She’s All That (1999)

She’s All That (1999)
  • Time: 95 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Romance
  • Director: Robert Iscove
  • Cast: Freddie Prinze Jr., Rachael Leigh Cook, Matthew Lillard, Paul Walker


High school favourite Zach Siler is dumped by his prom queen shoe-in girlfriend for some slimey TV soap star. On the rebound he takes a bet from his best friend that he can take up with mousey bespectacled Laney Boggs and get her voted prom queen instead. Great friend, impossible task. Though once Laney scraps her glasses, does her hair, and gets into decent rags, Zach finds himself taking rather a lot of notice of her.

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  • Watching the teen romantic comedy She’s All That recalls the B-programmers Hollywood used to churn out more than half a century ago. Not bad, but could be better. Studios often used the programmers to launch many of its ingenues and heartthrobs. MGM launched Ava Gardner, Donna Reed, Kathryn Grayson, and Lana Turner in various installments of its Andy Hardy film series; RKO showcased Lucille Ball and Ann Sothern in fluffy routiners starring characters named Annabel and Maisie, respectively.

    Let’s go beyond that to a practice that has become extinct with the surge of independently contracted actors in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Before those decades, each studio would have its own stable of stars, each star contracted to do any picture the studio assigned, with the length of the contract running an average of six to seven years. The advantage to the studio system was security and nurturing — the studio would launch you, guide your career, mold your image, and provide you with a steady paycheck so long as you were box-office gold. The disadvantages included having to do movies you didn’t necessarily want to do and often being unable to act in better movies for rival studios. If your studio consented to loan you out, then they would stand to make a profit off your services while your paycheck remained the same.

    I’ve gone off on this tangent because Miramax, the studio distributing She’s All That, has not only become a haven for independent and foreign filmmaking but it has also somewhat revived the studio system. Gwyneth Paltrow, having appeared in five Miramax films and who will soon appear in the studio’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, was referred to as the studio’s house actress in a recent magazine article; Miramax’s studio chief Harvey Weinstein himself called her “our lady” at the recent Golden Globe awards where Miramax’s Shakespeare in Love nabbed prizes for Best Film (Musical or Comedy) and Best Actress (Musical or Comedy) for Paltrow. Weinstein also conveyed in a recent Entertainment Weekly cover story on Paltrow that he’s always on the lookout for a script to spotlight Paltrow’s talent. Studio executives in Hollywood’s heyday made it their priority to do that. Without husband Irving G. Thalberg shepherding the development of projects such as The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Shining Through and Marie Antoinette for her, Norma Shearer would never have scored her greatest acting triumphs.

    Many of the young stars in She’s All That are Miramax members. Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Rachael Leigh Cook have both appeared in The House of Yes; Cook will also costar in the upcoming Strike. Anna Paquin played the young title character in Jane Eyre, Kieran Culkin and Elden Henson both starred in last year’s The Mighty, Matthew Lillard in Scream, Usher Raymond and Clea DuVall in The Faculty. All of these performers have promising futures and whether Weinstein takes any of them under his wing as he has done with Paltrow remains to be seen.

    She’s All That concerns Laney Boggs (Cook) who, when not taking care of her pool-cleaning father (Kevin Pollak) and younger brother (Culkin), paints angry art that protests the violence and injustice that occurs in the world. She’s a serious sort, this Laney Boggs — definitely not part of the in crowd that Zack Siler (Prinze, Jr.) is so beloved by. He and spoiled rich girl Taylor Vaughan (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe) have been Harrison High’s golden couple. There’s no question that they will be crowned King and Queen of the Senior Prom. . .not even when Taylor unceremoniously dumps him after they return from Spring Break. It seems she met a certain Brock Hudson (Lillard), whose involvement in MTV’s The Real World has made him a pseudo-celebrity and a legend in his own mind.

    Exasperated by his cuckolding, Zack declares, “Taylor Vaughan is totally replaceable.” Any girl can be prom queen, he tells buddy Dean Sampson (Paul Walker). “All it takes is the right look and the right boyfriend.” So he and Dean enter into a bet: Dean will choose the girl and Zack will have six weeks to transform her into the prom queen. Agreed. Who’s the girl? The one and only Laney Boggs. Though Zack initially balks at the prospect of dealing with the armored Laney, he finds himself falling for her. And Laney, understandably confused by his attempts to ingratiate himself, begins to believe that love could be possible. Will Cinderella and her Prince Charming live happily ever after? Will Professor Henry Higgins and his Eliza Doolittle come to their senses? Will the pretty woman get her millionaire?

    She’s All That has neither the magic of the fairy tale nor the cerebral wit that George Bernard Shaw displayed in Pygmalion, which was later musicalized as My Fair Lady. It certainly doesn’t brim with the megawatt charm Julia Roberts injected into Pretty Woman. But She’s All That has its moments, especially in its dead-on spoof of the self-centered trivialities and lowbrow hijinks that pepper the The Real World. Cook strikes me as too slight; there’s no urge to root for her though Prinze, Jr.’s appeal increases with every film, notwithstanding I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. He may provide some truly memorable moments in the millennium.

    The scenestealers of the film are Jodi Lynn O’Keefe and Matthew Lillard. O’Keefe’s full-throttle vixen is the comedic counterpart to Denise Richards’ Wild Things trot. She pouts and preens, never for one moment thinking that the whole world may not revolve around her. Her Taylor meets her match in Lillard’s Brock. Whether marveling at his onscreen sensitivity or launching into an embarrassingly white boy dance set to Rick James’ “Give It To Me Baby,” Lillard is hysterical. Give the boy a hand.

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