By Sarah Osman
Is Gen Z this nihilistic? If so, a much darker, even zanier version of She’s All That would have been more fitting and far more entertaining.
He’s All That, directed by Mark Waters. Streaming on Netflix.
If you grew up during the late ’90s or even deep into the 2000s, you are more than familiar with this iconic scene from She’s All That:
Her new hair! Her eyes! She’s wearing a red dress! This became one of the crowning scenes in the history of movie makeovers. Parodied multiple times, She’s All That has stuck around as a teen rom-com staple, an endearing visit for those longing for a nostalgic slice of ’90s pop culture.
For some inexplicable reason (perhaps money?), the writer of the original She’s All That, R. Lee Fleming Jr., decided that it would be a great idea to resurrect the past with a 2020 spin. Now titled He’s All That, this gender-swapped version is a harsh reminder that some pieces of pop culture are best left to rest in pleasant peace.
Unlike 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That isn’t all that good of a film in the first place. Is there any sensible reason to remake it for a new audience? Particularly given that the retread is exactly the same as the original? Most teens and tweens can stream the original on Netflix whenever they so wish.
He’s All That stars Tik Tok star Addison Rae (who was a questionable casting choice considering her checkered past) as Padget, a “makeover” influencer who (inexplicably) has a million followers on Instagram (Or is it Tik Tok? It is never made clear which social media channel she’s on). Padget is meant to fill the Freddie Prinze Jr. role in the original; he starred as Zac, the school’s class president and star soccer player. The idea of turning Padget into an influencer is supposed to make the character appealing to the Gen Z crowd. But that doesn’t make much sense: most Gen Z-ers are not big name Tik Tokers. And if they are, why would they give a damn about the politics at their high school? Wouldn’t they be obsessed with growing their brand?
Padget is dating Jordan (Peyton Meyer) a one-hit wonder on the YouTube pop scene. He is also in high school and (inexplicably) seems to care more about being named prom king than creating more music. The logic (?) is that being the former will cultivate more followers than doing the latter. While visiting the set where they are making Jordan’s latest music video, Padget discovers that her guy is cheating on her with a dancer named Aniston. Her BFF livestreams the enraged Padget, who hurls baked goods at her dog of a boyfriend. The fight goes viral (even the elderly librarian is watching it?!) and the hissy fit turns off Padget’s followers.
Why do Padget’s followers drop her after she assaults her cheating boyfriend? Isn’t it far more likely that her followers would increase (since we know how much people love a good fight)? Everyone takes Jordan’s side, ignoring the fact that he has no discernible personality and only one song to his name. Poor Aniston is an even less impressive figure: we only learn that she is a dancer and that she is really hot. A lot of the fun of She’s All That was Zac’s heinous ex-girlfriend, Taylor (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe), and her absurd former reality TV star boyfriend, Brock (Matthew Lillard). Lillard was hysterically funny playing a character reviled on The Real World; he had a small part, but manages to steal most of his scenes. Aniston is left out in the cold. So you tell me. Exactly why should we care about Aniston or Jordan? And why should we root for Padget to take revenge on these two ciphers?
After being fired by her sponsor (played by Kourtney Kardashian who plays … Kourtney Kardashian) Padgett makes a bet with her two besties that she can make over any guy at their high school into an adorable prom king. That will be sure to win her sponsor and followers back! The girls select social pariah Cameron Kweller (Tanner Buchanan). He takes photos with an old-fashioned camera! He doesn’t want to go to college! He has no interest in staring at Jordan’s underwear! What a creep this guy in a gray hoodie is!
The original makeover subject in She’s All That, Laney (Rachel Leigh Cook) was smart, interesting, and compassionate. She had a tragic backstory and yearned to become a famous artist. She found Zac’s courting somewhat perplexing. One of the film’s best scenes is when Laney takes Zac to an insane local art show. The two weirdly bond over the craziness of a world that Laney loves. No such scene exists in He’s All That. Kweller does not prove to be either intelligent or compassionate. He’s already hot (granted, Cook was as well, but at least she looked a bit dowdy pre-makeover). He appears to hate the world. So why should we care that he gives Padget sweet horseback riding lessons and has a clingy little sister? This is what we get instead of learning more about Aniston’s clearly unhinged parents, people who bequeathed their daughter such an unfortunate name.
The film pretty much follows the original’s trajectory, with the exception of a lesbian romance shoehorned in and a ridiculously lavish Gatsby party that completely misses the novel’s satiric/decadent point. There’s also some really bad karaoke. Whenever Padget is not on screen, the characters, like panicked royal retainers, ask “Where is Padget?” “Isn’t Padget great?” “All hail Padget, our lord and savior.” Padget should be worshiped — she has no faults, aside from being somewhat self-conscious. Zac worked as a romantic lead because he underwent growth by dealing with conflict — he was suffocating underneath his father’s unrealistic expectations. Also, he needed to learn that there is more to people than what can be glimpsed on the surface. Padget makes no such discoveries. The one-dimensional self she presents on social media is no different from who she is in real life.
So nobody learns anything (and that includes Cameron). Aside from the wisdom of marketing: the film ends with the words “Be sure to follow @AddisonRae”! The one saving grace to this dreadful remake is that the fine actors Rachel Leigh Cook and Matthew Lillard were given supporting roles as a parent and teacher respectively.
The terrible message of He’s All That is sure to even confound its target audience — at least those who are savvy enough to see that the internet is essentially a branding scam. (Going viral in all the wrong ways.) Influencers are not what makes a movie “modern.” It’s patronizing and insulting for producers to assume that the way to get Gen Z ‘s attention is to put something on screen so some will yell, “Hey, that’s just like us!” Is Gen Z this nihilistic? If so, a much darker, even zanier version of She’s All That (aka Riverdale) would have been more fitting and far more entertaining. Frankly, He’s All That will please no one — it is bound to anger millennials who grew up with the first version and bore Gen Z-ers, who probably know a genuine “influencer” when they see one.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, North Carolina. In addition to writing for The Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, The Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman