He's All That. M, 89 minutes. Two stars
Time does funny things to the brain and I find myself, as I inch towards my 50th birthday later this year, nostalgic for familiar things from my past. The funny thing is that I find myself equally nostalgic for the things that I hated back in the day as much as for the things that I loved.
When Cold Chisel's Flame Trees comes on the radio I turn that sound right up and sing along, and I love that song now as much as I did in the '80s. But then I do the same thing when Roxette's The Look comes on, and that is one of the most inane and awful pieces of bad music. The power of its familiarity exceeds the memory of loathing it. Nostalgia!
Netflix gifts us in another week of lockdown with a film that is both nostalgic and fresh. Not quite a sequel and sort of a reimagining, He's All That revisits and reimagines the '90s youth rom com She's All That, in which Freddy Prinze Jr had six days to make over a quiet nerdish girl from his year at school. She's All That was itself a reimagining of Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady), and instead of turning a flower girl into a princess, Freddy Prinze Jr needed to make himself a date for his school prom.
Twenty-two years later, She's All That's screenwriter R. Lee Fleming Jr dusts off his 1999 screenplay and throws in some fresher references and a whole lot of product placement for He's All That.
She's All That costars Rachael Leigh Cook and Matthew Lillard are back, and while it feels like an act of closure imagining they are playing the older versions of their She's All That characters, that's not the case.
In this gender-swapped contemporary version, our Henry Higgins is high school senior and social media influencer Padgett Sawyer, played by Tik Tok star Addison Rae.
Despite having not yet finished high school, Padgett runs the successful lifestyle vlog Padgett Head to Toe and the cash that comes in from her major sponsor (Kourtney Kardashian) helps pay the bills that Padget's mother Anna (Rachael Leigh Cook) can't quite meet living in a school zone they can't afford.
Padgett's two besties - Alden (Madison Pettis) and Quinn (Myra Molloy) - have the family wealth and school popularity that Padgett had to work hard to earn, and that social cache is at risk when her social-media-famous boyfriend Jordan (Peyton Meyer) is caught cheating on her on one of Padgett's live broadcasts, causing the loss of hundreds of thousands of followers.
Her friend Alden bets Padgett that she can't find another boy to make over into a babe, like she did Jordan, and they settle on school emo photographer Cameron (Tanner Buchanan) whose surly demeanour seems initially impenetrable to the sudden attentions of the school's most popular girl.
Despite the intention of giving this remake a female voice, both writer and director are still men and there's still quite a deal of woman-on-woman undermining driving the plot. Nice to see, though, is the equal footing the boy-girl dynamic enjoys, and the dynamic of an LGBT sub-plot.
With Mean Girls director Mark Waters behind the camera, what could have been inexcusable or banal still enjoys a wink at the camera.
Like its predecessor, this film enjoys a dance sequence or two, only this time around it's Rae's Tik Tok audience they're appealing to. There's the obligatory fashion try-out montage scene that young viewers will enjoy as much as we all did about 30-dozen such film montages ago.
This film also takes product placement to the next level. In one scene alone we get dialogue like, "Eating free Pizza Hut is what we're doing," and later "Can I get some KFC to go?" with the two companies' logos and products tucked into with visual relish by the cast.
Padgett's story is actually more Andrea Zuckerman from Beverly Hills 90210 than Pygmalion, but social media star Addison Rae is more than up to the challenge of embodying it. If only the material she had to work with were better, but she is a confident and lovely performer.
Parents will enjoy hovering in the background as their teens enjoy this film and annoying them with comments like, "I loved this film when it was called SHE's All That."