She’s All That is an iconic late 90s YA text. So what happens when you remake it for Netflix for contemporary audiences?
Technically an adaptation of Pygmalion, but more aptly a modern redux of My Fair Lady, She’s All That was the tale of a popular boy (Freddie Prinze Jr) who agrees to a “fucking bet” to makeover a loser and turn her into prom queen. It was quintessential young adult catnip. Armed with over the top supporting performances by Jodi Lynn O’Keefe, Paul Walker and (most significantly) Matthew Lillard, She’s All That remains a delightful romp, in spite of its antiquated gender politics (For more on that, listen to the most recent Hazel & Katniss & Harry & Starr episode).
Those icky optics are the most obvious reason why screenwriter R. Lee Fleming Jr. (who also wrote the original) opts to gender flip the roles in the remake, He’s All That. The film boasts a strong YA pedigree in Fleming Jr and director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday), which explains why the new film comes off as lightweight and charming. All of the beats – narrative, visual and aural – can be anticipated miles away, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s All That knows exactly what it is: a slight, albeit entertaining teen film.
The girl in question is Padgett Sawyer (Tik Tok star Addison Rae), an Instagram influencer who streams most of her waking life to nearly 1 million followers under the handle Padgett Head To Toe. She’s making ends meet for her harried nurse mother (a barely recognizable Rachael Leigh Cook) by shilling products for a cut-throat sponsorship coordinator (Kourtney Khardashian) and lying about her seemingly perfect life. It’s bizarre that the last point doesn’t really produce much in the way of conflict considering big secrets typically do in YA, but that’s because Padgett – and the film – spends most of her time falling in love with a boy who initially seems all wrong.
The boy in question is Cameron Kweller (Tanner Buchannan, Cobra Kai), an antisocial photographer with a dead mom, a twee younger sister Brin (Isabella Crovetti), and an affinity for music with “bad” in the title and movies involving the letter K (Kurosawa, Kung fu and Kubrick). Cameron also works with horses, which is useful for the film’s faux date scenarios, as well as the knight in shining armour fantasy. He also sports an atrocious mop of a wig for the first half of the film, which the production doesn’t even attempt to style; he merely wears a variety of hats until the obligatory make-over scene.
The ex in question is Jordan Van Draanen (Peyton Meyer), a blonde, douchey Tik Tok singer with a tendency to doff his top and hook up with back-up dancers. The 23 year old actor is in no way convincing as a high school student (though there is a gag that Jordan will never graduate so perhaps that’s intentional?). Overall this character skates by without making much of an impact on the narrative, which is disappointing given that this is an amalgamation of the Taylor and Brock characters who drove much of the OG film’s comedy.
The backstabbing friend in question is Alden (Madison Pettis), a snake boasting a nest of tight curls who helps to facilitates Padgett’s very public break-up/meltdown, which instigates the “fucking bet”. Pettis is solid as the bitchy best friend with grand plans to usurp the queen bee, though she needed more screen time to really sell it. As it is, it’s hard to believe that Alden and Padgett were ever truly friends, which isn’t a deal breaker, but starts the film off on rocky footing.
The contemporary queer angle is courtesy of Padgett’s bestie Quinn (Myra Molloy) and Cameron’s bestie Nisha (Annie Jacob), who develop a sweet, albeit Netflix chaste relationship over the course of the film. Both actresses are cute, but the characters (much like Jordan and Alden) are paper thin. The queer love story is also pretty perfunctory – there’s a sense of boxes being checked in making the two characters of colour also the lesbians. Somewhere a Hollywood executive is screaming because they got a two in one YA BINGO.
The homages to the original are courtesy of a pool party sequence (updated from Spring Break in the original to a birthday karaoke scene that doubles as a kind of second date meet-cute for Padgett and Cameron). There’s also an expensive party – Alden’s Drop It Like F Scott birthday – that goes badly for Cameron, the iconic “fucking bet” line when the truth comes out, and, naturally, a needle drop of Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me”* and an elaborate dance sequence at the prom (it’s more Step Up than She’s All That, though, and sadly doesn’t feature a great accompanying song like Fatboy Slim’s “The Rockafeller Skank”).
*A dance remix, though? Excuse you, He’s All That. Don’t go messing with perfection.
The seasoned celebrity casting is courtesy of Cook and Matthew Lillard, who appears late in the film to pay homage to an iconic moment from the 1999 film (it’s a goddamn delight). On the whole, however, both original stars are more or less glorified cameos, with the majority of the run time dedicated to Rae and Buchannan.
Alas, one of the biggest issues with the new film is its messaging. She’s All That didn’t hit the bullseye when it prioritized Zack (and his privilege) over Laney, but the new film mistakenly thinks that by making Padgett poor, but good, she becomes a complex protagonist. In one scene, when things go awry with Cameron, Padgett’s mother reassures her that she is kind and generous, which rings untrue because aside from a throwaway line about paying an outstanding bill for her mother, the film never shows Padgett doing anything that isn’t self-serving or in the pursuit of fame.
Obviously Padgett is meant to be a changed person by the end of the film, having learned a valuable lesson, but…that never actually occurs. In the final scenes, Padgett is very clearly still the same girl, albeit with a slightly tweaked message. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but it does undermine the character’s whole arc and calls into question what story Fleming Jr thinks he’s telling.
The Bottom Line: Despite shallow characters and a misguided social message, He’s All That is surprisingly fun and frivolous. Fans of the OG will have no trouble spotting the homages to the first film and Rae and Buchannan are perfectly adequate as leads. This fluffy, self-aware text isn’t breaking any new YA ground, but there’s something comforting about its low stakes and relative simplicity. 3/5
He’s All That is now streaming on Netflix