I’ll spare you the trouble: He’s All That, starring Addison Rae, isn’t very good. Still, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy watching it. It would be easy to pick apart He’s All That for obvious product placement, meh acting, and iMessage bubbles reminiscent of an early 2000’s anti cyber bullying PSA, but there isn’t really any point. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 30%, and a marginally higher performance on IMDb with a rating of 4.3/10, no one is pretending that He’s All That is an amazing movie. What is more interesting is to see how it calls back an earlier era in popular culture.
He’s All That is a spin-off of the 1999 film She’s All That. The premise of both movies can be reduced into what is commonly called a “makeover movie” or a film that relies on a transformation of the protagonist from “ugly” and uncool to “beautiful” and popular. This has been played out time and time again with classic examples: the ugly duckling transforming into a swan, the downtrodden step-child becoming Cinderella. This classic archetype goes beyond old fairy tales and became popular in the late 20th century with movies like 1985’s The Breakfast Club, or 1995’s Clueless.
Makeover movies like She’s All That often contain problematic social implications. When rewatching them 20 years later, these problems become painfully obvious. She’s All That, directed by Robert Iscove, is set in a bizarre Hollywood version of high school. In this fantasy world, highschool students resemble models, and the popular students are worshipped as if they are gods. The male lead, Zach Siler, and his girlfriend, Taylor Vaughan, are set to be prom king and queen respectively from the very beginning of the movie. After Zach gets dumped, he and his friend group make a bet in which Zach must choose someone from the school to turn into the new prom queen, with the catch being that they cannot be from the elite popular canon of the school.
The misogynistic attitude of the film’s male lead and his two friends becomes impossible to ignore. They examine and reject various girls in the hallway in search of the perfect ‘challenge’ for Zach. In the end, they settle on Laney Boggs, a shy, “artsy” student played by actress Rachel Leigh Cook. Classically, Zach develops feelings for Laney, but only after she undergoes her makeover and becomes conventionally attractive enough for the Hollywood standard. In Laney’s eyes, Zach’s feelings for her signify his maturing past his problematic high school personality. Remaining at the core of the movie is the idea that women ought to make themselves desirable to men by conforming to beauty standards.
He’s All That makes an effort to fix the corrupted worldview of She’s All That. In the 2021 remake, directed by Mark Waters, the gender roles are completely reversed. In the new version, the female lead chooses a male character to turn into prom king. While this concept still maintains the original’s problematic undertones, the 2021 film manages this without reinforcing misogynistic standards. Moreover, He’s All That addresses the opulent lifestyles of the original film. In He’s All That, wealth inequality and social dynamics that result from those disparities are a plot point, although they are portrayed very unrealistically.
Overall, despite the almost comically corny structure of the film, I finished He’s All That feeling refreshed. Though I went into writing a review of He’s All That fully prepared to cynically vent about the drop in quality of movies marketed towards teens in recent years, I came to a mixed conclusion. While the original film is objectively better, the message of He’s All That is more progressive. Seeing the effects of gender inequality in day to day life at Berkeley High, I cannot in good faith recommend She’s All That. If you are looking for a movie to catch with your friends, that would not be a disaster to talk through, you might want to check out He’s All That.