WFTB Score: 9/20
The plot: When class president Zack Siler is dumped for an idiotic reality TV star, he takes up a bet made by his friend Dean to make a prom queen from a girl of Dean’s choice. The chosen girl is introverted artist Laney Boggs, but as Zack works on winning the bet he discovers that there’s a beautiful young woman, and a tender soul, behind the glasses and paint-splattered clothing. The couple get to know each other but as the prom approaches the bet – like Zack’s future plans – hangs ever more heavily over his head.
Around the turn of the century, there was a trend in film-making that resembled a law of physics: for each classic of literature, there must be an equal(-ish) and opportunist High School comedy. In this vein, Pride and Prejudice became Clueless; Shakespeare plays became 10 Things I Hate About You, O and Get Over It; and G. B. Shaw’s Pygmalion – already turned into a musical in My Fair Lady – was transformed into She’s All That.
Freddie Prinze Jr.’s Zack can only be compared to Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins in the loosest sense, of course. For Higgins was never top dog in his high school, handsome and sporty, class president and sporting the best-looking girlfriend in Taylor Vaughn (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe); until, that is, she comes back from Spring Break boasting a new boyfriend in the egocentric and dude-ish Brock Hudson (Matthew Lillard), a reject from reality TV show The Real World.
In an attempt to prove himself, Zack rashly accepts his friend Dean’s (Paul Walker) challenge to transform a random girl into a prom queen in just six weeks, and Dean chooses Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook); she is from a different world to Zack and his buddies, a shy artist more interested in performance art and politics than parties and Prada. Since her mother died from cancer and her pool-cleaner Dad is too busy watching Jeopardy, she’s also responsible for looking after her brother Simon (Kieran Culkin) as well as holding down a job at a vegetarian fast food joint.
Naturally, she rejects Zack’s initial advances, but as he seems genuinely interested in her she begins to warm to him and takes more interest in her appearance, with the help of Zack’s sister Mack (Anna Paquin); but Dean, who may be falling for Laney himself, has other plans and the ammunition to ruin Zack and Laney’s prom night.
For the most part, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with She’s All That. It has a bright, handsome cast who eagerly throw themselves into the story, Prinze Jr. particularly good as Zack, balancing his ethics and his emotions carefully as his feelings for Laney grow, alongside the conflict of where he will be going once he graduates (his future has been mapped out by his father). Opposite Prinze, Rachael Leigh Cook never reaches the same levels of feeling, and it’s immediately apparent that she’s quite lovely behind the naff glasses, but all the same the reveal of the ‘new’ Laney is nicely handled and the relationship between the pair is both believable and sweet.
The supporting roles are also competently filled, with Walker proving hissably arrogant as Dean, O’Keefe waspish and bimbo-esque as Taylor, and Eldon Henson doing a good job as Laney’s best friend Jesse Jackson (!). As mercilessly lampooned in Not Another Teen Movie, there’s also a token smattering of black actors and actresses who don’t get to do much of any importance, such as Dulé Hill, Gabrielle Union, Li’l Kim and (in a particularly pointless cameo as a campus DJ) Usher Raymond. The film has a bright, generally sunny feel and there are occasionally surprising moments of invention, such as the seamless movement into flashback when Taylor recalls her Spring Break, or when Zack finds himself inserted into a Real World nightmare. I also liked Zack’s performance at the performance art night, even if his supposed spontaneity is a bit of a stretch.
Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends. Writer R. Lee Fleming Jr. seems to have had difficulty in filling out his script to feature length, meaning that a number of scenes get in that would have profited from being trimmed or lopped off altogether. While Lillard’s Brock Hudson is entertainingly annoying, his contortions at the obligatory house party go on far too long; similarly, the prom sequence finds the school suddenly populated by professional dancers, another minute or so that could have been cut without taking anything away from the film.
The worst offender is a scene in which Simon – for no discernable reason – offers to season students’ food in the canteen and is confronted by bullies, one of whom tries to make Simon eat a pubic hair-covered pizza before Zack heroically turns the tables. While the incident has an obvious impact on the dynamics of the plot – Laney sees Zack as a protector, not someone merely looking out for himself – the gross-out humour is an awkward nod to the American Pie crowd (you’ll recognise one of the bullies) and out of character with the rest of the film, which is unfortunately pretty light on laughs compared to its peers. That said, any film which can shoehorn in the line ‘Supersize my balls’ can’t be all bad.
She’s All That comes and goes without making much of a mark on the High School landscape, but is at least one more story that can be ticked off as done (thankfully, Hollywood has for the moment put aside anything ‘High School’ that isn’t also musical). Alright, yes, but certainly not – whatever this means – all that.