The 90s was the era for teen rom-coms and few stand out as vividly as She’s All That, the (then) modern, teen adaptation of My Fair Lady, the classic motion picture based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion. Featuring the most popular names in late 90s music and movies, She’s All That was one of the many films which exploited the outlandish trope that people see only clothes and makeup (or lack thereof), and nothing else when looking at another person. Riding the wave of this ridiculous narrative, She’s All That presented us with Laney (Rachel Leigh Cook), a very pretty girl who was very badly dressed and awkward and was therefore labeled “ugly”, the “ugliest girl in the school”. Because no one at her high school can see her face or the shape of her body at all. Wow.
In an attempt to win a bet with his gross misogynist pig friend, Dean (Paul Walker) and simultaneously spite his ex-girlfriend, Taylor (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe), the school’s most popular boy, Zach (Freddie Prinze Jr.), the Nice Guy ™ misogynist who seems like a catch in comparison, concocts a plan to woo Laney and turn her into the prom queen. Nearly all of Zach’s friends are aware of said bet but, in a truly unbelievable twist, absolutely no one spills the beans, even accidentally, to Laney for nearly the entire duration of the film. In the meantime, emotionally guarded Laney is convinced by her little brother, Simon (Kieran Culkin), and Zach’s sister, Mackenzie (Anna Paquin), to trust Zach, and allow this predatory jock into her life.
Like My Fair Lady, She’s All That is a story about a male who thinks that he’s a good person but is actually incredible exploitative and manipulative, giving a socially undesirable girl who did not ask for his attentions a boost of popularity and acceptability, then falling in love with this person that he thinks he created. Is She’s All That terribly nostalgic and, despite everything, enjoyable? Absolutely. But a different soundtrack, a Laney who didn’t/couldn’t forgive (and would have been labeled as a bitch, no doubt), and we would have seen how Zach and Laney’s relationship is far too one-sided to be healthy. When one person enters into a relationship on pretense, how can there not be a power imbalance, a trust imbalance?
So many of the rom-coms Millenials grew up on, whether for teens or adults, featured relationships were a woman was abused or manipulated during a vulnerable time, feel for a guy because of this, found out and was justifiably hurt, then had the onus to forgive strapped to her shoulders, happily-ever-after entirely dependent on valuing this person about her own mental health. We can watch these films all day, but we cannot ignore the dysfunction which they normalize.
I give this one 3.25 stars.