First things first. I don’t have patience for complaints about The Royal Treatment that focus on the stiff acting or the formulaic plot. Absolutely no one on planet earth should go into a movie about a New York City hairdresser and a Prince from the made up country of Lavania expecting anything but pure rom-com predictability and fair to middling acting. It’s. The. Genre. Plus, there are plenty of other things to kvetch about in this okay-enough-to-watch movie, which boasts people with soothingly pleasant looking faces, but also employs poverty as a prop and substitutes stereotypes for actual personality traits. Let’s dig right in! But not too deep, because there’s just not that much substance, but there are a LOT of very thick (and very questionable) accents. We could spend weeks digging into the accents, but, for my sanity and yours, I’m mostly going to ignore them. You’ll probably want to do the same while watching.
Izzy (Laura Marano) is an Italian-American hair stylist on 183 St. in New York with a heart of gold. She walks to work with a brilliant smile and a box full of donuts (not a euphemism) that she hands out to people along the way. When someone tells her that she doesn’t have to feed the kids from the community center all the time, she responds that of course she does because she’s Italian. Oy. Way to cram in the stereotypes fast and early.
Anyhoodle, she stops by her local newsstand to pick up a copy of her favorite tabloid, where the cover article is all about a prince visiting the city. Then, just as she’s explaining how Lavania is just east of Aldovia, smallish fire breaks out at the salon Izzy runs alongside her mother (Amanda Billing) and her nonna (Elizabeth Hawthorne), possibly because Lola (Grace Bentley-Tsibuah) or Destiny (Chelsie Preston Crayford), the other two stylists, were running all the appliances at once. Izzy saves the day, puts out the fire, and pays off the sketchy middle-man for the building owner using her personal travel savings (which she keeps tucked in the bottom of a globe, because nothing is too on the nose for a movie like this). She’s so kind and selfless that you almost expect woodland creatures to suddenly appear to help her with her chores. I mean, Izzy isn’t even sure she wants to be a hairstylist, but since her father died her mother needs the help, so Izzy has put all her own dreams on hold.
At this point the movie still feels pretty campy, like it’s fully aware of how over-the-top it’s being, and it’s choosing to lean into it. Case in point? The first time Prince Thomas (Mena Massoud) appears he looks strikingly like he’s doing some Prince Rogers Nelson cosplay. Actually, even as the movie becomes more earnest, Prince Thomas—a name that really doesn’t suit him—never stops looking like Prince the artist (formerly known as Prince). So, while Izzy is doling out donuts and putting out literal and figurative fires, Prince Temperate is just trying to get his valet Walter (Cameron Rhodes) to give him an honest opinion about his floral shirt, which is, like, a metaphor for his whole sheltered life of half-truths and shit. When that fails, he requests a haircut be scheduled for him before he goes out for dinner to celebrate his engagement to Southern Belle Lauren (Phoenix Connolly), who he hardly knows, but whose parents are loaded and thus could save Lavania. (His father later says that it’s hard out there for a Monarchy. I’m paraphrasing, but barely.)
In a small snafu that will change the fates of many, Walter calls the wrong salon, and ends up with Izzy coming to cut Prince Thomas’s hair instead of a stylist from some hoity toity upscale place. The two hit it off until a maid drops a tea tray, someone yells at her for it, and Prince Tasty does not intervene. Izzy lets him have it, saying that if she let people treat her customers that way she wouldn’t have any, before insulting his shirt and storming out, leaving his hair only partially cut. Obviously, the prince is immediately besotted with her cutting honesty and seeks out her salon to apologize and get the rest of his hair shorn and shaped. There are, of course, romantic sparks, but how will they ever see each other again since he is a prince betrothed to another and she is but a humble hairdresser, bound to her mother? Why, fate will intervene! This time in the form of Walter who, seeing the undeniable attraction between the two, orchestrates it so that Izzy and her co-workers are hired to do the royal hair at the royal wedding at the royal palace in the royal kingdom of Lavania. (As if that wedding is EV-AR going to happen!! Oops. Sorry. Spoiler if you’ve only just landed on this planet.)
Once in Lavania, Izzy has just oodles of alone time to explore because she’s a whiz with the hair while her co-workers have a style that’s a bit too bold and are required to go to hair boot camp under the watchful eye of the awfully accented and stereotyped Madame Fabre (Sonia Gray). If Madame Fabre is so good with hair and makeup direction, why on earth doesn’t she just do it herself?
While Izzy is out adventuring, she stumbles into the poorer side of Lavania, which is literally called “Across the Train Tracks,” and, in case that’s not blunt enough, we watch her cross the train tracks from the vibrantly colored touristy side of town to this part, where the colors are muted, clean laundry hangs over the streets, people use hand carts, and clothes are worn and mended. Look, I really do appreciate that the movie hammers in the point that less wealth does not equal more danger, but they’ve swung too far into romanticizing poverty. Across the Train Tracks is populated by big-hearted, happy people who don’t seem to ask for more than they’re given. As much as Izzy excoriates Prince Toothsome for not being in touch with the regular folk, this movie doesn’t do much to actually give voice to many of those same people. After Prince Tame encourages Izzy to make like a motivational poster and “be the change she wants to see in the world,” she gathers a bunch of donations for the school in Across the Train Tracks, and everyone is so thankful. It rings very hollow and superficial. But what bothers me more is when Izzy gives all the children free haircuts. Why? Haircutting is certainly a skill that people in Across the Train Tracks would have, so why would she need to line them up and shear them like sheep? Combined with the washed out colors and faux-European, pre-war vibe of the place, it all felt vaguely creepy and entirely wrong.
What is nice is that the movie doesn’t make the pivotal conflict about two women fighting over a man. It’s much more about the youths figuring out what’s important to them in life and how to be true to themselves, even if they are doing it as rice paper thin stereotyped versions of characters with back stories that could fit on the the head of a pin. It’s the thought that counts? No, not really.
But even with all my complaints and eye rolling, there are far worse messages than to thine own self be true and be the change you want to see in the world. Somewhere in the first ten minutes the movie loses all its self-aware camp and slides into an all out earnestly treacly rom-com that runs the risk of leaving you gasping for something (anything) to cut the sweet long before you reach the foreseeable finale. But that isn’t so bad is it? Sometimes we need some sweetness streamed directly into our eyeballs. We need something that’s unrelentingly wide-eyed and uplifting, and that we’ll forget as quickly as we watched. At least I know I certainly do.
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
I couldn’t decide on a rating for this one. So, since I make the rules here, I’m giving two.