There are a few things you look for in a good romantic comedy: witty repartee, aspirational home décor, a few “You lied to me!”s, and at least one pretty good smooch. For a Christmas romantic comedy, you need all of the above, but you turn the schmaltz up to 11 and add an engagement ring at the end. Christmas romantic comedies don’t need to be “plausible,” or “well-written,” or “good.” It’s probably better if they’re none of the above. A good Christmas romantic comedy should be so bad that you can make fun of it a little bit in your head and feel smart, but still romantic enough that after a big glass of red wine, you can admit that you’re enjoying it a little bit un-ironically.
By those metrics, A Christmas Prince is an instant classic. It’s a Netflix original movie, but it feels like a violation of nature that it somehow isn’t from Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel. Nathan Atkins is credited with the screenplay, but this film is such a perfect amalgam of established tropes that I am not entirely convinced that isn’t a pseudonym to keep us from discovering that Netflix has created the artificial-intelligence technology to generate a script using auto-complete.
The story follows Amber (Rose McIver), a young magazine editor who’s assigned to cover a press conference about the young future king of a country called Aldovia who’s about to take over after his father’s death. Amber sneaks into the palace, pretends to be the young princess’ tutor, falls in love with the prince, accidentally uncovers the fact that he was adopted, and then discovers just in the nick of time that the late king made a secret proclamation allowing the adopted prince to become the king anyway. Prince Richard (Ben Lamb) becomes King Richard, and then he flies to Brooklyn to propose to Amber on New Year’s Eve.
You expect castle and clothing porn from this type of movie — I still daydream about the closet from A Princess 2: A Royal Engagement — and unfortunately, we don’t really get that here. It’s never quite as extravagant as you want it to be: The Aldovian castle is about as nice as a midlevel ski resort or the Bavarian pavilion at Epcot, and the whole court has a business-casual vibe. But what it lacks in aesthetics, A Christmas Prince more than makes up in delightful, inexplicable nonsense.
First of all:
Where is this movie supposed to take place?
The movie begins, like many movies, with credits over a few establishing shots so the viewer can become acclimated. We get Lower Manhattan, the New York Public Library, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, and the Statue of Liberty. And then … the Michigan Avenue bridge over the Chicago River. In Chicago. And this is the final establishing shot, which pans up to the office building where Amber works. And it’s not just that I recognize the bridge because I’m from Chicago. I’m from Highland Park — I’m barely from Chicago. There are multiple Chicago flags incredibly visible, between flags for the state of Illinois. Less than two minutes in, this film is flaunting just how few s—s it gives, and in that way, it’s almost genius. Lower your expectations now, that Chicago shot says. You did not click on A Christmas Prince on Netflix for attention to detail or consistency. You are watching this with a glass of wine and two other tabs open, and we made this film with a glass of wine and two other tabs open.
What’s the deal with the magazine where Amber works?
First, it has the most unnecessarily terrible logo of all time: the word “Now” with the word “Beat” written inside the middle O. What is the magazine called? Now Beat? Beat Now? It’s like one of those visual-pun riddles they gave you in elementary school. Terrible design.
But everything about this magazine is terrible. First of all, Amber is an editor. We know this because she confronts a very rude writer who turned in 650 words instead of 300. “Just clean it up,” the writer sniffs at her. Amber mopes back to her friends. She wants to be the one writing the stories, not just fixing them. “Amber, we’re junior editors, not writers,” her friend who never gets a name says, giving us helpful exposition. But see — at most (all?) publications, editors are a more senior position than writers. Why do they treat it at Now/Beat/Now like it’s the world’s worst internship?
“Five rejection letters this month,” Amber says, holding up physical letters because apparently she’s trying to become a writer in 2002. “I’m hardly killing it on the freelance writing market.” Girl, you are an editor at a print magazine. I mean, cool that you’re allowed to freelance when you’re a full-time staff member at another publication, but what the hell is going on in this movie universe? Even overlooking the fact that five rejection letters in a month is an adorable warm-up for anyone trying to make it as a writer, and the fact that those letters actually came as letters not emails, why aren’t you just pitching to your own magazine?
Continuing the 2002 theme of this movie, Amber gets an intercom message saying the boss wants to see her. This is 2017 — we use email or Slack. An intercom system in a magazine office seems adorably old-fashioned.
Why would they send her to Europe for a press conference?
