She's All That (United States, 1999)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

See if this sounds familiar... A hot, young hunk bets his friends that he can turn any girl into a prom queen, and the friends pick out the geekiest girl in the school. The boy contrives a story to meet her, then starts to hang out with her, but, while he's effecting the transformation, he's also falling for her. Eventually, she finds out about the bet and he has to spend the rest of the movie trying to convince her that his feelings are genuine. To say this isn't original is to understate the matter. However, although it's questionable whether this story has ever been done well, that hasn't stopped filmmakers from repeatedly trying. She's All That is the latest failure.

The transformation of the ugly duckling has its roots in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and its most famous movie incarnation, My Fair Lady. Somewhere along the way, this became the foundation for nearly every teen romantic comedy (except Clueless, which took the Emma route). A few (like 1987's Can't Buy Me Love) have been diverting, but most are unmemorable. The wager aspect is a fairly recent contrivance, but it has been used often enough that no one is going to mistake it for a mark of originality. Consequently, this is one of those movies where there's not a single surprise from beginning to end. Predictability can sometimes be an asset in a romantic comedy, but the kind of inflexible adherence to a formula evident in She's All That is tedious.

The principals here are students at Southern California's William Henry Harrison High School. Spring break is over and everyone is looking forward to the prom, which is a mere six weeks away. Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is the most popular guy in school - a shoo-in for prom king. Not only is he good-looking and buff, but he's got the fourth-highest GPA in his class and has been accepted to every college he has applied to. The girl who becomes his makeover goal is Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook), an unkempt art student with minimal social skills - "a waste of perfectly good yearbook space." Also in the mix are Zack's former girlfriend, Taylor (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, from H20), the most desired girl in school (who Zack describes as "a C- GPA in a wonderbra"); Brock Hudson (Matthew Lillard), a self-centered TV star; and Mackenzie (Anna Paquin, less promiscuous than in Hurlyburly), Zack's helpful sister. The duo from last year's The Mighty (Elden Henson and Kieran Culkin) have roles as Laney's best friend and her little brother, respectively.

There's no denying that the characters, despite falling into stereotypes, are appealing, in part because actors Freddie Prinze Jr. (I Know What You Did Last Summer) and Rachael Leigh Cook (whose resume includes numerous bit parts, including a role in The Baby-Sitters' Club) have good looks and a certain screen presence. Unfortunately, the constraints of the script force Zack and Laney into such rigid molds that there's no room for genuine character development or interaction. For example, it would have been nice to see a conversation between them last more than about 60 seconds. And opportunities to allow genuine growth (such as Laney's plaintive question "Am I kissable?") are glossed over.

Director Robert Iscove, making his feature debut after a ton of TV credits, knows his target audience: the cast is young and hip, and the soundtrack is aimed primarily at the under-20 crowd. Despite being largely uninspired, the dialogue is peppered with enough profanity and salacious comments to keep the undiscriminating interested. There are lots of pretty faces and hard bodies (concealed, of course, under skimpy clothing and skimpier swimsuits), and the cinematographer's palette is colorful. Those who enjoy this basic material will probably appreciate She's All That -- it's a competent regurgitation of a familiar plot. Those who expect a little more substance will be frustrated. She's All That has at least some of the tools to do more than its limited and unambitious scope allows.

She's All That (United States, 1999)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 1999-01-29
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1