Arts & Entertainment, Film and TV, Pop Rhetoric

‘He’s All That’ is a hollow ode to ’90s teen nostalgia

As if by mass psychosis, filmmakers have been scrambling to rehash ‘90s movies in all their zany glory. Case in point: He’s All That, a gender-swapped revamp of 1999’s She’s All That. On the surface, the remake has all the trappings of a potential Netflix hit: Lucrative source material that recouped 10 times its budget? Check. The star power of TikTok sensation Addison Rae? Check. Product placement galore? Check. But what comes out of its 91-minute runtime feels ultimately hollow.

The storyline introduces us to beauty influencer Padgett Sawyer (Addison Rae, in a not-quite-surefooted debut) who rises to the occasion of transforming hopeless misanthrope Cameron Kweller (Tanner Buchanan) into Prom King. Kweller’s instant stardom under her wing upps his popularity—of course, by the powers of a makeover. This familiar plot stems directly from the original She’s All That —which, for what it’s worth, was by no means a masterpiece in its own right.

However, this reboot throws the baby out with the bathwater by dropping the original’s endearing weirdness and emotionally layered performances. On the upside, it has occasional moments of charm and now-and-then laughs reminiscent of the original; Matthew Lillard’s awkward dance scene is a highlight. On the downside, the script borders on the mundane, and is too enamored with the power of social media for its own good.

There’s no denying that nods to the cult classic elevate the film’s overall appeal: Rachel Leigh Cook, the lead of the original film, appears as Padgett’s mom, and Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me” once again plays over the end of the film, this time remixed by Cyn. 

Lynn Kozak, associate professor in McGill’s department of history and classical studies, has thought a lot about remakes—after all, they have been around for millennia. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Kozak underscored the value of nostalgia in film and television revivals.

“Nostalgia is a very powerful thing,” Kozak said. “The industry wants us to be nostalgic so it can make money off of us [….] There have been plenty of studies by people who have worked on the idea that you have nostalgia in times of uncertainty. You also have nostalgia when there are major cultural shifts.”

Despite the common use of nostalgia as a bankable commercial strategy, Kozak harbours a positive outlook toward remakes and their potential for good. 

“I think about how Ancient Greek tragedians are remixing myth, and [how] you get all these cool innovations in some of the Greek tragedies that never existed before, like Medea, who was never the one to kill her kids until Euripides decided it was,” Kozak said. “So I think that what we are seeing now is in some ways a modern version of that. Taking stories that are familiar but giving them new twists [….] That’s the way culture moves forward.”

Indeed, the best late ‘90s “rom-coms,” many of which were remakes themselves, pack a punch with their masterful blend of reinvention and subversion. The original She’s All That was itself based on an earlier wave of remakes, starting with George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, which morphed into My Fair Lady, the timeless musical. 1995’s Clueless was a reimagining of Jane Austen’s Emma; 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You was a riff on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew; and 1999’s Cruel Intentions offered a new twist on Dangerous Liaisons. But the difference between these Generation-X remakes and He’s All That lies in the freshness of their takes and the superb acting performances.

He’s All That fails to fully deliver on the potential of the remake format—and is ultimately forgettable as a result. While fans of Addison Rae can take solace in knowing that they will see more of the TikTok megastar in future Netflix projects, suffice to say that, try as it might, this nostalgia-chasing flick is not all that.

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