This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you. I didn’t hate the new Netflix movie He’s All That starring the TikTok queen of hijacked and awkwardly executed dance routines, Addison Rae.
I had every intention of being absolutely furious for an hour and 28 minutes which for me is very doable. I was ready to make the weekly phone calls to my Gen Z niece demanding she explain to me why fashion is so disproportionate. Why such tiny crop tops with big baggy pants? But I didn’t want to do any of this. I feel like this movie is bridging cultural gaps in its first weekend. Maybe it’s because I set the standards really low, or I’m weak and the perfect target audience for manipulative wannabe nostalgic 90s content with Pizza Hut product placement, but I enjoyed it for what it is, a mindless and welcomed escape.
Before you lecture me about how much better Citizen Kane or all the Godfathers are, just know that I believe you and I don’t care. One reason I got married is to avoid first dates where I have to sit through Scarface just to make out with a cute guy with a Siskel and Ebert complex. I’m not trying to hear it even from the actual Siskel and Ebert.
There are a lot of great, serious takes about how He’s All That is setting the tone for the future of film and its cultural impact – or lack thereof – but this isn’t going to be one of them.
It’s not competing to be a contender for the Oscars. It’s the fast fashion of movies. Quick, cheap, easy, and banking on trending social media and reality stars to drive viewership. At its best, He’s All That is a temporary wonderful euphoria like those flared pants you bought at H&M to look cool for a minute but after one wash it’s come undone at the hem just like your dignity.
It’s not asking to be taken seriously, so don’t.
Netflix took advantage of 90s trends making a comeback and decided to use a popular influencer to piggyback on a masterpiece (yes, I said it) teen rom-com from 1999. She’s All That, starring Rachael Leigh Cook and Freddie Prinze Jr., is about a cool, popular senior (Prinze) who bets he can turn the glasses-wearing, art geek school nerd (Cook) into a thirst trap.
He’s All That is just that except the girl is the popular one and the “nerd” wears a beanie instead of glasses and is a photographer instead of a painter. The tropes are as abundant as the product placements – the kid sibling who is adorably annoying but essential, the single broke parent, red dress, dance off, back stabber BFF, loyal BFF, and some solid but tired LA burns.
The remake is about hot popular senior, Padgett Sawyer (Rae), a successful social media influencer who lives with her mother who – I kid you not – is Rachael Leigh Cook, the “she” in She’s All That. This hurt.
I’m very well aware of my age. One of my daily routines is to ice my body. I don’t have an injury. It’s just what I do now in life. But am I old enough to have an 18-year-old daughter? I was 16 when Cook and Prinze were (allegedly) high school students. Math is not my strong suit but this is inaccurate. The biggest oversight this film made, in my humble opinion, is not casting a more age-appropriate actress as Addison Rae’s mother, like Judi Dench or Betty White.
Adding insult to injury, Matthew Lillard (who played the douchebag reality star Brock in She’s All That) is the old, out-of-touch principal whose voice you hear over the intercom but finally see at prom when he delivers his dad jokes on stage and is confused about how phones work.
Not to tell the writers how to do their job, but you could have had them hook up at the end.
But this isn’t about my existential crisis.
It’s about Padgett’s.
She catches her boyfriend (Peyton Meyer) cheating with one of his backup dancers and has a meltdown which streams live thanks to her “friend” Alden (Madison Pettis). Instead of receiving sympathy from her followers the next morning, she’s met with hundreds of posts mocking and bullying her. She’s humiliated, heartbroken, and worried about her future.
Honestly, my heart went out to her. My heart goes out to all teenagers today. I wouldn’t know how to deal with the pressure of social media if it existed during my high school years. Back in my day our pastime was writing “BOOBLESS” on pagers, not putting on a show for everyone online and basing our happiness on how much digital attention we got. I mean, now we do that, but at least high school was a little easier.
By the way, you can’t have a high school in Los Angeles, especially one loosely based on Pali high, literally one of the few high schools in the LA district, and not have Persians make a cameo. Even Clueless gave a shout out to the “Persian mafia” at Beverly High (“You can’t hang with them unless you own a BMW”).
I’m not angry about this, but for the life of me, I don’t get how anyone writes about Los Angeles and does not consider the Persian community. We are literally everywhere. “Tehrangeles” is on Google maps for God’s sake. Half of Pali is packed with Persian kids whose parents lied to get them into that school district just like Padgett’s mom did and just like I will.
Anyway, to undo all the damage and earn back her followers and sponsorship, Padgett accepts a bet to makeover any “loser” in school and turn him into prom king.
That’s when Cameron Kweller (Tanner Buchanan) comes in. He’s antisocial, hates pop culture (though mysteriously knows all the lyrics to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”), has a darkroom in his house, drives a black pickup truck, and spends time at his stable, where he cleans horse poop and thinks deep thoughts about how shallow high school is. He is a Frankenstein (OK nerds, he is a Frankenstein’s monster), a human collage of every cliché misfit wrapped into one guy. Oh, and he’s also ripped.
Literally all she did was cut his hair and get rid of the beanie.
But guess what – plot twist! – she actually falls for him in the process of making him popular. But once he finds out he’s a “fucking bet,” she has to win him back, which she does.
We know the ending already. But like a wise window display at an underwear store once said, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel anything when Cam goes to save Padgett on stage at Quinn’s karaoke pool party. Her ex walks in with the girl he cheated on her with and after Padgett sees them from the stage, she chokes. Cam runs up to sing “Teenage Dream” with her and against every fiber of my being, I smiled and put a hand to my heart and wished I had a bucket of KFC.
But what did it for me is when Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me” came on at prom. The song brought back so many emotions and completely impaired my judgment so much that for a second I thought this is the best thing I’ve ever seen. Well played, Netflix.
Besides selling popcorn chips and Union Station coffee, He’s All That was also trying to sell us the idea that influencers are working towards something bigger, and that something is college. I highly doubt it and if it’s true, that’s a mistake. I know Padgett needed a “noble” purpose for wanting her sponsorship back from Kourtney Kardashian, but I’m not buying it. It’s similar to how we always want and expect strippers to say “I’m doing this to save up for college.” Babe, it’s not necessary. Do you. No shame in your game. I’m not saying ditch college. I’m just saying I don’t believe Addison Rae and other young, rich influencers’ goal is to study poli sci at UC Riverside. But I guess the movie needed a message besides “buy these Old Navy OG straight jeans for 35 dollars”.
There were a lot of lessons being crammed down our throats, especially about the reality of life behind the glitzy social media posts. There’s a grand speech at the end by Padgett, who says “For the last four years I’ve been so busy selling myself on social media, putting out this image of who I wanted people to think I am. Nothing could have been further from the truth.” We know all this in theory.
But there’s an even more important lesson to be had here. If you always keep your expectations low, you’ll never be disappointed. And that’s how I came to enjoy this very bad movie.