He’s All That, the gender-flipped rom-com starring the TikTok mega-influencer Addison Rae, takes place in the bleakest high school on earth. It is called, marvelously, “Cali High,” and its student body is entirely composed of either extremely beautiful, extremely popular social-media stars — who relentlessly document their trite, Habsburgian relational drama for millions of leering sickos online — or the dogged stans of those same stars, who seem completely overwhelmed by the fact that they share history class with all these genuinely famous people. This is one of the first major teen films to be made entirely in the shadow of the TikTok revolution, and as such, it’s agonizingly aware of all the truisms we’ve told ourselves about what Gen Z means. Hollywood believes that in order to speak to young people in 2021, one must write a screenplay that is exclusively animated by follower counts, clout scores, and virality metrics. There is no humiliation greater than being eclipsed by a rival content creator; for 90 minutes, we are trapped in a hellish alternate dimension where a local senior-prom election can trend nationally.
If you’ve seen the 1999 classic She’s All That, you’ll be familiar with the broad strokes of the Netflix remake. The good-hearted but myopic TikTokker Padgett Sawyer (played by Addison Rae) is dumped by fellow high-schooler influencer Jordan Van Draanen, in an embarrassing private moment that is unfortunately beamed out live across the globe. Padgett is brought to her lowest point; hemorrhaging followers, losing sponsorships, and getting iced out by a beauty-brand manager who is performed with a knowing fluency by Kourtney Kardashian. (“You’ve gone viral, in a bad way.”) So now, single and dateless, Padgett accepts a challenge to transform the school’s resident ugly duckling into an enviable hunk. That ugly duckling is Cameron Kweller, who is, of course, played by the objectively hot and ripped Tanner Buchanan, which is tradition, considering his She’s All That counterpart is played by Rachael Leigh Cook. The two eventually fall in love and must overcome the dark secret that first sparked their romance.
This story absolutely could’ve worked as a straight-up remake without any of these queasy, meta-versal tendrils. But given the presence of Addison Rae, and the desperate pressure production companies are feeling to get young people watching movies again, He’s All That seems specifically designed for the most terminally online teenagers imaginable. There are multiple scenes where characters just stare at their phones. Their followers tab is usually superimposed in the frame, and the number either waxes or wanes depending on the action in the plot. In the opening sequence, Padgett rolls out of bed and immediately streams out a makeup tutorial. Hearts, kissy faces, and TikTok logos float up across the camera, as Netflix blazes through a breathless stretch of rapid-fire product-placement deals. The only person who isn’t on the internet is Cameron, which is evidenced by the fact that he is humiliated for his flip phone, and that he hilariously shows up to a beach party in jeans and a GG Allin shirt.
Honestly, there are moments of He’s All That that could be interpreted as a grim cautionary tale — think Spring Breakers for zoomers — especially as Padgett is forced to reconcile the monomania of her worldview. But the film never manages to fully examine what happens to a society when “having a lot of followers” is everyone’s ultimate aspiration. Instead, we end on a scene of Padgett and Cameron riding off into the horizon, as the cast does iPhone-resolution TikTok dances through the credits.
So yes, He’s All That is a difficult film to recommend, but given its single-minded obsession with the internet, you will not be surprised to learn that anyone can get the full experience of its run time through bite-size chunks on YouTube. The movie has only been out for six days, but already Netflix has uploaded fancam-style compilations called, like, “Padgett and Cameron’s Best Moments,” which was typically the labor bequeathed to the nation’s 15-year-olds. Do you want to evaluate the chemistry of the two leads in six minutes? You’re in luck.
Netflix also has a knack for giving away the best part of its movies well ahead of time. One of the few truly wholesome moments of He’s All That occurs at that aforementioned beach party where Cameron — again, dressed in a GG Allin shirt — sheepishly joins Padgett onstage to karaoke Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” so they can spurn Padgett’s doofus ex together. That scene is preserved in its native form by the “Netflix Canada” YouTube page, which I’m just now realizing is probably unofficial. Oops!
But if you have a distaste for the promotional feed — if you prefer your fan edits to possess some authentic, hormonal juice — you’ll be pleased to know that Addison stans are still piecing together He’s All That romance montages on their own terms. It’s heritage, man. You and I might’ve been watching Seth and Summer supercuts set to Phantom Planet in 2005, and today the kids are watching Padgett and Cameron supercuts set to Olivia Rodrigo. Nothing ever changes.
Of course, the real reason He’s All That was made is so that the YouTube React Guy class had some grist to chew on through the dog days of summer. Addison Rae has elevated herself into rarefied air. Much like Trisha Paytas, or PewDiePie, or any other ultrafamous celebrity who earned the bulk of their fame on the internet, everything she does will get breathlessly vlogged about by dudes in headsets in front of laptops. Her formal debut as an actress was red meat. Hundreds of YouTubers are breaking down the film scene by scene, risking a vengeful DMCA by the Netflix power trust. Personally, I recommend Lucas Cruikshank’s recap. Cruikshank created the infamous Fred character — the screaming grade-schooler who dominated YouTube in the late 2000s — and eventually got his own film deal. If anyone knows what it’s like to jump from ring lights to stage lights, it’s him. It’s a pretty good distillation of He’s All That in about 20 minutes, albeit with a YouTuber bursting in every couple of seconds to get their jokes off.
If you want the same experience but with a different flavor, Netflix put out a clip featuring the drag queens Trixie Mattel and Katya, who graciously sit and gossip through a He’s All That highlight reel. Honestly, I think watching the movie with these two would be the ideal way to take it in.
Frankly, I think anyone curious about He’s All That is better off watching it piecemeal through a handful of different YouTube videos. This is a movie deeply steeped in social media, from its stunt casting down to its dramatic priorities. Why would you ever watch it through the prism of tired, archaic old media? I’m sure Netflix, and every other player in the movie industry, is asking itself the same question.