She’s All That

The old stories are always the best. When I saw the trailer for She’s All
, directed by Robert Iscove, I thought: here was a kiddies’ movie that,
unlike the dreadful but depressingly popular Varsity Blues, I might not
find it quite unbearable to sit through. First, it was a retelling of the Pygmalion
story, every man’s secret fantasy just as Cinderella is every woman’s. Second,
it was at the same time a Cinderella story! Or Cinderella- cum-ugly duckling. At any
rate, there were plenty of very promising fairy-tale resonances to it. And third,
the Cinderella in the case, the impossibly non-ugly duckling, was the
heart-stoppingly lovely Rachael [sic] Leigh Cook. How bad, I wondered, could it be?

Unfortunately, pretty bad. The archetype here becomes mere cliché. In
fact, everything dissolves in cliché. We even get, God help us, a heaping
helping of the Dead Poets Society nonsense about a poor boy being forced
to go to an ivy league college, in this case Dartmouth, because his dad went
there. Oh please! They don’t even try to make it new. As if that weren’t bad
enough, the boy in question, Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.), is depicted as
finding himself in performance art and the facile political leftism, learned
from watching CNN, that he picks up from his Galatea, Laney Boggs (Miss Cook).
Laney is the kind of girl who wakes up her little brother, Simon (Kieran Culkin)
by saying that “there are children in Mexico who have already been up for three
hours making clothes for corporate America.”

I don’t know too many would-be Pygmalions who would be enthralled by such a
Galatea. It is a typical Hollywood conceit to equate personal authenticity with
left wing opinions and to contrast both with money and social ambition. Zack is
every girl’s dreamboat in his California high school, but his girlfriend, Taylor
Vaughan (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe) dumps him for Brock Hudson (Matthew Lillard) who is,
humorously, someone from “The Real World.” Not, it should be needless to add,
the real real world, but the TV show on MTV, where he is “the dyslexic
volleyball guy.” Taylor asks Zack: “Did you honestly think I was going to leave
for college still dating you? Oh, my God! You did! That’s so sweet.”

But Zack as Big Man on Campus responds to the snub with a bit of bravado: he
bets his friend and fellow soccer star, Dean (Paul Walker), that he can take any
girl that he, Dean, chooses and turn her into a prom queen. Laney, on whom the
choice falls, is disguised only by glasses, no make-up and unfashionable clothes
and hairstyle, but, not too surprisingly, she comes from the wrong side of the
tracks. Her dad (Kevin Pollack), is a pool man and this is apparently the lowest
of the low in their affluent neighborhood—even though the pool man himself
has a pool. Anyway, all the rich girls look down their noses at her. Moreover,
her mother died when she was very small, and ever since then she has been
emotionally closed up. Politics has become a way of avoiding human contact. When
Zack asks her out she is immediately suspicious: “What is this, some kind of new
dork-outreach program?”

Zack has to work for the first time to attract a girl, and soon he is
interested in Laney for her own sake. He becomes friends with her little
brother, and his own younger sister (Anna Paquin) brings about the inevitable
makeover that turns the duckling to a swan. Of course, her rival for prom queen
is the needlessly nasty Taylor, who is not only heartless to Zack but also a
snob and a bitch. Even her friends don’t like her. To Laney she says, “To
everyone who matters, you’re vapor; you’re spam: a waste of perfectly
good yearbook space.” Later she heaps scorn on her campaign for queen: “You
didn’t think you became popular for real did you? Oh, you did! That’s so
.” Boo! Hiss!

Of course, Laney finds out about the bet and a lot of pretty predictable
things happen, but the final disposition of the lovers is lacking in any real
romance or tenderness. Zack says he has now found himself, and his inner
performance-artist, thanks to her, while she, newly empowered, says only that
(rather improbably) “I feel just like Julia Roberts — except for that whole
hooker thing.” Is it feminism which won’t allow a more satisfying ending or is
it just incompetence? You be the judge.

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