Before anyone labels “He’s All That” as a rote remake, consider this: It’s a reimagining that — unlike “She’s All That” or the source material that inspired it, George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” — is rooted primarily in the female perspective. It’s a shame though that director Mark Waters and returning screenwriter R. Lee Fleming Jr. don’t put a savvier spin on the conventional, frequently-lampooned tropes and clichés. And while it’s possible to make the formulaic and familiar resound fantastically, that concept has evaded these filmmakers here. Neither bland regurgitation nor innovative retelling, the remake falls somewhere in between, suffering greatly by not establishing a more distinctive identity.
Social media influencer Padgett (TikTok superstar Addison Rae) lives the perfect life — at least, that’s what she wants everyone to believe. She has a 4.0 GPA and dates burgeoning music superstar Jordan (Peyton Meyer), and her besties Alden (Madison Pettis) and Quinn (Myra Molloy) are amongst the wealthy elite. Her mega-popular self-improvement vlog, Padgett Head to Toe, gives viewers tips and tricks for how to be spectacular. And the shrewd high school senior always knows the right prescription to cover up noticeable flaws. Yet she herself is hiding the real Padgett, living on shaky financial ground in a cramped rental home with her self-sacrificing single mom Anna (Rachael Leigh Cook).
Padgett’s beautiful façade begins to crumble once she has a hysterical meltdown after catching her egomaniac boyfriend cheating during a surprise, live-streamed visit. With her follower count hemorrhaging, a viral meme about her circulating and her corporate sponsor Jessica (Kourtney Kardashian) threatening abandonment, she’s desperate to regain her social and financial status. She comes up with a plan to take the class dud and turn him into the class stud, translating their newfound popularity into Prom King and Queen titles. Alden, who’s secretly jealous of Padgett, takes that bet. The hapless mark? Class misanthrope Cameron (Tanner Buchanan), whose salty disposition and out-of-date grunge attire have made him a pariah. As the pair bond, Padgett realizes that the superficial changes being made are opening her up to deeper feelings.
Gender-flipping the narrative works to a limited effect. Padgett has agency and her motivation for change isn’t exclusively tied to the male arc. It’s an equal split when it comes to highlighting how Padgett and Cameron enhance each other’s lives. She brings him out of his shell and he encourages her to embrace life’s imperfections — a journey she began before she met him, but finishes on her own. It’s also heartening to see an LGBTQ-inclusive, positive story thread that gives their respective best friends Quinn and Nisha (Annie Jacob) a modicum of interiority, marking a notable advance over archaic archetypes of the genre.
Unfortunately, that’s where the ingenuity ends, despite ample opportunities to expand the richness of the story given the perspective swap. The female gaze is hand-waved at a few times. Cameron’s makeover debut is rushed through as a bafflingly brief slo-mo walk, scored to a song that’s catchy, but not nearly on par with Sixpence None the Richer’s career-defining hit “Kiss Me.” The film makes us wait for that inevitable, nostalgia-fueled needle drop, which admittedly satisfies in the remake’s big Movie Moment. While it does away with some of the macho misogyny of its predecessor, it retains other negative facets, including pitting two women against each other. Worse, it fails to engage further with salient points raised about societal sexism and class structure.
That said, the two leads succeed in spite of their spotty material. The duo have a breezy, sweet chemistry together. Buchanan is a dynamic leading man, as adept at delivering pointed sarcasm as he is at navigating his character’s vulnerabilities and tenderness. Rae has a natural ease and charm, at her best when she’s either leaning into the bubbly, comedic, satirical overtones, or performing in a heavily choreographed dance-off (a fun homage to the original). However, she’s a little rough around the edges and not quite a confident presence when tasked to mine emotional poignancy, especially evident in the third act. Matthew Lillard, once again, steals the show in a supporting performance, this time as the school’s delightfully acerbic principal, a cut-up who can also cut a rug.
Waters demonstrates slight visual dexterity with his modernization. Padgett’s panic-and-pleasure endorphin rush feels palpable whenever a flurry of text bubbles pop on screen with her fickle followers’ feedback on her social channels. Since smart phones are another tool capturing these teens’ lives, Waters incorporates them into the framework, mimicking Padgett’s live streams and applying the interface to an obligatory clothing montage in a triple split-screen. He and cinematographer John Guleserian collaborate to bring out the inherent comedic timing in a few of the scenes, as when she snaps from her saturated, pastel-pink bedroom broadcast to her cooler-hued reality.
“He’s All That” makes some smart alterations to the original despite mimeographing the structure, and strikes a benevolent balance between old and new with a light sprinkling of references. However, there are many more maddeningly underwhelming elements. Its sentiments about toxic technology are stale and shallow. The resonant commentary that high school is filled with a bunch of scared people assuredly rings true, but it’s housed in a frustrating and fairly forgettable package whose biting commentary is toothless. All considered, the stultifying story feels as passé as the slang expression “All That.”