She’s All That
She’s All That might not be the best teen romantic comedy out there. It might not even be the best one released in 1999 (especially compared to the likes of the crowd-pleaser 10 Things I Hate About You). But of all the films about social transformation and prom queens and 25-year-olds playing 17-year-olds, She’s All That is certainly the one nearest and dearest to my heart. Starring Rachel Leigh Cook, who has sadly since been relegated to Video-on-Demand releases ever since the disastrous release of the criminally underrated Josie and the Pussycats, and Freddie Prinze Jr., whose last theatrical release set the record for lowest grossing film of all time, She’s All That seemed to have unwittingly set a lingering curse on the careers of its cast and crew. Did I mention that this film was written by M. Night Shyamalan?
In the second paragraph I would normally explain the premise of the film, but will I have to? This film’s take on stage classic Pygmalion has been digested, recycled, and spoofed in so many other films that it has almost become a genre unto itself. After pretty boy Zack (Prinze) gets dumped for an MTV star (wow, it really does feel like 1999!) he accepts a bet from his friend (the late Paul Walker) that he can turn *any* girl at their school into the next prom queen. That girl winds up being none other than Laney (Cook), whose sins against high school popularity seem to be little more than nerdy trivialities like wearing glasses or enjoying art. You can easily surmise the rest of the film: They get close, she finds out his deception and rejects him, but they manage to reunite at the big dance- and everything hinges around Hart’s Cinderella-like transformation.
It’s pretty amusing to consider the gravity the film awards to Laney’s make-over sequence. The camera draws up her body as she descends the stairs, like debutante at a ball. Freddie Prinze Jr. is flabbergasted. She took her glasses off! She’s wearing a tight red dress! She wears make-up now, though the actress was clearly doing so already! Honestly, it’s a pretty patriarchal notion to think that a slight change of attire can redefine a woman’s entire image, but that hasn’t prevented the same trope from being repeated every year by newer teen movies- such as last year’s The DUFF. I believe (more like hope, really) that the “ugly duckling transformation” is supposed to be subversive indictment of the cluelessness of the male leads, with true happiness only being reached once they realize that, you know, inner verve is what’s important. Regardless, the cast is positively magnetic, and their on-screen presence is a welcome one. She’s All That is a perfect watch anytime you want to bathe in brightly colored nineties melodrama, and I would never bet against that.