The Only Saving Grace of ‘He’s All That’ is its Lack of Nauseating Pizza Eating Scenes

Netflix

In recent years, Netflix has established something of a monopoly on teen media. Accordingly, it is little wonder that it would attempt to cash in on 90s nostalgia by remaking She’s All That, itself a loose retelling of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion in which Freddie Prinze Jr.’s Zach Siler partakes in an ethically unsound bet to transform the unwitting Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook) into the school’s prom queen. While the original film does rib at its characters, some of the more acerbic aspects of She’s All That, from its problematic premise to its often off-colour jokes, do not necessarily translate neatly into the (outwardly, at least) inclusivity-focused model that Netflix teen media tends to follow. Potentially in an attempt to correct the sins of its predecessor, He’s All That reverses the genders of its main characters. In the remake, TikTok star Addison Rae makes her acting debut as Padgett Sawyer, a popular social media influencer, and Tanner Buchanan plays her love interest, Cameron Kweller, a misanthropic amateur photographer whose only aspirations are to graduate high school and travel.

However, far from improving upon the original film, every beat harks back to a better or funnier moment in She’s All That. Any form of intentional comic relief is conspicuously absent, despite Addison Rae’s casting suggesting the potential of campy humour in the vein of the original. Peyton Mayer’s Jordan Van Draanen, Padgett’s ex-boyfriend, is a grating white rapper parody and a paltry replacement for Matthew Lillard’s washed-up reality star, Brock Hudson. Alden (Madison Pettis), Padgett’s former best friend, is a toothless mean girl caricature who evokes little of Paul Walker’s cartoonishly belligerent Dean Sampson Jr., nor is it likely that she could hold her own against Jodi Lyn O’Keefe’s delightfully vindictive Taylor Vaughan. Where the original featured cameos from Lil’ Kim, Usher and Sarah Michelle Gellar, He’s All That pads out its cast with Kourtney Kardashian and Bryce Hall. Both Lillard and Leigh Cook make appearances in the film as principal of Cali High and Padgett’s mother respectively, vaguely echoing their original characters to limited effect. And while the appeal of the original is not exactly its emotional resonance, it’s not easy to root for Cameron and Padgett. The original’s pivotal basement art studio scene, in which Laney encourages Zach to confront his future and stand up to his father is bizarrely mirrored by a scene in its 2021 update in which Cameron encourages Padgett to be more true to herself by… wiping her lipstick and attempting to pull off her eyelash extensions.

One way in which He’s All That strays from its predecessor is its (albeit half-hearted) attempt to incorporate social commentary. In what could have been an ingenious casting decision, He’s All That immediately foregrounds itself in the influencer economy by having Addison Rae play its main character. Unlike Zach Siler, whose primary struggle was to pick which Ivy League college to attend, Padgett, the daughter of a single mum who works as a nurse, faces the dilemma of being able to afford college in the first place as a livestream gone awry leads to one of her most lucrative sponsorship deals being pulled. But, as is typical of Netflix teen media, the film presents itself as diverse but seems unconcerned with delving beyond surface level and actually addressing the issue of Padgett’s monetary problems in any meaningful way. In fact, right after Padgett shares her college fund-related troubles with the financially comfortable Cameron, he unironically states, “It won’t take much money for me to bum around. See as much of the world as I can.” 

Padgett’s success as an influencer is built on a projected image of perfection — the film opens with her feigning a spontaneous morning “Get Ready With Me” live, and she conceals her social class throughout the film. In the end, Padgett disavows her former clout-chasing ways in her prom queen speech, admitting the “perfect” social media image of herself is merely a facade. If it wasn’t obvious before, at this point it becomes apparent that Addison Rae’s presence is perhaps for reasons other than rendering it an incisive work of metacommentary. In the film’s final scene, Padgett starts a livestream in which she announces that she and Cameron are currently holidaying in Portugal and thanks her followers for being “so supportive of her new direction.” Ultimately, the most insightful thing He’s All That has to say about social media is that some forms of idealistic and unsustainable self-branding are better than others. It’s fitting that the ending montage of Padgett and Cameron’s travel influencer snaps is soundtracked by a cover of Kiss Me (originally by Sixpence None The Richer) — a soulless, hollow reworking of the original.

He’s All That is available to stream exclusively on Netflix now

by Madhu Manivannan

Madhu is an occasional writer and an ardent lover of coming-of-age movies. Her favourite films include Little ForestYou’ve Got Mail and Mean Streets. You can find her on Twitter @madhuuum.

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