The depressing blandness of "He's All That"

Call me old, but I don't think TikTok fame means someone can be a professional actor.

The depressing blandness of "He's All That"

So it turns out that there's a remake of 1999 teen comedy She's All That. It's called He's All That, and it's a gender-swapped, Zoomer-targeted mess starring TikTok mediocrity Addison Rae. A thing that a person could do, if alive on this earth in 2021 and looking to spit in the face of God instead of appreciating that gift, is put on He's All That and be all "This will be funny, right?" The person you're hanging out with in this situation might agree that it could be funny, until you start the movie and it slowly sinks in that this movie isn't fun-bad, it's just bad-bad, and then you abandon the entire thing. But then if you really hate yourself and art and being alive, you could go back to the film, alone, to watch it in its entirety, not as a bit, not with anyone else who could make the experience more fun, just out of morbid curiosity.

He's All That shouldn't exist and I shouldn't have watched it, but it does and I did. I watched both, actually. I told my VPN I lived in Canada so that I could properly compare He's All That's source material with He's All That proper and tell you which, if either, could be considered all that.

She's All That is itself kind of a remake, updating My Fair Lady/Pygmalion for the MTV generation. In all of these stories, a high-status guy bets one of his asshole friends that he can transform a low-status gal into someone who'd be accepted by the in crowd. The plot is very simple in My Fair Lady, with Professor Higgins making his bet with Eliza Doolittle right there in the room. Eliza is an impoverished Cockney wench who wants to be able to ascend her class, so she's incentivized to learn manners and proper English as much as Higgins is incentivized to win his bet that he could pass her off as a duchess at a high-society ball.

She's All That adds a layer of deception to the story, making the target of the makeover unaware of the bet. As far as 90s updates on classic literature go, it's definitely better than Cruel Intentions but not as successful as Clueless. But it's an entertaining film filled with (mostly) good performances from its ridiculously stacked cast. (Supporting players including Gabrielle Union, Usher, Lil' Kim, Paul Walker, Kieran Culkin, and Anna Paquin!). As problematic as the plot inherently is, the goofy, flashy late-90s charm makes it easy to turn your brain off and enjoy it.

Our leading man is Freddie Prinze Jr.'s Zack Siler, the biggest fish in the pond of his high school. Zack is a popular, handsome athlete with everything going for him: he's class president and presumed Prom King, with a stellar GPA, family money, and a beautiful girlfriend named Taylor. But his confidence is shaken when he learns that Taylor cheated on him with someone of slightly higher status: Brock Hudson, a D-list celebrity from appearing on The Real World, portrayed with exuberant obnoxiousness by Matthew Lillard. ("What kind of a name is Brock Hudson?" Zack sputters in shock.)

Bitter and wounded, Zack tells his friends that Taylor wasn't special anyway – that any girl, if made up right, could be pretty and popular. Thus comes the central bet: his bros wager that Zack can't turn a loser of their choice into the school's Prom Queen. Zack takes the bet, hoping his project will beat Taylor in the race for Prom Queen, and his friends choose prickly art weirdo Laney Boggs. She's played by Rachael Leigh Cook, who is, of course, thin and white and conventionally attractive under the movie's lazy signifiers of mousiness: glasses, baggy clothes, unruly hair, and unkempt eyebrows. As with Audrey Hepburn before her, Cook is tasked with making the character unpleasant through off-putting acting choices to distract from her obvious beauty.

trigger warning: hideous troll women unfit to be seen by human eyes

If you can suspend your disbelief, you can enjoy the chemistry between Cook and Prinze Jr., both bringing a sweetness to their characters that makes them easy to root for. And the script attempts to rise above the shallowness of the premise. We learn that Laney never puts much effort into her appearance because her mom died when she was younger and she feels overwhelmed by the prospects of figuring out makeup and fashion on her own. Her father cares about her, but he's not particularly present. Laney is poorer than most of the students at her school, with her dad running a business cleaning the pools of the children of millionaires in their district, and 17-year-old Laney shoulders the responsibility of cleaning up, cooking, and doing grocery runs. It's a bit cliche, I guess, but it's also true to the Pygmalion story that the ingenue is an outsider because she's lower-class economically, not just uncouth socially. There's a fragility to Cook's performance that grounds the film, as well as a tenderness from Freddie Prinze Jr. that makes their love story more believable than it should be.

