequel. How else will we find out about how that fluffy, swoony happy ending turned into a relentless morass of disappointment and misery? That’s entertainment!
So it was with immense excitement that audiences awaited the sequel to Netflix’s breakout 2017 holiday rom-com “A Christmas Prince,” titled “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding.” American blogger Amber Moore (Rose McIver) would finally be tying the knot with budget Armie Hammer and Aldovian King Richard (Ben Lamb)!
But is “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding” a frothy nuptial romp or a grim look at what comes after the whirlwind fairy-tale betrothal? Is it, as some viewers have suggested, an oddly timed cinematic attack on labor unions, a clumsy piece of pro-monarchy propaganda?
Claire and Emma, two “Christmas Prince” fans, talked through their complicated feelings about every second of this romantic comedy cum political procedural.
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Emma: Claire! From one intrepid journalist to another, I can’t tell you how #blessed I feel to be talking about the instant holiday classic “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding” with you. There’s a lot to dig into here. Cryptocurrency! Class tensions! Blogging! But let’s start with a general review. Did you … enjoy this sequel?
Claire: “Enjoyment” is such a simple metric to quantify my reaction to this movie. I felt a lot of emotions, such as irritation and confusion. I enjoyed tweeting my critiques. As a romantic, I felt no thrills when Amber and Richard were onscreen together, which saddened me. However, hate-watching is one of my favorite hobbies. In that sense, I did enjoy it. What about you? Was this the sequel you were hoping for?
Emma: As someone who both loves hate-watching terrible holiday rom-coms and has recently felt very bitter about love, who can even say what I was hoping for? I laughed several times, so that seemed like a plus ― though perhaps not during moments that the writers intended to be played for laughs. I also got a wry enjoyment out of watching a movie that so terribly portrays journalism writ large and specifically female journalists. (Although I did note that even in Amber’s fictional world, media seems to be falling apart. RIP, Beat Now magazine!)
You bring up an important point when you say you felt nary a flutter in your heart watching Richard and Amber’s chemistry. I was struck by how … un–in love they seemed to be with each other. They are supposed to be playing a couple that has just been through a yearlong long-distance engagement, and now they finally are in the same place and get to be married. And yet … they didn’t even make out until the very end of the movie??? Was this movie even a love story, or was it more like a story about saving an increasingly irrelevant and antiquated monarchy?
Claire: I think you already know the answer to that question. We see a montage of them romping through North America and Europe, holding hands and giggling like teenagers, but when they’re supposed to speak lines of dialogue to each other, they seem like distant acquaintances. Or maybe she’s his Uber driver?
She has arrived in Aldovia for the holiday season, which will apparently be spent feverishly planning a wedding for Christmas Day. (They’ve had all year to plan a royal wedding, and they’re just starting now, about three days in advance? Sure, fine.) Due to protocol ― keep an eye on protocol, it’s one of the central players in this drama! ― Amber has her own bridal suite instead of staying with her fiancé. But they also never, IDK, sneak off to make out? Have naughty assignations in the armory? Do these people feel visceral repugnance for each other’s bodies? It’s so bizarre.
When Amber arrives in Aldovia, we also see that her chemistry with Richard is not the only element from “A Christmas Prince” that has been downgraded in this sequel. We need to talk about Rudy. Emma, please explain what happened to Amber’s sweet diner-owning pops.
Emma: So this took me a beat after he was introduced ― I hadn’t watched the original since last year ― but I quickly realized that they had recast the father. I get it: It’s a Netflix holiday movie. Actors have conflicts. It happens. But more concerning than the fact that they made her father a totally different human ― something that the writers wink at the audience about when Richard’s little sister, Princess Emily, comments that “he looks different in person” (apparently it’s all about his shaved facial hair) ― is that this new Papa Rudy has a completely different personality from the old Papa Rudy.
The new Rudy has zero sense of manners or decorum, constantly threatens to fight people when they do things like attempt to get a taxi from the airport, and decides that he is more qualified to cook for an official event than the (female) royal chef. This personality transformation is an inexplicable choice on the part of the writers. It added nothing to the plot and just made me even more aware that Rudy had been recast. All I could think was, “Oh, I guess her dad is a total asshole now. That’s weird.”
Another frustrating character that we desperately need to talk about is Sahil, the royal wedding planner who is flown in from India. Claire, please let the people know why we both were supremely peeved about Sahil’s portrayal.
