In an entertainment ecosystem churning with reboots and remakes, a revamp of the 1999 romantic comedy She’s All That, now starring TikTok celebrity Addison Rae, seems like just another entry in the vast sea. But Netflix’s remake He’s All That gloriously defies all expectations. Helmed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls, 2003’s Freaky Friday) and with a script from R. Lee Fleming Jr., the screenwriter behind the original movie, He’s All That is one of the best high-school romantic comedies in recent history. It uses the old movie’s makeover template to carve out a romantic story that hits all the satisfying beats, turning turns them into something refreshing… and actually better than the original movie.
[Ed.note: This post contains slight spoilers for He’s All That.]
In She’s All That, class president and popular boy Zack (Freddie Prinze Jr.) accepts a bet to turn artsy, antisocial Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook) into Prom Queen. It’s a modern-day update on Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. He’s All That updates the formula again for 2021, following makeover influencer and high-school senior Padgett (Addison Rae), whose devastating breakup accidentally gets livestreamed across the internet, turning her into an unappealing meme. With her social credibility and the fate of her sponsorship with makeup brand Bunny Venom hanging in the air, she agrees to a bet with a frenemy: turn a loser into Prom King, or be branded a loser herself.
Winning the bet promises to boost Padgett’s status in the ranks of her high school, and it’ll also prove to Bunny Venom (led by Kourtney Kardashian, basically playing herself) that she still has the social influence to make the company’s support worthwhile. The loser in question? Antisocial Cameron (Tanner Buchanan), who would rather grumble and take photos of trash than make friends.
As with the original, through a series of trials and errors, the two manage to hit it off and become friends, which eventually leads to something more. The big story beats are pretty much the same, but updated to reflect not only the gender changes, but also more modern sensibilities. Padgett’s pressure to succeed, for instance, comes from the fact that her sponsorships are helping pay her single mother’s bills, and letting her save for college tuition. When Cameron inevitably storms out of a big party, it’s not because he was humiliated by Padgett’s ex, like in the original, but because the scumbag harassed Cameron’s little sister.
Waters puts less emphasis on objectifying women’s bodies, a problem that really plagued the original, where the boys talked repeatedly about the quality of the female students’ “tits,” and Laney proved her worth to the popular kids by donning a tight-fitting swimsuit. Instead, He’s All That is centered in Padgett’s taste: The idea of making Cameron hot has less to do with augmenting his physical appearance (though he does get a haircut to spruce up his disheveled look), and more about tapping into the parts of his personality that he keeps buried under his gruff exterior.
Some specific nods to the original are included for fans, like certain musical cues and familiar actors returning in new roles, as well as the unnecessarily long dance sequence towards the end. But the references don’t feel like constant pandering, because the movie can stand on its own without referencing the original. The structure itself isn’t new, but it is a satisfying one that lends itself easily to unexpected crushes, romantic misunderstandings, and the eventual third-act reparations that make romantic comedies appealing.
It also helps that both Padgett and Cameron — in spite of their initially off-putting exteriors — end up being interesting, lovable characters. Padgett in particular is unrelentingly kind, constantly giving people the benefit of the doubt, and extending good grace in a way that’s rare for a character posited as a popular queen bee. Cameron, meanwhile, has been engineered to be the perfect teenage heartthrob: bristly at first, but with a soft spot for his little sister and also horses. His love of horses ends up leading to some scenes right out of a hopeless romantic teenager’s diary entry, and because it was a plot element from the beginning, it pulls the story together beautifully.
The Netflix remake improves on one key component of the original movie: The biggest problem with She’s All That is that Laney and Zack don’t have enough one-on-one interactions to spark something beyond a physical attraction. But in He’s All That, Padgett and Cameron actually spend time together, creating a slow but steady rapport, and bonding outside of large group settings. The yearning glances, flustered giggles, and genuine connection build up to heart-fluttering anticipation, so that by the time Padgett and Cameron share their first nervous kiss, their chemistry explodes. Padgett’s constant sunshiney personality slowly worms past Cameron’s grumpy exterior, while he inspires her to be more true to herself. Rae’s acting can be a little stiff, but Buchanan is charming enough to coax her along.
Romantic comedies often follow the same formulas, and certainly a remake of a classic high-school romantic comedy — itself a modern bent on Pygmalion — is going to emulate the same beats. But that isn’t a bad thing. When done right, familiar plot beats are satisfying — especially when they’re given little tweaks to account for new characters and settings. Besides, the appeal of a romantic comedy isn’t unanticipated plot twists or big surprises: It comes from the relationship between the leads, which generates its own type of anticipation. He’s All That creates a fulfilling romance where both parties grow and learn from each other. At the end of most romantic comedies, the couple gets together with a big, final kiss — and in He’s All That, that moment still comes with jitters and anticipation, even if it was always a given.
He’s All That is out on Netflix on Aug. 27.