We’ve all been there.
One day you’re the big man on campus, class president, soccer star, all around cool dude. The next your girlfriend, the hottest mean girl in school, is dumping you for a former Real World cast member whom she met at the MTV beach house. And then your aggressive buddy with frosted tips challenges you to turn an unpopular girl into the prom queen. And not just any unpopular girl—that girl who just tripped up the stairs and dropped all her art supplies!
Such is the ballad of Zach Siler and Laney Boggs, more commonly known as She’s All That. If you haven’t watched this teen movie in a decade or two, get your butt over to Netflix and stream the crap out of it. Not for the shocking plot twists, because we all know that people inevitably fall in love with the object of their mean-spirited bets. Watch it because it’s a sublimely ridiculous time capsule of what was cool in 1999.
Look at this photo. Really let it sink in. This doofus is the most popular guy in school. He wears plaid cargo shorts and oversized T-shirts and carries a hacky sack in his pocket. He dares to bear his naked torso without bulging pectoral muscles and washboard abs. Clearly 1999 was a different world. Of course, I would never really knock the Prinze. He’s married to Sarah Michelle Gellar, she of Buffy fame, which gives him infinite cool points. But I have to question a reality in which he is socially dominant over Paul Walker, even when Walker is handicapped by frosted tips.
Of course, the most ridiculous part of the She’s All That premise is that Rachael Leigh Cook would ever be considered unattractive. You can’t hide that face behind big glasses and paint-spattered smocks. And speaking of smocks, I’m no expert, but Laney’s art has to be the ’90s equivalent of Molly Ringwald’s atrociously altered prom dress. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far, folks. Her final art project about her mother looks like a creepy clown portrait. But the turban-wearing art teacher who carries around feathers or sprigs of greenery seems to like it!
What else do the cool kids do? They ask a friend why she’s wiggin’. They use laughable sexual euphemisms. At prom their dances consist of elaborate arm movements performed a healthy distance from their partners. Sometimes they break into choreographed dance routines! (Although if Usher was the radio-slash-prom-DJ of your high school, maybe he would teach everyone to dance.)
I would have been blind not to notice the similarities between She’s All That and my personal favorite teen movie, 10 Things I Hate About You. Both start with guys making a deal or bet that involves manipulating girls. Both feature a raucous house party around their midway point. And of course, the climactic moments take place on prom night. Apparently this was the life cycle of the ’90s teen.
10 Things has the advantage of several stars who went on to be successful adult actors (Heath Ledger! Joseph Gordon-Levitt!), but She’s All That deserves its place in the teen movie canon. I mean, the title comes from a freestyle rap about the prom queen race. Who among us can say that our high school classmates once rapped about us?