Claire: Well, I’m not the expert here, but it’s pretty simple. He’s the only character of color with a significant speaking role, except for Amber’s friend who shows up halfway through and immediately starts trying to get with villainous dweeb Count Simon. Sahil is by turns obsequious and hysterical, as he caters to the grandiose vision of the queen mother and important secretary Mrs. Averill while ignoring poor, blond, innocent Amber, who doesn’t want his ridiculous high-fashion designs. He’s played by British actor Raj Bajaj, but he speaks in an exaggerated Indian accent. He’s a caricature and not a flattering one. His portrayal felt tone-deaf at best and, ironically, a reminder of how snowy white Aldovia is.
Though Sahil is in charge of the royal wedding, he actually spends most of the film off camera … because this movie isn’t about a wedding. It’s about Richard bumbling around like your grandmother with her spectacles pushed up on her head asking, “Now where have I put my spectacles?” ― but instead of his eyewear, it’s all of Aldovia’s money. Where did he put it? Why can’t he find it? Emma, what the ever-loving hell was the political plot of this movie?
Emma: Claire … The short answer is, I have no fucking clue. The longer answer is that I can list off some elements of the political plot, and they all add up to one excellent lesson: Monarchic rule is where it’s at.
1. All of Aldovia’s money is flowing mysteriously out of the country causing all of the working people to lose their jobs.
2. The biggest issue with said unemployment and the ensuing mass strikes is not, in fact, that Aldovian people are unemployed. Rather, the true tragedy of this loss of wage labor is that Emily might be denied her right to awkwardly flirt with one of her classmates in the upcoming Christmas pageant.
3. It will take Amber’s “journalistic instinct” that “something more” is going on with Aldovia’s bleeding economy to solve this economic crisis.
4. Also, hacking!
5. The answer to said economic crisis is ― dramatic pause ― CORRUPTION. But not the corruption of an antiquated government system in a nation that has a prime minister but for some reason gives its hapless king all power over its economic policy. The real corruption comes down to one powerful individual who no longer lives in Aldovia, the white-bearded Lord Leopold, who has created a shell corporation that is publicly registered under his name and is single-handedly draining all of Aldovia’s business profits.
This all seems very plausible and definitely has no holes, right? Shell corporations are bad, monarchies are good. The end.
Claire: I’m a monarchist now, thanks to this good, good propaganda movie. Let’s rewind this to the beginning: King Richard, having ascended to power thanks to an enormous acorn in the first movie, is trying to make his mark with a new agenda. That agenda is: modernization. Modernize Aldovia! This is supposed to be an investment in the country’s economy, but instead, the money is all going somewhere else, and the Aldovian businesses are all bleeding capital and laying off workers.
Where is the money going? Richard doesn’t know! He barely seems to care, to be honest. Much of the movie is just the king and his family and advisers standing around mutually affirming that modernization is very good for the economy in the long run and that unfortunately the workers just don’t see it. The plebs’ lack of foresight is ruining Christmas for the royal family; they’re sending mildly peeved holiday cards to the queen mother about their financial ruin, for example. Tween Princess Emily is meant to be starring in a Christmas pageant in which she’ll kiss a very cute boy. But then the theater workers go on strike. Those unbelievable assholes! Don’t they know the princess of the realm wants a smooch from her handsome subject? That is their job!
Amber, our little go-getter, brings her American no-nonsense approach to solving this little union problem: She orders the palace workers to be scabs. The pageant is held at the palace and staffed by palace employees. Strike busted! It’s honestly so heartwarming.
But Amber isn’t just a great anti-labor innovator; she’s also, as we know, a journalist. And being a reporter-slash-royal, she has all the tools to uncover what’s really going on. Emma, did Amber’s journalistic capers ring true to you?
Emma: Every good journalist knows that joining the royal family while reporting on the royal family and matters that intimately affect them is totally kosher. What are journalistic ethics, even? But seriously, all jokes about Amber’s completely egregious conflicts of interest aside, I want to talk about the way she does journalism.
To Amber, journalism isn’t so much a process as an instinct. She was born with that instinct, and she’ll have that instinct until she dies. That instinct is Amber. Amber is journalistic instinct. And that instinct leads her all over Aldovia, from the confines of the palace to the virtual Hall of Records to a dive bar where a bedraggled and beaten-down unemployed man is drowning his sorrows in beer. Oh, did I forget to mention that she found this source because he wrote a justifiably embittered holiday card to the royal family that they read aloud in their parlor as a fun Christmas activity?
