Does any movie get more nineties than this one? Saying “after losing his girl to a Real World star, Freddie Prinze Junior does hackey-sack on stage at a slam poetry event” makes me feel so nineties, I just exploded in neon abstracts and skateboarded away listening to ska music.
She’s All That is one of those cultural touchstones for for a generation that I missed out on. I was just a little too young for the movie, and my older sibling didn’t care for it either, so I wasn’t exposed until I spotted it on Netflix. Back in the 00s, the fake-bet-relationship movie we loved was Shakespearean 10 Things I Hate About You.
(Interestingly, 10 Things came out of the same year as She’s All That, sort of like when Antz and A Bug’s Life came out in the same year, or Repo Men and Repo! The Genetic Opera, or Dante’s Peak and Volcano.)
10 Things was an adaptation of Taming of the Shrew, but She’s All That considers itself a Pygmalion story. It cares more about the disparate classes of the heroine and hero than the heroine’s difficult personality. Freddie Prinze Jr’s character is both prince and fairy godmother; his belief in Laney helps make her transform into the princess version of herself. In the end, Laney remarks that she feels like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (but not a sex worker), which means she’s talking about the Pygmalion elements.
The movie is telling us what it means to be about, and I think that’s interesting because it’s not really the impact. The actual impact on culture for She’s All That was becoming iconic for the ugly-girl-turns-hot trope. You know, when we pretend a normal- or hot-looking woman is ugly/unattractive/undesirable because of her hair and glasses.
I hadn’t seen this movie before, but I saw the parody in Not Another Teen Movie. So I was surprised that She’s All That *wasn’t* the worst iteration of the trope. Laney has been struggling with low self-esteem, congested creativity, and sometimes insults herself out loud. Darling young Anna Paquin acknowledges that post-makeover Laney isn’t really improved, just different.
The actual change isn’t a haircut, contact lenses, and higher contrast makeup. It’s Laney deciding to participate in the world.
In fact, it’s a lot like the execution of the same trope with Toula in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It’s not that Toula wasn’t hot before. She just believed her family calling her some dowdy old woman and put herself out to pasture. Laney has put herself out to pasture because of grief.
The heartfelt element of Laney’s journey is probably why She’s All That originally resonated with audiences. Freddie Prinze Junior is a pitch-perfect pining hero, too.
Including a dance scene from Matthew Lillard and prom choreography echoing West Side Story adds just enough camp to keep disbelief suspended. This was really a nice mix of sincere and silly, plus some 90s gross-out humor I couldn’t handle in the era and still kinda don’t love.
Don’t look away when they’re in the cafeteria. This movie was shot at Torrance High School, the same school used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Sarah Michelle Gellar makes an appearance in costume as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. SMG doesn’t just share fictional high schools with the movie, either. She’s still married to Freddie Prinze Junior. Awww. That means Buffy gets pining love eyes from Zack Siler to this day. <3
(image source: Miramax Films)