Pizza Hut, Ilia Beauty, Old Navy, CORE Hydration water, Lucky Charms, Eos skincare, and Alo Yoga’s Head-to-Toe Glow Oil. That’s just a partial list of the brands prominently showcased, recommended, or literally hashtagged on screen in Netflix’s new romantic comedy He’s All That. And while product placement is certainly nothing new for Hollywood, the question here is how a movie with so much of it still manages to look like it was made on a student film budget with Rebecca Black’s “Friday” music video as its primary aesthetic inspiration. Perhaps all that product placement money went to paying Kourtney Kardashian for a painfully wooden cameo as a cutthroat beauty business owner trying to source brand deals for her own fictional line of products. Or maybe that’s just the kind of cash you need to get TikTok’s third most-followed individual to make her acting debut in your high school rom-com.
There’s plenty of time to ponder those questions during a teen flick so sleepy it could have benefited from a branded coffee deal. The gimmick of He’s All That is that it’s a gender-flipped remake of the fan favorite ’90s rom-com She’s All That, in which Freddie Prinze Jr.’s popular jock makes a bet that he can turn any girl into prom queen, even an artsy loner played by Rachael Leigh Cook (who pops up as a different character here). In practice, however, He’s All That is really more of a TikTok-era riff on the themes of director Mark Waters’ 2004 teen hit Mean Girls—right down to a climatic prom court speech about the importance of not taking high school popularity too seriously. Padgett Sawyer (real-life TikToker Addison Rae) is a teen queen who hides her less-than-glamorous real life behind a perfectly manicured, incredibly popular social media feed. Her brand is self-empowerment by way of makeovers, in which she sells herself as a picture-perfect voice of wisdom, like Cosmo magazine brought to life. But when she accidentally livestreams her brutal break-up with her cheating boyfriend, she becomes a meme-able laughing stock and risks losing the sponsorship that’s supposed to pay for her college.
To its credit, He’s All That actually comes up with a much better reason than the original as to why a popular teen might decide to give a loner rebel a makeover. In this case, Padgett needs a high-profile stunt that can save her brand and help her keep her livelihood. Yet the movie goes ahead and delivers an actual lunchroom bet with a classmate as well, which makes even less sense in this context, when Padgett has much more on the line. Regardless, she’s soon been challenged to fix up arrogant, antisocial Cameron Kweller (Cobra Kai’s Tanner Buchanan), whose interests include photography, horseback riding, grunge fashion, Kurosawa films, singing in the glee club, ranting against modern technology, and raving about the lattes at LA’s Union Station. (You know, that type of guy.) Of course, as Padgett turns Cameron from drab to fab, she also learns some valuable lessons about what truly matters in life. Like gaining followers for the right reasons.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of a teen rom-com centered on social media popularity and influencer culture—even one that doesn’t necessarily see those things as evil. But He’s All That offers nothing beyond buzzwords, empty platitudes, and sponcon. While the original She’s All That is hardly a masterpiece of teen rom-com filmmaking, it has a goofy guilelessness that helps it go down easy. He’s All That, by comparison, is painfully strained, with flatly overexposed cinematography, choppy editing, and stiff performances. Though Rae has the presence of someone who knows how to be affable on camera, she’s incapable of the sort of emotional vulnerability that’s needed to anchor a romantic comedy. And since Buchanan is only marginally more skilled in that area, the two make for a disastrously inert couple.
He’s All That tries to let its young stars show off some of their other talents by awkwardly shoehorning in karaoke sequences, fight scenes, and dance breaks, which only adds to the overall sense of desperation. As does the way the film keeps cutting to random laughing reaction shots as if that will somehow disguise the fact that none of its comedy actually lands. To be fair, by the time a teen leaves a party by asking her host “Can I get some KFC to go?” and then grabbing an entire bucket of chicken, you have to wonder if He’s All That is at least somewhat in on the product placement joke, à la the cult classic Cook vehicle Josie And The Pussycats. But while there are glimmers of self-awareness to its silliest moments (like a viral pop star who’s perpetually taking off his shirt), He’s All That is ultimately too enamored with the power of social media marketing to truly bite the hand that feeds it. This is a movie that can only conceive of teenage authenticity as switching your brand from beauty tutorials to travel vlogging. #Relatable this is not.