If Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachael Leigh Cook’s She’s All That taught us anything, it’s the dangers of judging a book by its cover. The same can be said of He’s All That, Netflix’s gender-swapped remake of the late nineties teen romantic comedy. On paper, it has all the markings of a shallow Gen Z reimagining — the conflict hinges on a teenage influencer’s follower count, for starters — but after a cringey start, the film ends up being a surprisingly charming rom-com that manages to foster genuine chemistry between its two young, beautiful leads, Addison Rae and Tanner Buchanan.
While set the present day, He’s All That tells basically the same story as its 1999 inspiration. When Padgett Sawyer (Rae), an Instagram influencer whose college hopes rest on lucrative sponsorships, discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her, she’s humiliated: the fateful moment is streamed live on IG, and her sponsors and followers start dropping like flies. Padgett is prepared to go to prom solo, but when her friend challenges her to turn the scruffy, antisocial Cameron Kweller (Buchanan) into prom king, she can’t resist the opportunity to makeover the school’s biggest loser. But as Padgett and Cameron spend more time together, she starts to realize that there’s a sweet, sensitive guy under that mop of greasy hair, and she soon comes to see him as so much more than just “a fucking bet.”
Like many modern movies of its ilk, He’s All That struggles a bit as it gets up to speed. Rae, who rose to prominence on TikTok, appears stilted and awkward in the film’s early scenes, particularly during moments with her mother, played by Cook. She's even more stiff when interacting with her character's friends (Madison Pettis and Myra Molloy) and soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, Jordan Van Draanen (Peyton Meyer), a viral singer who puts mid-2000s Spencer Pratt to shame.
He’s All That begins to redeem itself when we’re introduced to Cameron, a grumpy, beanie-wearing photography lover who’s all but invisible to his peers. Buchanan, best known for playing Robby Keene in Cobra Kai, has a decade of film and TV work under his belt, and it shows. When Rae seems to be flailing, Buchanan's calm demeanor and misanthropic charm rights the ship, ensuring that their scenes stay grounded, no matter how ridiculous the plot may be. Elsewhere, during their characters’ quieter moments — when the two are exchanging flirty banter during a horseback riding lesson, or sharing intimate details about their families in Los Angeles’ Union Station — their natural chemistry lights up the screen. It’s easy to see why Padgett likes Cameron, and vice versa, a basic rom-com tenet that seems to have been forgotten sometime between the release of She’s All That and Netflix's current rom-com-aissance.
It’s a testament to Rae, Buchanan and their able director, Mark Waters (Mean Girls), that He’s All That manages to rise above the social media bullshittery at its core. Long before she develops a crush on Cameron, Padgett sees his makeover as a chance to impress the CEO of her biggest sponsor, played by Kourtney Kardashian (yes, that Kourtney Kardashian). Kardashian’s dialogue is legitimately hilarious — she informs Padgett that “mucus is not on brand for us” after a close-up of her Jordan-induced snot bubble goes “viral in the wrong way” — but her presence also reinforces the impression that He’s All That is about like-hungry social media influencers, and little else. Much of Padgett’s personal journey revolves around her Instagram account, as she works to reconcile her online persona with her authentic self. The film’s emphasis on social media can be a bit grating, but it does serve as another reminder that what we see isn’t always what we get, especially when it comes to our carefully curated identities.
Back in June, I predicted that He’s All That would be Netflix's Rom-Com of the Summer, and I'm still comfortable with that call. In addition to its two gorgeous leads, the film boasts a director with a proven track record, a buzzy Kardashian cameo, and the full support of Netflix’s marketing department, all signs of long-term success. Still, the question remains: will skeptical viewers be willing to look past He’s All That’s glossy, Instagram-obsessed exterior to discover the genuinely charming rom-com underneath? If you need a push, consider this an official green light to ditch your cynicism and dive in.
He's All That premieres on Netflix Friday August 27.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the TV Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.