For the most part, Netflix’s top 10 makes a lot of sense. The shows and films that occupy that list tend to be big and splashy and trailed to death. Don’t Look Up is a perfect case in point. Look at the orgy of attention that film was given when it came out a few weeks ago. Look at all the fawning over the stars and the director and the themes that accompanied the release. It was genuinely inescapable.
Anyway, Don’t Look Up is currently the fourth most watched English language film on Netflix. The first is The Royal Treatment; a film with no big names, no urgent message and barely a publicity campaign. And yet in the last week of January, people around the world spent 26 and a half million minutes watching it. That’s two and a half times more than they spent watching Don’t Look Up. So what’s going on?
Now, your first thought might be that The Royal Treatment is a brilliant film, and it has risen to the top because Netflix is a meritocracy. But if you think that, it’s a pretty good sign that you haven’t actually watched The Royal Treatment. Because, while it isn’t terrible, anyone who claims that The Royal Treatment is actively good probably needs to have their assets seized by the state.
The Royal Treatment is a film about a hairdresser who falls in love with a prince. That’s it. She cuts hair, she meets a prince, they fall in love and then the film ends. It is absolutely rote in every conceivable way. I don’t want to make assumptions, but there is every chance that The Royal Treatment achieved its 26.5 million minutes because 160 million people watched the first minute of the film, figured out exactly how the rest of it would go and then turned it off.
It’s the sort of film that can only exist because of Netflix’s ability to capture audience data. Somewhere deep in Netflix’s basement, an algorithm figured out that millions of people like aggressively inoffensive films about girls who fall in love with princes, and now this exists. Nobody wanted it, nobody expressed an interest in it, but the algorithm decided that there’d be an audience for it, and now here it is.
It isn’t a terrible film by any means. Some of the performances are perfectly watchable. In particular Laura Marano, who plays the hairdresser, does an amazing job of dancing right at the very edge of parody, like she knows the film isn’t up to much and has decided to just have fun instead. In that regard, she reminded me of a young Fran Drescher, and I mean that entirely as a compliment.
True, it isn’t perfect. Films like this require a moment of high emotion at the end of the second act, and the speed at which this is brushed over is a possible sign of lack of care. Another, more obvious, sign is the moment where a character receives a call on a landline, and then checks the caller ID by looking at the receiver as if it was a mobile phone, even though it’s just a plastic landline telephone receiver. But, hey, no film is perfect.
Perhaps, then, the success of The Royal Treatment is yet more proof that critics and audiences have wildly different values, and something charming and populist can still be a mainstream success even if critical praise eludes it. But this doesn’t seem to be the case either, because barely anyone is talking about it.
On Twitter the bulk of the scant chatter regarding The Royal Treatment concerns all the dodgy accents. If you search for the film on TikTok, which you would assume would be the home of this sort of discourse, you mainly get only filming updates from the cast. Yes, there is one video by a teenage girl absolutely losing her mind over a still of the lead characters kissing, but she alone can’t be responsible for all those millions of minutes, can she? Can she?
So the mystery remains. The Royal Treatment – a bland little nothing that doesn’t exist for any clear purpose, and has failed to achieve any meaningful discussion anywhere – is still a wild, out of control success story. Maybe thousands of computers are all streaming the film, muted and on a loop, to get the views up. Or maybe I’m more out of touch than I thought. Who am I kidding, it’s the last one.