She's All That, But He's Even More



Miramax Films

Directed by Robert Iscove

Starring Freedie Prinze, Jr., Rachael Leigh Cook, Matthew Lillard

"Yet another one" is about the best description there is for it. Yet another man-remakes-woman Eliza Dolittle story. Yet Another dork-becomes-diva Clueless yarn. Yet another token effort to lightly evaluate the competitive arenas of cutthroat youth culture, a la Varsity Blues. Yet another excuse for beautiful Clearasil poster children to cavort in trendy togs and perform breathtaking cell phone stunts. It screams designer soundtrack and even more designer reality, every honest fiber of your being wants to oppose it. In your snider moments, you deprecate that you could write this screenplay your-self. Let's be honest about it: Robert Iscove's debut film feature breaks no new ground.


So why the staggering $16.1 million in its opening weekend alone (making it the highest-grossing Miramax debut ever)? Why the desperate need to sneak into the cinema on a stolen afternoon--only to run into everyone else in your blocking group? Why the masochistic vertigo of surrendering all your intellectual and critical powers to your baser appetite for good-looking things? Why the bashful admission that, yes, I love it, and I'm waiting for the video? She's All That May not challenge. But it undeniably satisfies.

Don't talk to me about ideas or cinematic flair. The basic, and simplest, pleasure of art will always be that of the recognition. I recognize that this movie is based on the Cinderella prototype. Set in a trendy and capricious L.A. high-school, She's All That is a fairy tale about the undoing of the golden age of senior class president, honor student and captain to the soccer team, Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze, Jr.). His status is threatened when his prom queen shoo-in girlfriend (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) returns from spring break with a tattoo and a new boyfriend, in the form of a Brock Hudson, played by Matthew Lillard to stunning heights of distaste. Best friend and rival Dean (Paul Walker) sees this as his opportunity to be the new alpha male and ribs Zack into accepting a bet that he can transform any girl into the prom queen. Ensue about two hours of MTV-esque storytelling: clippy, slick, brisk, but jumpy. Jumpcuts, stylish melanges, smartass parodies of The Real World and even a choreographed dance sequence to Rockafeller Skank--all of this sealed with a kiss.

At the level of characterization too, the untaxing joy of recognition is present. The heroes and villains are tricky to discern because everyone is beautiful, but I would hazard that the former are the sensitive ones while the latter are the bitches. I win points for preceding that, take away her glasses and overalls and that ridiculous wig weighing her down her entire comportment, Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook), the single-minded and paint smattered and object of gamble will bloom into "all that."

The real twist in the fairy tale is that the emphasis has been snatched from the damsel and invested in Prince Charming instead. Doubtless, as one can tell from the promotional blitz, the producers must have meant to market Cook aggressively at one point. However, once the camera alighted on Prime, seen previously in both installments of that I Know...Summer series, they simply had to surrender the film to him. He is a magnet in front of the camera. In comparison, Laney Boggs is a mere prop to his masculine narrative. In both screen time and plot weight, Prinze's character receives much more emphasis than any other. The scrawny effort to inflate his persona, with the injection of an overbearing father and the angst of being too overachieving, is pitiful--but Prinze carries it off with a demeanor that cries, "Who needs a viable screenplay with a face like this?"

The shift in the core of the fantasy (it's very subtle, try and follow me) is not that any downtrodden wallflower can blossom into a prom queen, but that there exists in this world a three-dimensional male creature who is beautiful, intelligent and sensitive. And I'd pay money to see that. Where else can you find one of those but in the region of unabashed fantasy?

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