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The Royal Treatment: Dunedin shines in Netflix's flimsy, forgettable rom-com farce

REVIEW: While the Edinburgh of the South proves adept at standing in for New York and fictional principalities, the story and accents are truly terrible.

The Royal Treatment (PG, 96mins) Directed by Rick Jacobson **

Dunedin’s cinematic history hasn’t exactly portrayed the city in the best light.

This century alone, the Edinburgh-of-the-south has played host to a couple of doomed romances (Sylvia, The Light Between Oceans) and a slasher remake (Black Christmas), while the opportunities to play itself – Scarfies, Out of the Blue – didn’t exactly market it as a place of sun-dappled streets, leafy lanes and picture-postcard views of the harbour from its many hills.

So maybe a Netflix rom-com makeover is exactly what my hometown needs to prove to global audiences it is more than “alright here” (even if they can’t exactly visit right now).

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Black Christmas was shot in Dunedin and Ōamaru in 2019.

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Of course, the setting isn’t really Ōtepoti for the meet-cute misadventures of an exotic prince and a hairdresser hell-bent on societal change, but rather New York and the fictional country of Lavania (apparently it’s east of Aldovia).

Anyone familiar with Princes, George and the surrounding inner-city streets will quickly be able to recognise local landmarks in the opening scenes, despite the yellow cab and train-filled backgrounds – clearly added in post-production. Later, Larnach Castle and the Otago Peninsula get their chances to shine, while Hollywood magic allows the University of Otago campus and Ōamaru’s Victorian precinct to be just an alleyway away from one another.

Unfortunately, playing spot-the-location (and the local actors) is about the sole highlight of what is truly a flimsy, forgettable farce.

Downtown Dunedin stands in for uptown New York in Netflix's The Royal Treatment.

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Downtown Dunedin stands in for uptown New York in Netflix's The Royal Treatment.

Like many a Netflix-Hallmark-Lifetime example of this overpopulated, predictable and inexplicably popular genre, The Royal Treatment sees a working-class girl/semi-successful businesswoman encounter a man used to a life of privilege.

Izzy (Austin and Ally’s Laura Marano) is the lead stylist at Manhattan hair salon Bellissime. Accompanied by her mother (Amanda Billing), nonna (Elizabeth Hawthorne) and her two best mates (Chelsie Preston Crayford and Grace Bentley-Tsibuah), she’s made it into the hub of the community, a place where everyone can feel welcome.

However, it’s also an area where money is tight and Izzy is struggling to pay the bills, especially with the salon subject to regular fires, usually thanks to the others ignoring her signs reminding them not to use the microwave while any curling irons are on.

The threat of eviction is real – and imminent – unless Izzy dips into her travel savings, something the rest of her whānau won’t countenance.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that, along with dance numbers, there’s also a makeover scene and one involving wine-accompanied pasta-making.

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It will come as no surprise to anyone that, along with dance numbers, there’s also a makeover scene and one involving wine-accompanied pasta-making.

Potential salvation comes from an unlikely source. A Siri mix-up sees royal advisor Walter (Cameron Rhodes) asking Izzy for an appointment for visiting Lavanian Prince Thomas (Aladdin’s Mena Massoud who actually looks more like the late pop-star Prince – something that could add more fuel to those Invercargill rumours from years ago). Cutting his tresses will earn her a cool $500 – plus he’s hot.

However, his failure to speak up against one of his senior staff abusing an underling is an injustice she can’t stomach, storming out before she’s barely raised her scissors.

To her surprise though, Thomas follows her back to her salon, pleading to be given another chance. “I want to prove to you I have a caring side,” he beseeches. She gives in, they enjoy a fun-filled night on the town and a Rosemary Clooney-backed dance number later, she and her team are offered a $50,000 contract to look after the hair and make-up for the prince’s wedding to a Texan heiress.

Not all the various accents on display in The Royal Treatment are of the same quality.

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Not all the various accents on display in The Royal Treatment are of the same quality.

Instantly awestruck by the opulence of their surroundings in Lavania, Izzy is also outraged by the poverty she sees “on the wrong side of the tracks” in Uber de Gleis.

Meanwhile, already having cold feet about his impending “arranged” nuptials, Thomas finds himself increasingly drawn to Izzy with every challenge to the traditional order of things she makes.

A weird combination of The Princess Diaries (it’s fictional setting even gets a shout out), Pretty Woman and Coming to America, former Grace Under Fire and Sabrina The Teenage Witch writer Holly Hester’s script does feel like any early “Treatment”, rather than a fully formed screenplay.

Essentially it’s a series of set pieces designed to draw our two potential lovers together, with Izzy very much an impossibly multi-talented, but one-dimensional manic pixie dream girl, despite Marano’s best efforts to make her something more.

Mena Massoud and Laura Marano star in The Royal Treatment, which was shot in Dunedin and Ōamaru late last summer.

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Mena Massoud and Laura Marano star in The Royal Treatment, which was shot in Dunedin and Ōamaru late last summer.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that, along with dance numbers, there’s also a makeover scene and one involving wine-accompanied pasta-making. But aside from the plodding predictability of it all and thuddingly awful lines like, “He just needs his chain yanked a bit” (when the prince appears to be straying from the ordained path to the altar), it’s the accents that really grate. Rhodes’ upper-class Brit? More than acceptable. Billings’ Italian-America? A little wobbly. Fellow former Shortland Street-er Sonia Gray’s French? Quelle horreur. Then there’s the extremely jarring sound of all the non-royal Lavanians speaking in very broad Kiwi.

Thankfully, the initial, awful incidental music and aggravating augmented sound effects of the opening scenes are quickly jettisoned, but, when it all wraps up with a barely disguised “homage” to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody, you’re just left relieved it’s all over.

The Royal Treatment is now available to stream on Netflix.

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