Laney and Zack fall in love over the course of the movie, natch, and they each learn a thing or two about life in the process. Laney starts to come out of her self-imposed shell and have fun like a normal teenager and Zack, unsurprisingly, learns that he and his bros were shallow and cruel.

My review of She's All That: I did not regret watching it. I had a fun time. Its 90-minute runtime did not feel remotely excruciating, and I did not look at my phone out of boredom or discomfort. Some of the attempts at teen speak made me cackle. It made me wonder if anyone at my high school ever said "Check out the bobos on Superfreak" about me, and if not, why not.

I cannot say any of those things about He's All That. If you're watching this with someone else, it's kind of fun to play a game where you compete to point out the obvious product placement first, but spending scene after scene screaming "SUN CHIPS!" and "PIZZA HUT!" at the screen isn't really fun enough for me to recommend this movie. Another thing you can do to keep yourself amused is ask repeatedly "Are you sure that's not Bella Poarch?" about supporting actresses if Bella Poarch is one of the only other TikTok influencers you can name, and make the person you're watching with explain why everyone you point out isn't Bella Poarch. My favorite activity, however, was turning the movie off and not ruining my day any further.

He's All That shouldn't exist. First of all, nobody says "all that" anymore, so this project was doomed from the jump. No one even says "He's all that" in the movie! The title just exists as a reference to something else. If you're going to update this movie for a new generation, you have to update that slang, too. It should be called He's 🔥 AF or He's Got BDE or He Can Run Me Over With His Car or whatever it is that horny teens say now when they're impressed by someone.

You should also cast different leads. There are a total of two good actors in the movie, and it's Rachael Leigh Cook and Matthew Lillard returning as new characters because they're good sports. Addison Rae cannot act, and there isn't even a hint of spark with her co-star Tanner Buchanan. (What kind of a name is Tanner Buchanan?) She can't sing or dance, either, though the film also requires her to do both. She's the rare zero threat, and she's taking Hollywood by storm.

It should be fairly easy to write a screenplay based on multiple existing versions of the same story, but the plot here feels really convoluted nonetheless. Addison Rae plays Padgett Sawyer (what kind of a name is Padgett Sawyer?), ostensibly the Zack Siler/Henry Higgins character. The rules of feminism mean that she's the one to take a bet because GIRLS can be assholes now too. Lean in, babes!

Padgett is popular at school and a famous influencer online. She's dating another internet celebrity, a pop star named Jordan Van Draanen, though it's unclear to me how famous he's supposed to be. I think the screenwriter, who also wrote She's All That 20 years previously, is confused about how internet fame works. Jordan seems to be a fairly big deal and is seen filming a high-budget music video, but he also still goes to the same public school as the other characters. I think his character is based on someone a Jake Paul type, who was way too successful by the time he took a shot at music to go to a public high school. But the film needs Jordan to be in the running for Prom King, so the details are all a little fuzzy.

In a scene that's as contrived as it is poorly acted, Padgett shows up to Jordan's music video shoot (before school? somehow?) to surprise him, flanked by her friends to film her for a livestream to her fans. Instead, she finds him cheating on her with one of his backup dancers, Aniston. (Before anyone gets to ask "What kind of a name is Aniston?," the ho in question helpfully volunteers, "It's a family name.") Padgett has a meltdown, tears and snot streaming down her face. Oh no! Her friend forgot to stop filming, so her meltdown was livestreamed!!

Padgett goes viral for being a mucus-caked lady cuck, jeopardizing her future as an influencer. If you'd like an idea of the acting talent on display in this $20 million film, please enjoy this scene of her affiliate partner, played by Kourtney Kardashian, telling Padgett that her company Bunny Venom doesn't want to do brand deals with her anymore.  

