He’s All That review – Netflix’s dull TikTok teen remake lacks charm

·4-min read

For the majority of people too young to remember the premiere of She’s All That in 1999, the main draw of He’s All That, Netflix’s gender-swapped remake of the teen classic, is its casting of the TikTok star Addison Rae. In July 2019, an 18-year-old Rae, given name Addison Rae Easterling, went from freshman at Louisiana State University to one of the most recognizable faces of Gen Z basically overnight, when she started posting short dance clips to TikTok.

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Now 20, Rae has become the face of forces far out of her control: the popularization of dance moves without choreographer credit, the unfathomable fame accrued by average dancing with expressive faces, and most especially the blandness of “straight TikTok” or, as Rebecca Jennings put it in Vox, “pretty people filming themselves being pretty” for an algorithm that rewards mediocrity.

Rae is thus a fitting star for yet another under-baked reboot of teen IP – like the TikTokers appealing to the median of everyone’s average tastes, He’s All That, directed by Mark Waters from a script by R Lee Fleming Jr, is uninspiring, trying very hard to appear like it’s breezy, probably popular in the sense of cultural saturation but appealing deeply to no one.

To be clear, I do not blame this on Rae, who appears to be sincerely trying in her first screen role as Padgett Sawyer, AKA @PadgettHeadtoToe, a high school senior and influencer. An inverse of Freddie Prinze Jr’s privileged golden boy Zachary Siler, Padgett hides her middle-income roots (her mother, played by original star Rachael Leigh Cook, is a nurse) behind a facade of glamour – she lies to her friends about her address; she is perennially, often obnoxiously “on”.

The beats of the 90-minute film mirror the original: within minutes, Padgett has discovered her boyfriend, a wannabe viral music star with bleached hair named Jordan Van Draanen (Peyton Meyer), cheating, had her livestreamed humiliation go viral for a particularly unflattering shot of a tearful snot bubble, lost her sponsorships, and bet her social rehabilitation on the makeover of a dud guy of her frenemy Alden’s (Madison Pettis) choosing. The terms: turn Cameron Kweller (Tanner Buchanan), a cynical outcast with a shaggy haircut, beanie and a passion for photography and horses, into prom king in six weeks or be branded a loser, or something.

Though Fleming’s script plays like an adult man’s approximation of Gen Z tropes (“put your TikToks down and you can see some real dancing!” says the principal, played by Matthew Lillard (the original’s Brock Hudson) at the improbably named Cali High’s prom), it at least doesn’t drag. He’s All That swiftly proceeds through a slideshow of restaged scenes with slight 2021 hallmarks: Gatsby-themed party scene, cameo from Rae pal Kourtney Kardashian as a drolly ruthless brand manager, the ever-present stress of follower counts.

There are some welcome updates to the original: whereas Zach stressed about not being able to decide between a handful of other elite schools (the horror!), Padgett more realistically worries about being able to pay for college without her brand deals (bleak). Both Cam and the original’s Laney have lost their moms, but the remake digs ever so slightly deeper into the lasting damage of that grief via Cam’s ebullient younger sister Brin (Isabella Crovetti, the strongest young actor here).

Other choices fare less well. The original’s seminal prom choreography – Usher leading a dance-off to Fatboy Slim’s Rockafeller Skank – gets TikTokified (torso-heavy dance moves) to a nondescript hip-hop song that is nowhere near as catchy. The fashion is confounding – it’s hard to imagine Rae, whose Gen Z popularity is predicated on the recognition and adaptation of hyper-transient trends, wearing any of the frumpy sweater dresses or cardigans she sports in the film.

He’s All That does get points for not being too faithful – the update thankfully eschews some of the original’s most glaring flaws, namely: the objectification of women, fatphobia and, most egregiously, the playing of scumbag Dean’s (Paul Walker) sexual harassment of Laney for laughs.

But the censorship carries too far; whereas the original’s teens smoked, drank, vomited, made out and lay in bed together, He’s All That presents a high school in which students drink fancy mocktails, barely kiss and avoid swearing. It’s maybe for the best that there’s no pube pizza here, but the obvious avoidance of anything remotely racy lends the movie a sterile, uncanny feel.

It’s the same feeling, really, as watching a bunch of straight TikToks. While Rae offers flashes of promise, especially when she pops her genuinely winning smile, she doesn’t make the case for TikTok-to-film-stardom here. The chemistry between her and Buchanan is stilted, at best. But it would be unfair to place the movie’s dullness on her shoulders. She’s one of many algorithmically successful parts in this ultimately stale bait for nostalgia, a recipe that does not amount to charm.

  • He’s All That is now available on Netflix

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