The 90s on Netflix: She’s All That (1999)
Mark Harrison | On 25, Nov 2022
Director: Robert Iscove
Cast: Freddie Prinze Jr., Rachael Leigh Cook, Matthew Lillard, Paul Walker, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Kieran Culkin
Do you remember the 1990s? Mark does. Every month, he flashes back to the golden decade of our childhood. From family-friendly films to blockbusters we shouldn’t have been watching, get ready for a monthly dose of nostalgia, as we put down our VHS tapes and find out whether the 90s on Netflix are still Live & Kicking.
One of the big teen movie trends of the 1990s was adapting classic literature for a contemporary high-school context. We’ve covered Clueless before and it was a few years later, in 1999, that we got a few in quick succession – 10 Things I Hate About You, (The Taming Of The Shrew) Cruel Intentions, (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) and today’s film, She’s All That (Pygmalion).
Back at school after spring break, prom-king-in-waiting Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr) gets dumped by his girlfriend Taylor, (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) who’s smitted with moronic reality TV star Brock Hudson (Matthew Lillard) instead. His ego wounded, Zack brags to his mate Dean (Paul Walker) and makes a bet that he can turn any girl in school into his prom queen in six weeks – enter cynical art student Laney Boggs, (Rachael Leigh Cook) who’s resistant to his transparent “dork outreach” program.
Beyond the debt to Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, this is a 1990s movie with one foot in the decade before and another inching into the next one. In terms of the 1980s, John Hughes movies were a major influence on director Robert Iscove, who wanted to make a movie in that Shermer-verse style that resonated with a younger generation.
As for the 2000s, the run-up to graduation lends to a movie that came out in January and seems to be priming its largely unknown class of ’99 for stardom from the very next year. Usher, Gabrielle Union, and Lil’ Kim all play supporting roles. It’s got Anna Paquin a year before X-Men. It’s got Paul Walker right before The Fast And The Furious. Heck, with Prinze, Lillard, and a cameo by Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar, it’s got most of Mystery Inc from those family-favourite live-action Scooby Doo movies.
We don’t want to drop this as “what a twist”, so we’ll address this at the same time – the script (credited to R. Lee Fleming Jr.) was reportedly punched up by none other than M. Night Shyamalan, who had writing credits on Stuart Little and The Sixth Sense later the same year. It was the latter of those that launched his career and he’s not really been back to romcom territory since.
In other words, it’s the sort of movie that displays Miramax Films at the peak of its power but with all we know about producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein now, this remains relatively untouched by the ick.
Its gender politics are as screwy as most teen romances made before a certain time, but it’s certainly successful as an update of the Hughes model with an absolute gift of an ensemble cast. Mostly in their 20s, playing high-schoolers, mind you, this is still Hollywood.
Catching Cook a year or two before Josie And The Pussycats is bigger to this writer than X-Men or Fast & Furious, but in any case, she’s radiant in all of the movies she’s in around this time and this is no exception – Iscove explicitly compared the cliché of the character taking her glasses off and suddenly becoming gorgeous to Clark Kent and Superman, and Cook does bear that out well without having to completely change characters to the same degree.
Elsewhere, Prinze is the sort of harmless-enough lead who can get away with the despicable central bet as long as he learns his lesson, Walker plays against type as a total asshole, and Lillard is hilarious as a caricatured MTV star who barely exists in the Real World after all. There are nice supporting turns by Kevin Pollak and Kieran Culkin as Laney’s dad and kid brother too.
Noted for claiming “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer as its own forever more, the movie definitely benefited from Miramax’s mini-major model, grossing $103 million off a budget barely north of $10m. Netflix later produced a gender-flipped 2021 remake, He’s All That, with starring roles for Addison Rae and Cobra Kai’s Tanner Buchanan and supporting roles for Cook and Lillard.
Like a true ugly duckling, She’s All That selects a tired teen movie template and makes it over with a charming cast, zingy quotes, and a witty modern streak that’s sweet but not sentimental. Accordingly, it still took its knocks in the 2001 spoof comedy Not Another Teen Movie, but you can see why a generation of teens took this one to their hearts.
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“Julie-san, fighting not good. But if must fight… win.”