Padgett is apparently known for makeover content, but that's never shown in the movie. Seems like it should be a bigger deal, since a makeover is the entire plot of the movie. The only time we see her livestreaming, she's just doing regular vlogging – a morning GRWM and her surprise for Jordan. And yet we're told, not shown, several times that Padgett built her career on makeovers. Kourtney Kardashian, the Meryl Streep of Calabasas, calls Padgett "the makeover girl," and Padgett references giving Jordan a makeover when they first started dating. Apparently she upgraded his clothes and hair and changed his name, which seems a bit far to me. "When I first met him, his real name was Jordan Dickman," she says, a fact that never comes up again. I guess the implication is that he never would have gotten famous with his real name, but did Padgett also get his music career off the ground? Did her makeover put Jordan on the map? It's all unclear, seemingly the result of screenwriter knowing nothing about what teens do online.

Padgett decides that she'll get back in Bunny Venom's good graces by creating some prime makeover content. Another detail muddying the plot is that Padgett is the one who's poor. She needs her sponsorships to put herself through college. So when her friends bet that she can't make another Jordan, and she decides to take the bet because a good makeover would be a way to get her sponsorship back. By this screenplay's formula, makeover = Prom King = content = sponsorship = college. Those are significantly more confusing stakes than seen in She's All That, where Zack just wanted to humiliate his ex, or My Fair Lady, where Higgins wanted to prove what a good teacher he is. And, presumably because the movie doesn't want to make Padgett look too unkind, she never actually films any content like "What up, guys, today I'm going to be making over a pathetic loser and turn him into someone deserving of love!" I'm not sure how exactly her followers know that this is a makeover, or why they'd care about this random guy becoming Prom King, or how any of that would redeem her reputation after ugly-crying while screaming insults at a pop star who was cheating on her. She should give herself a makeover, as someone who doesn't produce snot.

(As a sidebar, the costuming doesn't do much to help sell Padgett as a renowned influencer, as her outfits are all basic as hell. Is that just my millennial opinion? Do Zoomers like these outfits? I found it hard to understand why someone as boring as Padgett would become so famous, but then I remembered that Addison Rae did that in real life.)

Watching both movies back to back, it's obvious how many beats were lifted from the She's All That script and reworked, unsuccessfully, for He's All That. After getting rebuffed by her at school, Zack shows up at Laney's work to convince her to hang out with him to set his makeover plan in motion. She's angry and humiliated by his visit, because she works a fast food job where she has to wear a dumb falafel hat and ask customers the question "Do you want to supersize your falafel balls?" It's an obstacle for Zack, one he has to overcome by thinking quickly – seeing the paint splatters on her shoes, he remembers that she's an artist and asks if she can take him to an art show, endearing himself to her enough to set up a date. In this version, Cameron works at an otherwise empty horse stable before school, so when Padgett shows up, he's just kinda like "huh, weird that you're here." She helps him shovel horseshit, takes photos of herself constantly, and then asks for a riding lesson. Only one of those things is remotely endearing. (Also, seriously, do classes at their school start at noon? Why do so many scenes take place before school?!) Anyway, Cameron likes her because she falls off the horse and lands in horseshit but can laugh about it and then she hurls horseshit right at him and we're supposed to think this is cute, I guess, and they both laugh and laugh.

The problem with this and every other scene is that Addison Rae isn't capable of elevating the weak material. Freddie Prinze Jr. played Zack with clear vulnerability under his popular exterior. His character was unsure if he should follow in his father's footsteps and increasingly unsure of his feelings for Laney, and Prinze Jr. played that insecurity so well. His portrayal was a popular kid with imposter syndrome, someone who seemed to know that his popularity and achievements were partially due to his dad's wealth and success, and who was slowly realizing that the trappings of popularity weren't much to be proud of anyway. Over the course of the movie, you see Zack evolve from cocky top dog to wounded ex-boyfriend to a softer, more openhearted kid willing to fight for Laney and take a chance on his own dreams for his future. In contrast, Addison Rae's only real acting choice is being perky, and I'm not even sure that it was a choice so much as the byproduct of the energy she's exerting trying to deliver her lines.

Thus, Tanner Buchanan  is tasked with playing starry-eyed admirer slowly falling for the scene partner equivalent of the robotic girlboss TikTok voice. The result is that you'll physically cringe watching scenes where you know what the screenwriter intended to happen, but it's just not happening. The best example of this is another story beat distorted from the original script. In She's All That, Laney takes Zack to a bizarre performing arts space to challenge him into backing off. Instead, he rises to the occasion, jumping onstage to improvise a performance with the only prop he has on hand, a hacky sack in his pocket. The popular kid has let his guard down, earning the outsider's trust. In He's All That, by contrast, Padgett invites Cameron to a poolside "karaoke party." She starts singing, dazzling Cameron with her talent, but then falters when she sees Jordan show up. Cameron joins her onstage to save the day. The outsider is the one letting his guard down here. The popular kid has done nothing to earn his trust, other than being hot and talented.

