I Watched ‘She's All That’ for the First Time Ever & I Have Questions
Guess what? Netflix is releasing a gender-swapped remake of the quintessential '90s teen film, She's All That, later this summer and it’s already generating a lot of buzz. With a modernized plot and a star-studded cast (from Kourtney Kardashian to Addison Rae), it’s bound to become one of Netflix’s most popular releases this year. So naturally, I marked my calendar as soon as the release date was official (August 27th), then proceeded to finally watch She’s All That in its entirety. For the first time ever.
Now, before you gasp, I ought to note that literally any movie that involved lips touching was deemed inappropriate by my parents back then. I was only eight when the movie came out, and the closest I ever came to watching it was sneaking a few peeks at my older brother’s TV when it replayed on cable. Still, it was enough for me to piece together what the film was about, and news of the Netflix reboot felt like as good a time as any to finally give it a watch.
Just to quickly recap: The ‘90s rom-com stars Freddie Prinze Jr. as Zack Siler, who bets that he can turn Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook), a talented young artist and outcast, into the new prom queen after his girlfriend dumps him. And now, having officially watched it in one sitting, I can honestly say that this film did not age well. Not only is it packed with pointless scenes, but it also includes quite a few awful stereotypes and damaging tropes, from the hopelessly clumsy protagonist to the heartless jock with no self control. But while a lot of things in this movie scream “problematic,” there are several moments that just left me completely confused—and I sense I’m not the only one. Perhaps someone can address the following questions for me...
1. Since when is it appropriate to announce student breakups to the entire school?
Can you imagine? The most popular guy in your school gets dumped by his girlfriend and then the campus D.J. (which, for the record, sounds like a cool concept but is very unrealistic, especially at a high school), after making the morning’s announcements, decides to offer his “condolences” to a certain someone who got “dissed and dismissed.” So now, the entire student body and the faculty are aware of this humiliating break up.
I’d be lying if I said that it wasn't satisfying to see Zack’s massive ego take a hit, but deeming this news important enough to announce over loudspeakers is a bit much. Never have I ever heard a single school announcement that included a full rundown of a student’s love life.
2. Did Zack and Taylor ever really care about each other?
That breakup scene between Taylor (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) and Zack made me question their relationship (if it’s even fair to call it that). Taylor matter-of-factly tells Zack about her summer fling without an ounce of guilt. And Zack, clearly confused and disappointed, is already worried about how this will affect his perfect reputation. So what does Zack do? He immediately agrees to participate in a bet—one that would salvage his good name and prove that his ex-girlfriend is easily replaceable. Meanwhile, Taylor is way too busy making out with her new reality star boyfriend (Matthew Lillard) to give Zack the time of day.
Given that they both cared more about keeping up appearances than they did one another, it’s not too surprising that they both moved on within the span of 10 minutes.
3. Does Laney’s makeover really count as a makeover?
I can appreciate that Zack’s sister Mackenzie (Anna Paquin, before X-Men and True Blood) emphasized that Laney’s look was new and, not “improved,” but “different.” Still, seeing her awkwardly walk down those steps with contact lenses and a fitted red dress didn’t make her all that different. She was just as beautiful in her overalls with glasses and a messy ponytail. And the fact that she was convinced to change her appearance in order to impress a guy is seriously problematic.
4. Am I the only one who doesn’t find Zack’s approach romantic at all?
Zack seems to fall under the category of guys who simply can’t take “no” for an answer. For instance, in one particular scene, he shows up at Laney’s house unannounced and she’s understandably peeved. Of course, Zack acts like it’s no big deal and then proceeds to invite her to the beach. Then when she says no, he manipulates her into changing her mind by making plans to stick around with her little brother and her dad. Perhaps I would’ve seen this as cute if I were watching it at 16, but now, I cringe when I think of Zack trying so hard to force his way into Laney’s life, even despite her discomfort.
5. Why in the world was Usher stuck as the DJ and not on the dance floor during prom?
Seeing Usher get stuck behind a microphone throughout the entirety of this film was like watching someone casually hold a flashlight that’s turned off as they stumble through the dark. Here was an R&B star on the rise, complete with smooth vocals and seriously impressive dance moves, and yet, we barely got to see him dance at all in this film. Sure, he worked with the dance club and led his peers through the choreography of that infamous dance number, but the fact that he wasn’t out there performing with them felt like a wasted opportunity.
It’s worth mentioning that Usher is just one of several breakout stars who had supporting roles in this film, including Lil’ Kim, Gabrielle Union, Paul Walker, Anna Paquin and Kieran Culkin. But even with such an impressive lineup, some of these talented stars were criminally underutilized. Legendary rapper Lil’ Kim appeared as another face in the popular crowd who barely said two words throughout the entire movie. And while Union did appear momentarily as Taylor’s sidekick Katie in a few scenes, none of them were especially memorable.
Meanwhile, Walker, Paquin and Culkin all had significantly more screen time and their performances were pretty decent. Walker was extremely convincing as the inconsiderate douchebag. Paquin was really good as the sensible sister that I instantly wanted to befriend. Culkin was great as the goofy, Sega-obsessed little brother. But their performances just weren't enough to make me fall in love with this movie.
6. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to hire an actor who was hard of hearing for Simon’s role?
As mentioned before, I believe Culkin portrayed Simon pretty well, but I’m not so sure about the film’s depiction of Simon’s disability. On the plus side, it was nice to see some inclusivity and I really like that his character was not defined by his condition. But when I initially spotted Simon with hearing aids in his initial scene (after Laney tries to wake him up by yelling at him through the door), they seemed so random and out of place—almost like a random prop to make Simon’s character appear stereotypically nerdy. Had Simon been played by a talented actor who is actually hard of hearing, I feel like the hearing aids would’ve felt less puzzling. It could have added even more depth to the character and maybe even offered a more accurate portrayal of those who are hard of hearing.
7. Whatever happened between Dean and Zack?
After prom night, when Dean (Walker) tries to have his way with Laney, she defends herself by blasting an air horn directly into his ear. It’s mainly brushed off as a joke and, aside from the airhorn incident, we don’t get any real confirmation that Dean was held accountable for his actions. Which begs the question: What happened between Zack and Dean after that night? How did Zack handle the situation, knowing that his “friend” couldn’t care less about his reputation and that, more importantly, he came dangerously close to assaulting Laney? Did they talk? Did they officially part ways? Or did they laugh it all off and pretend like none of it was a big deal? I’m inclined to lean more towards the latter, since apparently, they all live in a world where cute, shallow guys can get away with almost anything.
Clearly, it was never Laney who needed the makeover. It was this movie. It’s rife with cringe-worthy moments and it sends such a damaging message to women about beauty, which is why I would rank it way below (and I mean wayyyy below) most of the '90s teen movies that I’ve seen so far (maybe somewhere between Drive Me Crazy and American Pie). But thankfully, Netflix has stepped up to release a modernized remake, and I can only hope that it won't be a carbon copy of the original.
Fingers crossed that He’s All That turns out to be a smart, compelling and inclusive film that actually empowers women. Your move, Netflix.