He’s All That had a lot working against it before the movie even hit Netflix today, August 27. It’s a remake of the mediocre, though well-liked, ’90s movie starring Rachael Leigh Cook and Freddie Prinze Jr. It was also filmed during the worst of the pandemic, and a scene set in Los Angeles’ Union Station nearly shut down a crucial testing site in the hard-hit city. Not a great look. And then there’s star Addison Rae, a TikTok celebrity whose jump to movie star has consistently been questioned and ridiculed by the public.
The trailer alone sparked controversy when Jameela Jamil joked it looked awful, then said her words were spun by a tabloid eager to pit women against each other, though in the process of defending herself she mentioned that the movie probably wouldn’t be good and didn’t need to be. “These movies are not supposed to be Shakespeare,” wrote Jamil. For the record, *He’s All That—*just like She’s All That, and Drive Me Crazy, and *My Fair Lady—*is based on Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, which itself was inspired by a Greek legend. So, while technically not Shakespeare “these movies,” by which Jamil seems to mean teen rom-coms, are supposed to be entertaining.
What I’m saying is: There was a lot of baggage going into this. So I decided to judge He’s All That not against Shakespeare or even the 1999 original movie. Netflix’s teen offerings are made to be watched on a laptop. They’re pleasant but cheap, designed mostly not to offend. They don’t have to get you to the theater—they just have to keep you on the couch. I was prepared to cringe, either at some hack plot moment or Rae’s acting or a nauseating meta-reference to the nineties. And I have to tell you…I did not cringe. Reader, I didn’t cringe at all.
That’s not to say that He’s All That is, um, all that. It hits more than a few cliches (gratuitous Karaoke moment alert!). You can see the twists coming from a mile away, and the party scenes, of which there are many, do suffer from a lack of extras. The dialogue didn’t make me laugh, but it didn’t make me uncomfortable the way truly bad writing sometimes can and there was a refreshing lack of wink-wink nods at the original. Rachel Leigh Cook and Matthew Lillard, stars of She’s All That, make appearances as new characters, and there’s a dance-off, and a red dress, and “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer. But the filmmakers wisely chose to lift only the best elements from the earlier film. Dance parties are fun. Red dresses are pretty. That song fucking rocks.
The characters work well enough, though the plot is a little underdeveloped. We don’t quite know the stakes. Cool girl Padgett (Rae) is both popular at school and online, and plans to use her influencer money to pay for college. When her post-breakup meltdown goes viral, she loses her endorsements. It’s unclear which of these losses she’s most upset about. She’s still well-liked at school, doesn’t seem to be all that broken-hearted about her boyfriend, and we never really find out (spoiler) if she found a way to pay for school at the end. The bet with her best friend, that she can make over the school loser into a prom king, doesn’t have quite enough juice either, since Padgett isn’t risking much by being seen with grungey photographer Cameron (Tanner Buchanan).