Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “She’s All That”

Dear Frank,

I don’t think my prom had a prom queen. Or, if it did, no one gave a shit. Personally, I went stag — well, technically, I went with another girl, because they didn’t sell tickets to prom, they sold two-person “bids” or something, and both me and my friend Evelyn didn’t have dates, but did want to go, so we split a bid and shared a San Antonio limousine service with a big group of friends and it was a pretty fun time.

[And by the way, points to my NorCal high school for never even raising an eyebrow over the fact that me and Evelyn split a bid, several years before that sort of thing mighta been a major news story. Though, to be fair, we never pressed the point by slow-dancing (and/or being in a committed relationship).]

So I enjoyed my prom, to a certain extent, but the lead-up to it didn’t consume my existence or that of my peers. (By “peers,” I mean the honors students, school paper editors and drama nerds who made up my core group of friends in high school — perhaps there were girls/boys who were deeply committed on that score, but for reasons that should be very obvious, they were not a part of my social circle.)

What this means is that the film She’s All That, the plot of which is entirely focused on which lucky 18+-to-play-younger lady will win the oh-so-important crown, is as alien to me as, well, aliens.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy rewatching She’s All That recently, though. As previously established, I’ve always been pro-alien-related things. (Which is probably part of why I went to prom stag, but let’s not get bogged down in details.)

I feel I can sum up the plot of She’s All That relatively quickly, especially as its basic structure does not deviate much from formula. Popular High School Senior gets dumped by girlfriend after she hooks up with another guy during Spring Break. Reeling from break-up, PHSS makes bet with Very Competitive Best Friend that break-up is irrelevant; any girl he takes to prom will be able to win prom queen, with his help.

VCBF picks the school’s resident Glasses-Wearing Art Freak as PHSS’s designated target; PHSS goes about winning over GWAF, eventually getting her out of her glasses and into a nice dress.

They also teach each other about feelings and art and stuff. Which is very nice.

But while PHSS starts developing for-real feelings for GWAF, and she him, unfortunately PHSS’s ex-GF decides she wants to get back together with PHSS, VCBF reveals to GWAF that her makeover and PHSS’s romantic overtures were rooted in a bet, and GWAF says “Am I a bet? Am I a fucking BET?” in a way that’s so memorable that I felt the need to quote it verbatim.

It ends up that PHSS goes to prom with his ex, a very hurt GWAF goes with VCBF but deafens him with an airhorn when he tries to make Prom Night into Rape Night, and while PHSS and his ex are crowned King and Queen, PHSS ditches that scene to go finally confess his true feelings for GWAF and they kiss and THE END.

The thing is, the charm of She’s All That lies not in its structure, but its details. In the pantheon of teen romantic comedies, it won’t be remembered as long as films like Sixteen Candles or Clueless. But that doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

For one thing, Frank, aside from stars Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachel Leigh Cook, here are some of the actors who are in She’s All That:

  • Matthew Lillard
  • Paul Walker
  • Jodi Lyn O’Keefe
  • Kevin Pollak
  • Anna Paquin
  • Kieran Culkin
  • Gabrielle Union
  • Dulé Hill
  • Clea DuVall
  • Tim Matheson
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar (uncredited cameo).

As far as 1999 teen romantic comedies with awesome casts go, the only real competition She’s All That has is 10 Things I Hate About You. The advantage might go to 10 Things: Alison Janney and Kevin Pollak probably cancel each other out, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt > Paul Walker, and the Oscar winner of the 10 Things cast is romantic lead Heath Ledger, and not the younger sister of the protagonist who’s enlisted for make-over-ing.

But still, She’s All That? Well-casted. Well-casted. Especially Matthew Lillard as the ex-Real World contestant PHSS’s Ex dumps PHSS for — he’s a true delight.

Oh, wait, Frank, I forgot about Usher! Mostly because Usher is less an actor in this film and more an enabler of elaborately-choreographed dance scenes. Like I said — whatever planet this movie takes place on, my own high school was on a different planet.

And all these good actors are (for the most part) depicting well-defined characters; I especially like Kieran Culken (the thinking lady’s Culken) as the sort of odd younger brother older sisters are programmed to adore and your lesser brand of high school jock are programmed to physically abuse.

Which is why (as an older sister) I enjoy the scene where Freddie Prinze, Jr. makes the pair of jerks tormenting his paramour’s younger brother eat “pube pizza.” I mean, it’s one of the grossest things I have ever seen in my entire life, but also one of the most smile-inducing.

And Freddie Prinze Jr.’s character is remarkably well-developed, especially given the limited real estate (95 minutes) the film has to give him depth: His character, an over-stressed over-achiever who has to decide between what his father wants and what he wants, somehow really pops — especially when, in an early effort to convince the GWAF that he’s seriously interested in her, he ends up doing hacky-sack performance art:

The twists on pre-established teen rom-com stereotypes are wonderful: I especially enjoy the bit where GWAF assumes that the reason PHSS is trying to hang with her is because she’s smart, which she says she isn’t — he counters with the fact that he’s ranked #4 in his class and is not after her for homework help. I like it for the following reasons:

1) Jocks can be smart.
2) “Nerdy” girls aren’t required to be so.

Because that’s the thing! In high school, I was in some honors classes, but I wasn’t a perfect student with perfect grades, because being perfect would have required me to stop hanging out with the “CULTural Film Club” or care less about The X-Files, and that wasn’t gonna happen.

Instead, I was, you know, unique — the way everyone is, really, though it can take us until high school or later to figure out that the roles we cast ourselves in aren’t accurate; that the human experience goes so beyond labels.

It’s one of my favorite things about people: The way you can start a conversation with someone at a party, and they say “oh, nothing’s new with me.” Five minutes later, they’re telling you about how they’re going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro next summer, and your jaw is dropping because COME ON.

She’s All That isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s a movie conscious of the fact that everyone is full of secrets and adventure, and that characters created with this in mind will feel more real than a hundred Long Duk Dongs.

Really, the only thing that’s holding She’s All That back is the obsession with prom. But even that, I can’t really begrudge. For, I must confess that “I’m off like a prom dress” is one of my favorite stupid jokes.

It’s not classy. It’s not feminist. But I love it. Because I’m not perfect. And more importantly, I’m human.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on November 20, 2012, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I know I rented that movie a million years ago but I really don’t remember it. I’m baffled by the hackysack scene above. Is it real? Some strange dream sequence? What’s with the lighting? WHY IS HER FACE PAINTED WHITE?

  2. Wow…I’ve seen this movie so many times but never explored it to this depth haha Props for mentioning the SMG uncredited cameo. Word, holler, Torrence High School (I know the actual name for the school because Buffy filmed there? NERD ALERT!) Teen movies are great, man. They literally are the best slash worst.

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