As the credits rolled on the Netflix movie He’s All That, the much-buzzed-about gender-swapped remake of the 1999 high school rom-com She’s All That, I thought, “Good for them.”
Look, He’s All That could have been a genuinely good movie. They got the writer of the original She’s All That and the director of Mean Girls and Freaky Friday. The premise is cute: A TikTok influencer who pretends her life is fancier than it is and who relies on sponcon money to support her overworked nurse mom (1999 star Rachel Leigh Cook! Fun!) gets turned into a meme as she’s caught on camera freaking out on her cheating boyfriend, who is also a TikTok influencer. Which is realistic because go to any high school in Southern California and there will absolutely be at least half a dozen TikTok influencers.
Enter Cameron, who we meet wearing a Stooges T-shirt while screaming at the popular e-boys that they’re fascists, and who’s the subject of the film’s central bet: That Padgett can turn even someone like him into the prom king. The movie pretty much writes itself after that. At one point our romantic leads are horseback riding, and while Padgett takes a selfie, Cameron asks, “You can’t just enjoy this without sharing it with 500 strangers?” Later, Padgett impresses him by knowing who Ansel Adams and Diane Arbus are. You get it. It’s pretty, at least, in the way that babies find watching Cocomelon pretty, by which I mean there are a lot of bright colors and amusing settings, like a Great Gatsby party titled “Drop It Like F. Scott,” an underwater-themed prom, and the bougie, hilariously named “Cali High School.”
But ultimately, it’s a bad film because no one ever thought it was going to be a good one. Stunt casting aside (Kourtney Kardashian’s lethargic portrayal of a beauty brand manager is so difficult to watch that it’s almost art), for a movie that’s ostensibly attempting to critique shallow influencer culture, there are almost zero scenes that do not involve product placement, most of them from brands owned by Frito-Lay and PepsiCo (I counted 21 instances).
Its understanding of the mechanisms of social media is also laughable, but that’s more difficult to criticize because only one film has ever managed to show a realistic portrayal of the internet and it’s Eighth Grade. Padgett, for example, loses her major brand partnership over a single not-even-that-embarrassing moment (spoiler: there’s snot coming out of her nose?) and is relegated to digital pariah just because she went from a million followers to, like, 800,000.
The less forgivable part of this movie, though, is that at the very end, when Padgett wins prom queen and she has to give a speech, the takeaway is that “social media is fake.” We’re made to understand that influencers pretend their lives are perfect — throughout the film, Padgett acts like she lives in a fancy apartment building when she really lives in the duplex down the street — but in reality, they too sometimes get pimples and snot bubbles.
Which, sure, but anyone who follows an influencer knows that those little glimpses of “relatability” are a huge part of the reason why people like them in the first place. I don’t think the “Instagram vs. reality” framing is bad, necessarily, but the literal next scene is Padgett livestreaming her trip to Europe with Cameron. If you’re going to center the entire film around the shallowness of influencer culture, aren’t we supposed to feel like our main character has evolved at least a little bit? There were so many points where I wanted the movie to further skewer its characters — the best example being the mean e-boy crying over a girl, who has since left him “for some random loser who only has 318,000 followers,” until he pauses and chastises his friends for not recording him. “My followers love when I get vulnerable!” he yells.
Still, I suppose it’s difficult to properly criticize influencer culture when your starring role is played by one of the biggest influencers in the world and the movie was seemingly endorsed by the biggest social media site in the world (the TikTok logo and interface feature prominently). After all, He’s All That is a concept designed for the streaming wars: relatively cheap, easy-to-produce content that will entertain someone while they half-watch it. It’s Christmas rom-com economics; it’s Hallmark for Gen Z. It’s cheesy, it’s fun, it’s riddled with continuity errors. Maybe He’s All That is all that it needed to be.
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