Breakups are hard. Breaking up in the haze of infidelity, worse. The worst? 217,463 people watching you being cheated on, live on Instagram, eye-liner running, nose leaking. Worse than that? You become the pariah, the butt of memes, and the guy goes on to stud-jock his way to more fame; you lose followers, he gains some. If this were a more socially relevant movie, the messaging would have begged to be expressed, but alas.
Padgette (Addison Rae), a wellness influencer in high school, is miserable after the humiliation of being cheated on, being recorded being cheated on, and being ousted from her Instagram pedestal — she loses a brand endorsement that was supposed to get her through college. Kourtney Kardashian, in the most uncharismatic cameo there ever was or will be, deadpans her withdrawal of the sponsorship. Padgette is an interesting character conceit — all kindness, but pretending to be rich so she clicks with her high school friends, all trust fund kids. But virtue looks dull on screen if you don’t have the confident verve to carry it. Rae lacks this and her character begins its slow descent into the quicksand of forgetfulness.
Nothing feels at stake with these characters, as if they are embracing the 1.5x, airy, ambient storytelling (playing in the background while you do your dishes, flex yoga, or write a review) that Netflix is thrusting upon us week after week.
Padgette decides to resurrect her image by doing a makeover — playing Pygmalion to the misanthrope of the school. In Pygmalion, it was the girl who received the makeover, but that play was so much more than that. A makeover isn’t just a makeover, something this film takes for granted. Cameron (Tanner Buchanan) has a beanie perched over his long tresses, and takes photographs but doesn’t allow anyone to see them. He thinks of himself as the “fountain of truth in a world of bullshit”. Yes, he said that very sentence without a trace of irony, comfortable in his smug superiority that you almost don’t even feel bad when he is dumped into a bin by the high school bully. If she has a compulsive need to overshare with her followers, he is the insufferable opposite. Their love is but a tick-box rom-com away, and at best He’s All That attempts only that.
It takes the most emotionally compelling part of the Pygmalion-complex, shreds it to the thinnest possible emotional threads, and weaves something so loose and leathery — you have seen all of this before, the opposite characters, the brash but loving sister, the queer best friend who isn’t a sexual threat, and even a prom style dance off ala ‘Disco Deewane’. Mark Waters, the man behind the cult classic Mean Girls brings no zing, so zazz, no edge to the story. There is not a dialogue from this movie that I would want to be quoted back to me, nor a character distinctive or worthy enough to cosplay. In fact, these characters themselves feel like watered down cosplays of Mean Girls’ Cady, Regina, and Gretchen.
Structurally too, the film doesn’t hold. The villain gets introduced more than half-way through the film in a tone that is neither threatening nor convincing. Nothing feels at stake with these characters, as if they are embracing the 1.5x, airy, ambient storytelling (playing in the background while you do your dishes, flex yoga, or write a review) that Netflix is thrusting upon us week after week. There is just no edge, no sparkle, and for a rom-com, no chemistry.