“He’s All That” ushers “Pygmalion” into the digital age

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Courtesy of Kevin Estrada/Netflix © 2021

(L to R) Addison Rae as Padgett Sawyer and Tanner Buchanan as Cameron Kweller in “He’s All That.”

by Ryan Hardison, Arts & Culture Editor

“He’s All That” is a 2021 teenage romantic comedy all about turning one outcast high schooler from a nottie into a hottie. Sounds familiar right? 

Based on the 1999 film “She’s All That” which was based on the musical “My Fair Lady” which itself was based on the George Bernard Shaw play “Pygmalion,” “He’s All That” brings the most unoriginal idea of the year to the table. 

In her first acting role, Addison Rae stars as Padgett Sawyer (a name that could only be conjured up by a holistic yoga mom from La Jolla or Gwyneth Paltrow), a part-time high schooler and full-time Instagram influencer with over a million Instagram followers. It’s a role that ideally should come naturally to her, and it does … sort of. Rae brings forth the same spunk she has in her TikToks but during the few scenes that carry serious emotional weight, she’s flat and unconvincing. 

However, over the course of the film, Rae becomes more comfortable with her character and is very good at expressing her insecurities. Her character struggles with the constant attention her public prominence demands and when her sunshine facade begins to crack, secrets start to slip out. It likely helps that this is a theme which can easily be applied to her career. 

In the film, Padgett’s life seems perfect, but after catching her boyfriend cheating when trying to surprise him, she has a chaotic meltdown live-streamed on her Instagram. The incident causes many of her fans to turn on her and the brand reputation she built up is tarnished as she becomes an embarrassing viral meme. To regain her popularity and the thousands of followers who deserted her Instagram, Padgett makes a bet with her friend Alden to turn the school’s biggest dork into a prom king and prove that she herself is not a loser. (I promise it makes more sense than it sounds). 

The chosen mark is Cameron Kweller, a pretentious loner who is isolated from his classmates because of his hatred for consumerism and focus on photography. Cameron is played with a lot of heart by “Cobra Kai” star Tanner Buchanan. Buchanan ensures the character is a multi-dimensional person that’s easy to empathize with instead of just a whiny jerk.  

Outside of the two stars, the main players in the cast are rounded out by some familiar faces like Madison Pettis as Alden, a deliciously delightful villain who’s mean just to be mean. The way a villain should be. No redemption arcs in this movie! Rae’s real-life friend Kourtney Kardashian, also appears as a brand influencer, Jessica Miles Torrres, who serves as Padgett’s industry mentor. Having a Kardashian pop up in this film wasn’t the most welcoming surprise but at least it wasn’t Kim.

There are definitely a few rough patches throughout the film, including sloppy editing, bad pacing and plain questionable decision making. But the thing that keeps everything above water is the connection between Padgett and Cameron. There are no unexpected twists and turns as a straightforward rom-com, but their relationship is meaningful and believable. It’s pretty much what any rom-com lover could hope for. 

In a roundtable interview The Daily Aztec got to attend, Rae said she and Buchanan didn’t know each other before filming but the way their friendship progressed in real-life made it easier to show compatibility onscreen. 

“It was basically like new people coming together so it was similar in a way to what our relationship was in real life and in the movie,” Rae said. “Because we started off knowing each other as friends and then our relationship progressed in the movie so it got to go somewhere instead of just starting off where we weren’t comfortable and didn’t really know each other.” 

This film was tended with some level of care and appreciation and aimed to keep a connection to “He’s All That.” Various homages including a peppy dance-off sequence at the prom and appearances from Rachel Leigh Cook as Padgett’s mom and Matthew Lillard as the school’s hilariously aloof principal. 

“She’s All That” isn’t perfect but let’s face it — this concept is going to be remade again sometime soon. Don’t expect an Academy Award campaign but the cringe-worthiness is at a tolerable level. Maybe it’ll be better next time. 

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