'She's All That' endures as one of the defining teen films of the 1990s. The tale of the high school jock who takes a bet to transform a wallflower into the prom queen only to find himself falling for her is still a favourite for many. Whilst it didn't reinvent the wheel by any means, what it had was a sense of sincerity boosted by its charming leads and cracking 90s soundtrack. All the while, serving as a fun reinvention of 1964's 'My Fair Lady' and its antecedent, the George Bernard Shaw's play 'Pygmalion'. Despite mixed reviews upon its release, the film still holds a place in our cultural lexicon - but more importantly, in the hearts of those who grew up with it. So, it was only a matter of time before we would be talking about a remake.
2021's 'He's All That' flips the switch. This time we follow Padgett Sawyer (TikTok star Addison Rae), a social media influencer and the high school "it" girl. While filming an Instagram live, Padgett discovers her boyfriend cheating on her, and the humiliating breakup goes viral. With her followers plummeting, she starts losing her sponsorships and, subsequently, her chances of attending an expensive college. To resurrect her online reputation, Padgett accepts a bet from fellow "it" girl Alden (Madison Pettis, 'The Game Plan') to transform one of their loser classmates into prom king. They choose Cameron Kweller (Tanner Buchanan, TV's 'Cobra Kai'), a misanthropic photographer who sees himself above the popular crowd. But as Padgett gets to work, things get complicated when she starts falling for him.
People had their knives out for 'He's All That' ever since it was announced. Few were keen to see one of their childhood favourites receive the remake treatment. For others, they weren't pleased as to who would be on the billboards and marquees. Either way, after seeing the film, those concerns were justified because 'He's All That' is a deeply cynical film. It's the type of film made not because of an idea worth exploring but rather an opportunity to exploit a market.
This is a work that adds nothing to its 90s counterpart. The key difference in this rendition is that the story operates in the social media world. But what it has to say about the inherent facade of influencer culture is paper-thin and one that has already been examined with greater meaning. As the film opens, our protagonist has to share the screen with hashtags, emojis and follower counts as she begins a live video. It all feels very gimmicky, and that's before Kourtney Kardashian shows up as a brand executive. But in a film where the stakes stem from sponsorships and subscribers, of course, it never feels genuine. 'He's All That' doesn't exist as a modern foil to an old favourite. Netflix's priority here was to give a vehicle to a TikTok star in the hope her online following would tag along.
But looking beyond its intentions, the film's problems are only exacerbated by how little care is present throughout the proceedings. Visually, the film looks like it cost $20 with its flat and inexpressive cinematography. The editing is no better with its consistently abrupt conclusion to scenes. Director Mark Waters, who had previously directed teen classics including 'Mean Girls' and 'Freaky Friday', frankly appears disinterested behind the camera. Finally, the screenplay, written by 'She's All That' scribe R. Lee Fleming Jr, largely fizzles when it comes to building conflict or offering commentary. On almost all facets of the filmmaking scale, 'He's All That' feels remarkably unconcerned.
'He's All That' doesn't exist as a modern foil to an old favourite. Netflix's priority here was to give a vehicle to a Tik Tok star in the hope her online following would tag along.
In fact, the only element that appears with an iota of focus is the film's shameless amount of product placement. Early on, a character holds a bag of Doritos in a position I can only describe as unnatural. And that's only topped by a pool party that prominently displays Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken for the attendees. I'm struggling to recall a film so blatant in its endorsement deals. And to that point, it ultimately makes 'He's All That' feel far more like a product to consume than as a piece of filmmaking to savour.
Yet, at the centre of it all are the film's lead performances from Addison Rae and Tanner Buchanan, and whereas 'She's All That' was able to coast off the appeal of its stars, 'He's All That' never has that luxury. I'll admit this is the first I've seen of both Rae and Buchanan; nonetheless, the pair struggle to emit any chemistry or charisma on screen. The casting of Rae was highly criticised given her background, and while no one will say a star is born here, the problem really lies in how underwritten these characters are. There's no dimension to any of them, let alone space to inject some personality that Rae could use to her benefit. In any case, the burgeoning relationship can never come to life, and it proves detrimental.
In the end, 'He's All That' will live on more as a curio than a teen favourite, though I doubt reviews like mine are going to trouble Netflix and their goals for the film. There's nothing of substance in 'He's All That'; it's the Addison Rae movie pandering to the TikTok demographic, and little else. Appraisals like this may sound reductive, but no one strived to make the film anything more than that. The key objective was to secure that demographic. And I believe it best to look at it as a strange artefact in which a streaming service tried to transition a star on our mobiles to a star on our televisions. This time, it didn't work, but I doubt it'll be the last attempt.