“He’s All That” is a meta-exploration of what it means to be and stay famous. Though the film is almost an exact replica of the ’90s classic “She’s All That,” it fails to romanticize the teen experience in the same way.
The modern update of the film stars TikTok personality Addison Rae (“Spy Cat”) as Padgett Sawyer, this century’s Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr., “Scooby-Doo”). She’s a Southern California-based teen influencer whose social status is in peril when she loses her cool on Instagram Live after walking in on her cheating boyfriend. She loses her sponsorship, watches her follower count plummet and decides that the only logical solution is to bet that she can make a certified “dork” named Cameron Kweller (Tanner Buchanan, “Chance”), the next prom king.
It’s a classic story with a classic solution and, inevitably, Padgett and Cameron develop feelings for each other. The antics that bring Padgett and her pet project together are sweet — they scoop poop together, reveal inane secrets (like how Padgett’s mom is a nurse or that Cameron likes to take pictures) and do all the things teens do when falling in love in an hour and a half on our computer screens. While “He’s All That” is not a story for the ages, Rae is a surprisingly good actress, offering a level of sincerity and emotion that we don’t often see in the TikTok videos the star is famous for.
Predictably, this film is interesting only to the extent that it can be compared to the original. For instance, the fact that a social media landscape even exists in “He’s All That” drastically changes the dynamics of the plot. The stakes are arguably higher for Padgett than they were for Zack. While Zack’s reputation as cool guy du jour in the original is under the watchful eye of maybe three thousand people, four if we’re being generous, Padgett’s fall from glory is seen by between eight hundred thousand and nine hundred thousand people and a critical corporate representative. “The bet,” for Zack, is a way to get his mind off the blonde who broke his heart. For Padgett, it’s the difference between securing her college tuition or drowning in student debt.
No matter how funny it is that they made Cameron a horse-boy instead of a falafel-slinger, Netflix can’t just let a movie be a movie. The streaming company’s favorite thing to do is make sure its characters have a moral awakening — “He’s All That” is no different. The issue here, however, is that there is simply no way to make a movie starring influencers without inadvertently insulting the very thing that got them the part in the first place. Early in their friendship, Cameron criticizes Padgett’s need to document everything in her life, allowing Netflix to eventually drive home the tired message that what we see on social media is not the full picture.
While this lesson is positive enough, it’s marred by the fact that Addison Rae is an influencer herself and on a much larger scale than her character. She has no credits to her name beyond “A-list TikToker” and “Kourtney Kardashian’s friend.” She boasts 83.5 million followers on TikTok and close to 40 million on Instagram. What’s more, Rae was at the center of a social media cheating scandal with YouTuber Bryce Hall that had people taking sides and making catchy hashtags in the same way they did for Padgett after her messy public breakup.
But though these similarities make it hard to take Netflix’s high-minded scheming seriously, Addison Rae is a different story. As one of her first forays into a more “traditional” Hollywood career, “He’s All That” establishes the TikToker as a viable option for other films in the future, bringing with her a stable following for which studio executives will probably salivate. So, while I doubt many of us have plans to watch this film as religiously as the original, I also won’t be surprised if Addison Rae becomes a Netflix cast staple.
Daily Arts Writer Emma Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.