As this movie made very clear already, Amber is not a writer, even though she desperately wants to be one. But, miracle of miracles, she gets called into the office of the magazine’s EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, who assigns her a press conference about the ascension of the Prince of Aldovia because none of the regular writers can go. Fine. But why, in an era where print magazines are suffering — all media is suffering — would a fashion magazine ever send an incredibly junior reporter on an international flight to Europe to attend a press conference? The thing about a press conference is that press are going to be there. It will be on the news. There will be photos and quotes. No, your magazine will not get an exclusive, but no one is getting an exclusive. This is a press conference in a tiny foreign country that most people don’t care about, and we know that because even in this universe, the editor-in-chief asks Amber, “What do you know about Aldovia?” as soon as she walks in.
This is not like the Prince of England getting engaged to someone. We all know what England is. An editor would never ask, “What do you know about England?” That’s a story people want to read about. And even still, I don’t imagine many New York City fashion magazines sent a junior reporter to cover a press conference in England about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s engagement. Sending Amber to Aldovia means thousands of dollars spent on someone who has never written a story before, about a country no one really knows anything about, and the story is: The king died, and the young prince who’s kind of a playboy is going to take over. Is this why print media is collapsing?
Why does this palace have zero security?
As soon as Amber and the other reporters get to the palace for the press conference, a palace representative informs them that the press conference was canceled, which seems incredibly rude when some of them had literally just flown around the world to get there. At least send an email or something. But, not wanting to return empty-handed, Amber takes it upon herself to sneak into the palace by using the incredibly sneaky move of just walking in through the side doors, where she just … hangs out for a bit before a guy comes up to her, hears her American accent, and just assumes that she’s the tutor who’s not supposed to get there for another two weeks. Why would that be his first thought? When there are reporters milling about the palace already, and the tutor has given no indication that she was going to arrive early, why would the random palace worker make that leap?
And aside from the fact that Amber was able to just walk into the palace, they didn’t check anything about her before she started tutoring the princess one-on-one? They didn’t even make her fill out new employee paperwork? I don’t work anywhere near a royal family, and before I started my job I had to give them my passport and Social Security number. Seems incredibly weird they’re just winging it here.
Was the late king Dustin Hoffman?
Or Ser Davos from Game of Thrones?
How does Amber not know basic geometry?
A point of comedy in this movie is that Amber is pretending to be a tutor named Martha for a preteen, and Amber doesn’t know any of the math she’s supposed to be teaching. “Scatterplots? What is that!” Amber says while Skyping her friends. Amber is a 20-something girl. How does she not know what a scatterplot is? She went to college. And from the looks of it, the princess’ math is incredibly basic geometry. Like, seventh-grade math. Triangles. It is a problem if Amber is really that confused about triangles.
Are all these plot points stolen from other princess movies?
I will admit there may not be a ton of new material to tread with the story of “normal American girl meets prince,” but it seems like a lot of the things that happen in A Christmas Prince were pulled directly from Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement. Like the scene where the prince gets behind Amber to teach her archery, and Amber is bad at archery and accidentally sends an arrow careening off for comedy? Princess Diaries 2. A royal who’s supposed to be making a press appearance but instead sneaks off to spend time with orphans? Princess Diaries 2. The scene where Amber rides a horse that gets spooked? Princess Diaries 2. Also the Cinderella with Lily James. And then they threw in a wolf that the prince needed to rescue Amber from, which was from Beauty and the Beast.
As for the rest of the movie: A playboy prince who runs away from his mother and little sister and returns and falls in love with an American who doesn’t know how to dress for the balls and stuff? That’s The Prince and Me. It also doesn’t help that Amber’s last name is Moore, and Julia Stiles’ Prince and Me character’s last name was Morgan, so every time they said “Miss Moore,” I was mentally completing it with the extra syllable.
Why would they serve such a disgusting appetizer at a palace?
Another bit of “comedy”: The food they serve in foreign countries is gross sometimes! But this is a cocktail party at the royal palace of a country, with only the nobility invited. Even if the dish was “jellied meat,” why would it be served on cheap, stale-looking baguette slices with a sliced black olive and a neon toothpick? Everything else in this movie indicates that the royal family is classy and has impeccable taste. Why would anyone serve anything that looks like this at a party?
Does anyone here know how monarchies work?