Which.... about that.....

She brings nothing. She gives nothing. The movie should be titled She's Not It. And the movie does this twice! This is one of two performance showcases for Addison Rae!!

She's All That features a dance scene at prom that's very silly, yes, but in a delightfully dumb 1999 kind of way. A hint at justification is there if you want it – added in ADR after shooting, the DJ played by Usher yells, "Do that dance I taught you!" and adds, when the dance ramps up in complexity, "All right, Dance Club, let me see what you've got!"

It's goofy but it's fun! There's a range of dance abilities on display; Rachael Leigh Cook stays on the sidelines, jerking awkwardly as her character would. It's aggressively 1999 and the song is the just-released "Rockefeller Skank" by Fatboy Slim. The costume designer stuck to a palette of white, black, and gold to further stylize the moment. It's a teen movie! It's fun!

I am not willing to afford the same amount of grace to the equivalent scene in He's All That. They barely attempt to justify it, with Principal Matthew Lillard introducing the annual "dance presentation," lampshading the moment with a tongue-in-cheek, "We have some weird-ass traditions at this school." The school's two dance troupes face off to a Macklemore song from five years ago. The cafeteria is inexplicably as brightly lit as a senior citizen's bingo night. I think we're supposed to believe that Addison Rae danced better than her rival, the Black girl who is obviously infinitely more talented?!

I haven't talked much about Cameron, I guess. Who cares? Padgett gives Cameron a haircut and he turns into a long-lost Sprouse brother. Her followers love it for some reason. She gets her sponsorship back. Cameron is happy for the first time since his mom died. Padgett is supposed to learn something about being less shallow, but that's only conveyed by one scene where Cameron tells her she's actually prettier without makeup.

He's All That can't actually criticize Padgett, because doing so would mean criticizing Addison Rae. Padgett might get some flack for an objectively silly catchphrase – "sometimes bold can be your bestie" is one, despite the fact that she consistently dresses no bolder than a mom running errands – but the film can't have Padgett abandon her social media profiles and find another future for herself. Her only path to success and financial stability is broadcasting her life to her followers, and in the end Cameron starts helping her film content. It's all bleak, but you're not supposed to think about that.

The most damning criticism of Addison Rae in the film, then, is the film itself: 90 interminable minutes of "Really? Her?" Rae is the embodiment of one of the most salient critiques of TikTok, its algorithmic tendency to reward mediocrity. She's pretty but charmless, always smiling but dead behind the eyes. Watching this movie, I felt bad for her, because she was given a career that she didn't deserve and cannot sustain. (As Drew Gooden put it in his video about TikTok sensations the D'Amelio sisters, "You have these children who become famous and then have to figure out what they're good at, rather than the other way around.") Her performance is embarrassing. It made me look up her story to learn that her rise to fame was shockingly fast – after joining TikTok in July 2019, she became a member of the Hype House content collective when it formed in December of that year, shooting her to TikTok stardom. She dropped out of college, where she'd been studying sports broadcasting, after one semester to pursue content creation full-time. Depressingly, her original track seems much better suited for her. I can absolutely see her finding success as a pretty, perky sports broadcaster, but she clearly doesn't have the star power for a pop career, nor the talent for an acting career. Likewise, the He's All That script would be stronger if Padgett decided to go to college for a normal career in her wheelhouse. But the movie, like our culture, must accept that the people like influencers like Addison Rae for some reason. While it seems like her 15 minutes should be over by now, she recently signed a multi-film Netflix deal that will ensure she sticks around for a few more years.

Oh! By the way! He's All That includes a Eurotrash dance cover of "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None The Richer. Nothing is sacred. Nothing gold can stay. We live in a deteriorating society doomed to recycle old IP, even IP that wasn't even that good to begin with, into more and more insulting trash, one more sign that the ruling class views us plebes with pure contempt. Don't watch He's All That, is what I'm saying.

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