Let’s indulge in a quick fantasy. It’s high school. You’re worried about acne or report cards or weekend plans… whatever teenagers think about. Then, a gorgeous, confident guy walks up. It’s Freddie Prinze Jr., and he’s asking you out on a date. I don’t care if you’re nerdy, sporty, artsy, or whatever in high school — even the most emo-goth girl might have trouble saying no. And that’s exactly the sticky situation of Laney Boggs (Rachel Leigh Cook) in the 1999 movie She’s All That.
Zack Siler, played by Freddie Prinze Jr., feels deflated when his girlfriend Taylor ditches him for a reality TV star. To boost his confidence, he makes a bet with his friend Dean (Paul Walker) that he can turn any girl into a prom queen. Laney is the questionably lucky prom-queen-in-training. So, here’s where the fantasy ends, and She’s All That starts getting ripped apart by critics.
Yes, it’s true that any character played by Rachel Leigh Cook doesn’t need a makeover, and of course, true beauty is on the inside. Plus, perhaps she shouldn’t forgive a boy who used her for a bet. Now that we’ve acknowledged those concerns, I’m going to move on and say it: I have always liked this movie, and I still see value in it a quarter of a century later.
High school stereotypes exist for a reason.
In the 25 years since the movie’s release, we have rocked the #metoo movement, promoted body positivity, and dethroned the prom king stereotype. Brava, ladies.
Despite all that progress in the adult world, teenagers haven’t changed that much, and the movie has relevant lessons for those who are not yet so enlightened.
Laney represents the awkward teen who’s afraid to open up socially. She’s smart to be hesitant because you never know when you might become the centerpiece for a bet. But feeling like a self-conscious, defensive outsider is oh-so-typical for teenagers. She’s a super relatable character for any fringe high school kid.
Then there’s Zack, the “king of high school.” He’s overly confident and spends most of the movie getting smacked in the face with reality: His girlfriend breaks up with him, getting Laney’s attention is harder than expected, and he loses the prom bet.
At first, these characters represent the worst part of high school, but when they open up to each other, they find they have more in common than expected. Laney makes Zack feel vulnerable by bringing him onstage at an interpretive art event. Zack rises to the occasion by using his hacky sack to express the pressure his parents put on him, saying, “Don’t let it drop, Zack.” C’mon, people — a hacky sack metaphor?! This is 90’s brilliance!
Zack takes Laney out of her comfort zone, too. He convinces her to go to the beach, and (surprise, surprise!) she has fun.
The makeover is symbolic, guys.
Then, of course, Zack takes Laney to a party, but not before the (in)famous makeover scene when she removes her glasses, puts on a red party dress, and basically becomes a supermodel. OK, it’s not that easy to go glam in real life, but people love makeover scenes for deeply psychological reasons.
Just think of the iconic makeovers in movies like Clueless, Princess Diaries, Devil Wears Prada, Pretty Woman, and Cinderella. Audiences love feeling the hope and opportunity that comes with putting forth one’s “best self.” It’s a visual change, but it’s only effective if inner beauty is developing as well.
Laney’s inner growth happens when she lets go of the pain from her mom’s death. It’s not an easy path, especially with Zack’s villainous ex-girlfriend trying to crush her self-esteem, but as Zack says, “Sometimes when you open up to people, you let the bad in with the good.” Laney learns to accept the risk that comes with new friendships and new romance.
Zack gets his own personality makeover as Laney frees him from the stereotypes he thought defined him. By the movie’s end, he doesn’t care what other people think; he’s comfortable not always being perfect. “I thought I had all the answers, but now I’m kinda liking that I don’t,” he tells Laney.
We can all agree the prom scene was cringe, though.
Only one scene made my eyes roll. You guessed it: the prom scene. To be fair, pretty much every prom scene in movies or TV is totally gag-worthy, and this one features a choreographed dance. But here’s the redeeming factor: The DJ is Usher. Yeah, as in Usher Raymond.
Laney does not win the prom queen title, which is a good thing. After all, it would have been hard to believe she could go from nerd to knockout overnight. But the triumph is in her transformation — she’s happy at the end of the movie with no trace of the scary, inaccessible girl from before.
Really, everyone needs to believe that they can make a life-changing transformation. And that, my friends, is exactly what She’s All That gives us. The stereotypical jerk can turn into a Prinze, and the frightened outsider can stand strong in a prom queen crown.