Amber recruits her #journalism friends ― both of whom seem to exist solely to bolster Amber’s confidence in her journalistic skill rather than to do any reporting of their own despite the fact that they both worked at Beat Now mag with her ― to join her on her renegade reporting mission. They approach the man and give Amber, cleverly disguised with sunglasses in a dark bar at night, the in to talk to him. She asks him if he knows what the hell is going on with all of Aldovia’s money disappearing. And in a stroke of unbelievable luck, he does! This low-level worker not only names one of the three companies that seem to be behind all of the economic corruption, but he also tells her that the aforementioned company seems — what’s the word? — fishy. And being the investigative blogger that she is, Amber takes painstaking notes.
They read as follows:
Everything you need to write an explosive single-source story about high-level corruption in the Aldovian government! Naturally, our fair heroine does not write any pieces about this. Instead, she takes that info right to the king so he can save the day by announcing that corruption has been rooted out and everyone gets a Christmas bonus! One-time bonuses: the tried and true way to solve an entire nation’s labor issues. Long live King Richard!
Claire: Let’s not forget Princess Emily’s contribution: Staying up all night hacking into the Hall of Records database to find the incorporation documents for Meadowlark and the shell corporation. Why is this necessary? Wouldn’t these be public documents? Even if not, Amber is engaged to the king of the entire country ― is he not able to look at this?
The monarchy seems like a flawless system: He is completely in charge of the entire economy, but when it comes to questions like “Where is all our money?” he isn’t allowed to check or just doesn’t feel like checking in the most obvious possible places, like “Who owns all the companies that we’re giving huge government contracts to?” Amber, your man is useless.
But of course, Amber is also pretty much useless. Aside from her little corruption exposé ― which she uses to help a monarch consolidate political power ― her blog is not so much journalism as a platform for expressing her me-ness. After a year of engagement, she tells her readers at the start of the movie, she’s unaltered by proximity to royalty. She’s still … just her! Unlike Prince Harry, it seems, Richard did not have the hard conversation with his fiancée about shutting down her personal blog before joining the royal family. When she pisses off the protocol police by posting, er, a fun photo blog about the royals having humanizing holiday fun, the post is removed. “DID YOU CENSOR MY BLOG?” she asks. Yes, Amber, they did ― but finally Richard relents and lets her have it back.
At the end of the first movie, the idea that Amber could continue to be a hard-hitting journalist while being a queen seemed untenable. What’s weird is how the second movie keeps trying to make this work.
All this, and still there is a wedding ― planned in three days, only to be scrapped for something that Amber feels is just a little more “me.” Emma, what did you think of the fairy-tale wedding at the end?
Emma: So, one of the moments that I was truly on Amber’s side was when she objected to the heinous, fluffy cupcake dress that Sahil and Mrs. Averill wanted her to wear for the wedding. And yet ― even when presented with the chance to pick something new that would reflect her, with, one can assume, an essentially unlimited budget, Amber went with a dress that I found almost equally repellent. I think the first time we talked about this, you described it as the gown version of a white collared shirt that old women wear? And that summed up its aesthetic perfectly.
I’m sorry, but being a “normal girl” doesn’t mean having terrible taste. I know lots of normal women who got married in all kinds of traditional and nontraditional wedding outfits. And let me tell you, not a single one was as hideous as Amber’s get-up. It was ill-fitting, had lace stripes that served no purpose, aesthetic or otherwise, and was primarily made of a shiny fabric that showed every single wrinkle in excruciating detail. Whyyyyy, Amber? Why? Your coats are far better tailored than this blousy monstrosity!
Claire: If my mother-in-law wore this as a blouse to a summer dinner party (ideally in a linen-cotton blend), I would find it quite nice. The appeal just doesn’t translate to ballgown length. Not everything needs to be the same! That’s all.
This is perhaps supposed to convey that Amber is normal and not like the royals, but most of us boring heteronormative lady proles wear sweetheart necklines and heels for our weddings, so this didn’t exactly feel relatable. Nor did it feel like escapist, marshmallowy fairy-tale fun. So thanks for ruining royal weddings for me, Netflix.
This has been “Should You Watch It?” a weekly examination of movies and TV worth ― or not worth! ― your time.