Film discussion

She’s All That (1999) – Teen Movie Rewind

In our Teen Movie Rewind series, we explore coming of age stories and teen cinema, looking at the impact of the films themselves and the careers that they made.

Pop culture of your youth cannot help but carry a wealth of nostalgia when you get older. Sometimes it doesn’t necessarily matter if the film, song, or television series is good or not; just the mere existence of it reminds you of a time when you were in your mid-teens, big life choices had to be made, and Freddie Prinze, Jr and Rachel Leigh Cook could headline a movie, all the while ‘Kiss Me’ by Sixpence None the Richer played constantly on the radio or was used in movie trailers or episodes of teen television shows.

Not for nothing did the song also appear on the soundtrack album to Dawson’s Creek, having been used in the series, and truthfully its upbeat melody and dreamy delivery of those lyrics by lead singer Leigh Nash kind of reminds one of the feeling of growing up during a period of Tony Blair and New Labour, the Clinton Administration and all those troubles involving cigars in The Oval Office, the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the end of ‘The Troubles’, the massive success of James Cameron’s Titanic, and when supernaturally themed television series such as The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were all the rage.

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As the 90s gave way to the 2000s, change was in the air, and not necessarily for the better. The 90s had its own fair share of problems (just look at the lack of diversity in Friends for a reminder of just how common it was for pop culture to have predominantly all-white casts), but politically things looked innocent compared to a decade that was about to be inflicted with the horrors of 9/11 and the ‘Axis of Evil’ fuelled politics of the George W. Bush administration.

It’s probably why mainstream teen movies towards the end of the decade have a lighter, frothier air to them, even when dark. The Craft was a slice of horror, but it had a gloss to it that makes it feel very much of the period, while after 10 Things I Hate About You and Cruel Intentions, the other notable teen movie of 1999 would also be another massive hit that was effectively remaking a previously told tale. 

That the final year of the century was giving teenagers and young adult audiences stories that were effectively modern-day high school set versions of oft-told, famous works, said a lot about how culture was looking to its past as the 20th Century made way for the 21st. Like Clueless, She’s All That was taking past works and utilising them in the confines of a high school with its own set of hierarchies and social standings, but where Clueless was a work of brilliant satire, as was Cruel Intentions which amounted to a tale in which rich kids were sexed-up douchebags and deserved everything they got, She’s All That was very much a romantic comedy that did what it did in a frothier, more easy-going way.

That’s not to knock the film as terrible. It doesn’t play nearly as well today, especially when one is in their thirties, but it still works as a nostalgic piece, not least a reminder of a time when Hollywood was trying to make Freddie Prinze Jr and Rachael Leigh Cook into stars.

There are many faces here that would go on to stellar careers, not least the late Paul Walker who would become one of the main faces of one of the biggest movie franchises in recent memory, while Matthew Lillard would add to his growing roster of teenage idiots that he played during this period. It’s worth keeping a lookout for future West Wing star Dule Hill, as well as Gabrielle Union and, yes, that was Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, making a cameo appearance, helped by the fact that the movie used the same set as Sunnydale High School.

Like most romantic comedies, the film revels in tropes and cliches without doing anything too taxing with them, although some do remain eye-rollingly obvious. The film’s idea of Rachael Leigh Cook being a not very attractive person is to put a pair of glasses on her and dress her in some not very stylish clothes and yet she still remains very, very attractive, while one of the film’s most famous images used in many of the promotional spots and trailers was of her walking down the stairs all pretty in a red dress post-makeover, Sixpence None the Richer playing romantically over the soundtrack.

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Even the character of Zackary Siler, played by Prinze Jr and with a character name that feels like it’s been created in a Teen Movie Name Generator, fits into the jock but who has a heart of gold and who is redeemed by the love of a girl who isn’t the popular girl in school. You’ve seen it all before, there was nothing new, and yet it was hugely popular at the time, was beloved by any 13-17 years old who watched when it was released and, believe me, resistance will prove futile because it still manages to evoke a nostalgic reaction.

Like so much pop culture of the period, it can make one wince with how certain lines of dialogue or character actions have aged poorly when viewed in 2020, and yet it’s one of those teen movies that defines its era. Certainly, there were better teen films during the 90s, and it doesn’t hold a candle to the satire of Clueless, the comedy of 10 Things I Hate About You or the erotic thriller stylings of Cruel Intentions, and yet it’s hard to watch She’s All That and not remember what it was like to be 15 years old as the 90s made way for the 2000s, the 20th Century giving way to the 21st, and with it a whole new set of stories and dark concerns.

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