When it seems like Prince Richard might abdicate the throne, one of the reporters shouts, “If so, who will rule the country?!” This is treated as a big mystery in the movie: What will happen if Prince Richard doesn’t want to be king? It’s the question the editor-in-chief sent Amber to answer. But … monarchies are very straightforward. We know who’s next in line to rule. It’s Richard’s cousin, Simon. They could probably pretty easily figure out the next 10 people in line to rule. Fifty. A hundred. This country has a weird rule where it goes to the nearest male blood relative of the king (which seems odd — even in England in the 1500s they let Mary and Elizabeth rule after the King Henry VIII’s son died, and then in 2011 they made it so women get equal priority as men; you’d think if this late King Richard was so great, he could have just issued a quick decree to make sure that his younger daughter would be queen if his son turned the job down). But fine: the next blood relative. If the king had any living brothers, it would go to them, but since it seems he doesn’t, it goes to his nephew. Done. It’s the least exciting cliffhanger in the world.
Do they know how royal decrees work?
Just as Prince Richard is being crowned at the Christmas party, the hot, conniving baroness announces that he’s actually adopted, as proven by a “certificate of adoption” that looks like it was made on Microsoft Word for an employee of the month award at an office not really trying that hard.
Instead of being like, “That’s insane, we all saw the queen pregnant,” or whatever, the prime minister doing the coronating is immediately on board, and the coronation is called off. I’m not going to get into the logistics of a secret adoption that even Prince Richard didn’t know about (or how everyone involved was able to keep it secret for so long), but I will get into the logistics of the royal decree Amber finds tucked into an acorn ornament.
Right before he died, the late king signed a royal decree that even though his son was adopted, he would still be next in line for the throne (so seems like you could have tried looking out for your daughter, huh, guy?). But instead of doing a normal thing like making the decree public, or having Parliament pass it, or even showing his wife, he hid it in a homemade ornament and wrote a cryptic poem that he was planning on giving to his wife to lead her to it. This raises about 1,000 questions — like whether a secret scribbled note is legally binding — but mostly you have to wonder why the king waited until the prince’s mid-to-late 20s to write this incredibly important document for the future of the royal family. You’d think that he would want that ready to go, on file somewhere.
Do they know how coronations work?
As I learned from The Crown, the monarch is ordained by God, and not the state, which is why an archbishop leads the coronation. So why in this dumb country is the king being crowned by the goddamn prime minister?
Why is the prince so irredeemably awful?
They try to convince us that Prince Richard’s playboy reputation was all fabricated by tabloids, but the fact of the matter remains that from what we see in the movie, he ran away from the country for a full year because he was scared of being king, came back, and then backed out of his two professional obligations (press conference, speech at the orphanage.) From that information, he seems like he’s going to be an incredibly bad king. Being a monarch means being present and going to boring obligations. Prince Richard demonstrably cannot do that. He conveniently decides that he does want to be king after all when a blonde stranger says something like, “I know you can do it.” That hardly instills the confidence that he has the stamina or discipline for a public life of regimented service and responsibilities.
And then, he proposes to a girl he’s known for exactly one full week, which we know because the press conference Amber arrived at the palace for was on the 18th, and then Richard comes to surprise her in Brooklyn on New Year’s Eve. And he only spent one of those weeks with her, because Amber flew home after Christmas, which we know because the prince says he never got to say goodbye. This man, now the king of a country, is proposing to a woman who spent the vast majority of their interactions completely fabricating her name and identity so she could spy on him.
Imagine how insane it would be for any normal human being to propose after spending a week of time with someone. Then think how crazy it would be if that human being was a monarch, and needed a spouse adequately prepared and vetted for the obligations that go along with being queen. And then think how absolutely insane it is if all of that time spent together was under false pretenses. King Richard is not mentally sound, and he should be deposed.
Do people throw snowballs to get people’s attention?
This is kind of weird, but on New Year’s Eve, Amber is sitting in her dad’s diner with her two friends, and their dates throw snowballs at the diner window to get their attention. Honestly, it’s kind of rude that the boys didn’t just come in to say hi, but whatever, it’s New Year’s Eve, maybe they’re drunk. But then, five or 10 minutes later, now-King Richard arrives, and he also throws a snowball at the window to get Amber’s attention instead of going inside. What is that? Who does that? Everyone is rude and also very weird in this universe.
Also, I know this is slightly off-topic, but Amber is terrible at her job. I mean …
She comes back from this international trip and has to publish the story on her blog? If literally no publication is willing to publish “I snuck undercover into a royal palace and hung out for a week without anyone noticing and figured out the prince was adopted,” we have to assume Amber is a very, very bad writer. But hey, who cares about any of that that because now she gets to be a queen!
A Christmas Prince is currently streaming on Netflix.