Musing from your Post Master General
I tend to build attachments to weird stuff. What starts off as a joke many times turns into a strange passion. My latest curiosity is no exception. For the last couple of months I’ve been obsessed with the 1999 film She’s All That staring Freddie Prinze Jr., Rachel Leigh Cook, Anna Paquin, Paul Walker, and Gabrielle Union among others. Commercially the film was a smashing success, securing the #1 position at the box office and raking in $103,000,000.00 compared to a budget of $10,000,000.00. However, critically, the film received much more negative feedback than positive. It currently holds 38% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, an opinion I tend to agree with on a cinematic level. The film is full of clichés and stereotypes all coming together with a predictable ending.
For those of you who weren’t in middle school or high school in the year 1999, let me bring you up to speed. Freddie Prinze Jr. stars as Zack, the typical most popular guy in school stock character. He is a good looking athlete who shows signs of an underlying sensitive side. His equally popular and good looking girlfriend decided to leave him at the start of the film so as a means to get over her, he decides to make a bet with his even more typical jock friend Dean, played by Paul Walker, stating that he can take any girl in the school and make her a prom queen, because that’s just how cool he is. Dean decides that Zack should make dorky artist Laney Boggs (Rachel Leigh Cook) the victim of his ruse. And the rest is pretty much predictable. Ironically, it was recently revealed that the screenplay was ghostwritten but M. Night Shyamalan, a “master” of the twist ending. That revelation certainly did not help his fast fading reputation.
Despite the obvious formulaic nature of the plot, there is enough to keep an audience member like me watching. Though everything is predictable, at its core, She’s All That’s familiar story hits home enough to resonate with me. The reason? Three words, George Bernard Shaw. She’s All That is essentially a 90ties dumbed down teen version of Shaw’s great stage play Pygmalion. For those of you who may not be familiar with Pygmalion, perhaps his Eliza Doolittlie character was more memorable to you in the musical version, My Fair Lady. Shaw himself was inspired by a story of Greek mythos in which a sculptor falls in love with a statue he carved. The basic premise of She’s All That is a story as old as written history itself. And that’s the best part about the film, really.
However, I just can’t drop this movie. Every time it’s on, I can’t change the channel. It’s not that I enjoy watching it. It’s almost like I want so badly for it to be better. So I came up with some things that I think would improve it in my mind, just to save my sanity and maybe let go.
She’s All That: Reboot
The Transformation of Laney Boggs: This is by far my biggest gripe with the film. I think its creators insult the intelligence of all the teenagers they figured were going to watch it. Laney Boggs is considered nerdy, weird, and even ugly at the start of the film but once she gets a make over and takes off her glasses, presto!, she is considered hot and the things that make her unique are suddenly found to be tolerable by the masses. Even when I first saw the film as a 13 year old, I thought Laney was more attractive with the glasses on. She was an artist and she was expressing herself in a way rarely found in high schoolers mostly due to peer pressure and such. Watching now, I liked the things that made her an interesting young woman. The Zack character takes some of that away from her. Yes, he falls in love with her and learns to love the things he once found strange about her. But to take her “mainstream”, he feels he needs to make her more presentable so he tries to form her into a cookie cutter California girl. The thing is, she was attractive to begin with. She didn’t need to be transformed. I can live with this plot element though if it was presented in a different way. I do understand why both Laney and Zack are jaded and somewhat judgmental when it comes to each other. This is something I like about the film. I know it’s corny but I think its necessary when you have two different people that they learn to respect each other for who they are, especially in a film like this.
The end is rather murky in terms of what happens of Laney. If I were to reboot this film, I’d still have the transformation, but I would make sure Laney was uncomfortable with it and that she ends up going back to the way she was. Maybe she could become even more comfortable with who she is because someone like Zack believes in her and supports her. Zack should have shown his friends that Laney was cool the way she was. If he was such a popular guy, Zack falling in love with Laney could have set new trends. Together they could have brought realness to their generic Los Angeles high school. Laney doesn’t want to be cool. She does want to be happy. As does Zack. Who doesn’t? That should be the focus in my mind.
More Side Character Development: This is something that annoys me about the film. Everyone seems to fit into their roles as human beings and are 100% being who they are. If I remember anything about high school, it was that nobody was 100% comfortable. In the movie, the jocks are jocks, the nerds are nerds, the popular girls are popular girls, etc. It seems like the only thing that changes people are when they fall in love. Otherwise, they are happy just the way they are from start to finish. Yes, sometimes the characters worry about their popularity but not on a humanistic level. It’s more on a “that would be really lame if somebody saw me at this strange performance art reading” level. I wish the film depicted more of the awkwardness of high school.
On an even more irritating note, Dulé Hill, who I think is a very talented actor, plays the stereotypical token black guy. He seems there just to provide some ethnic diversity. However, I do have to note that he, Gabriel Union’s character, and the character played by Lil’ Kim are probably the nicest people in the film. I’m not sure what they were trying to say there? Maybe it was Hollywood feeling guilty about the lack a prominent roles in these types of films for black actors? Who knows? Never the less, there is very little character development happening at all in this film, especially when it comes to side characters.
Clearer Objective with the Dean Character: Another gripe I have with the film is Paul Walker’s character of Dean. At first he thinks Laney is ugly and a loser, but once he see’s her transforming into a more attractive popular girl, suddenly he really wants to be intimate with her to put it kindly. Can a character really be that stupid? I seriously doubt Laney looked any different naked before or after she became “all that.” And yes, it’s true that he just started to take notice of her but she really doesn’t change as much as the film suggest in the looks department. If I were to rewrite the character, I would make him have a secret crush on Laney all along. He was the one who suggested her to Zack. He could still try to sabotage the budding relationship between Zack and Laney as he does in the film and he could pretend it was just about sex but when he later reveals that he has had feelings for Laney for an extended period of time, it could add a dimension to the film that I think is missing. A real solid conflict. Is Paul Walker capable of playing this type of character? Well I’m not so sure he was ever given the chance.
In the end I don’t know what I’m expecting with She’s All That. This was a simple film made with a purpose, to make money. Even the 90ties lingo in the title suggests that this film had no intention of any kind of stay power. But if this film is to be considered art, doesn’t it have some kind of responsibility to its audience? Perhaps it fulfilled that as well as today it is considered somewhat of a cult classic among the generation it was targeted for. I have to admit, Usher made a pretty cool prom d.j. though I really hope people didn’t dance like that in the late 90ties. And my heart still melts a little when I hear “Kiss Me” by Six Pence None the Richer, which is on the soundtrack. But that’s probably because it reminds me of my own youth. I’m sorry, I’m rationalizing. I guess part of what makes a guilty pleasure what it is, is the guilt, right?
Also, if anybody knows somebody at Miramax, can you try to secure me the rights to this film so I can remake it my own way and finally rest in peace? Thanks.
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