Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

SHE'S ALL THAT  (1999) **

Directed by Robert Iscove. Written by R. Lee Fleming Jr..Photography, Francis Kenny. Editing, Casey O. Rohrs. Production design, Charles Breen. Music, Stewart Copeland. Cast: Freddie Prinze Jr. (Zack Siler), Rachael Leigh Cook (Laney Boggs), Matthew Lillard (Brock Hudson), Paul Walker (Dean Sampson), Jodi Lyn O'Keefe (Taylor Vaughan), Usher Raymond (Campus D.J.), Kevin Pollak (Wayne Boggs), Anna Paquin  (Mackenzie Siler), Kieran Culkin (Simon Boggs), Elden Henson (Jesse Jackson), et al. A Miramax release. About 90 minutes, PG-13.

"She's All That" is a high school picture. roughly, vaguely a descendant of Fast Times at Richmond High which  started a new sub-genre back in 1982. The title is even harder to remember that most forgettable ones. It might mean something in school parlance. Can't tell.

The flick teaches you the following:

1) The great majority of high schools are in California. That's normal since the Hollywood gospel tells us that the great majority of anything in the United States of America is in California.(There was a fairly brief time when schools of any kind, in film, could be also found in the Midwest and the East, but those choices seem to be on the downslope.)

2) High school students are either "in" or "out" -- no exceptions.

3) They have two major factions, jocks and nerds. This is an international phenomenon.  Ages ago, the first person in my family to attend universities --in Belgium and France--reported that there were two groups: the athletes and the esthetes. The difference in the USA is that, per Hollywood, the athletes are in and the esthetes are out .

4) In all high-school movies, at least some "outies" will become "innies"

5) Romance is the main subject studied.

6) Ladies, You Too Can Be Ravishing. Wallflowers, ugly ducklings, plain or unnoticed types can be transformed into winners, pretty butterflies.

7) Groups or gangs of pals are ethnically mixed. This means Political Correctness.But does is mean reality?

8) A great deal of students have nice, shiny cars. In most countries on this planet, if you tell anyone that your cleaning-person drives to your home, they react as to a Martian story.

9) That (was this said by Dorothy Parker?) "men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses" may still be a movie cliche though no longer true in the real world.

At the HS in question, Zack, 18 (top student, top athlete, top everything) is dumped without a by-our-leave, by semi-statuesque Taylor, the object of many a desire. She takes up with the improbable, clownish Brock who is played by an actor featured in TVs The Real World.

With the Senior Prom six weeks away,, Zack finds himself dateless. (If you ever wondered what tragedy means, there you have it). His buddy Paul taunts him. Zack claims that he could find the most unlikely girl and transform her in a Prom Queen. The boys have a bet.

The girl selected is rather petite Laney, 17, who keeps her own counsel, does not mix, except for colors with which she paints sad stuff (she's still traumatized by the death, some years ago, of her beloved, artistic mother ),  uses no makeup, does not dress with chic.  (The clothes thing is pushed by having her also wear an outrageously ugly outfit at the restaurant where she works after school).She is shy, gauche, mistrustful of boys. But, you guessed it, she really has brains and character.

Zack makes awkward approaches, is trapped into saying that he is interested in art. Laney invites him to a theatrical performance by youths. This is one of the few funny parts in the film. On a stage there's Performance Art . It is caricatured, leaves you with the feeling that the moment you call something Art, it becomes just that. Zack is stuck with improvising a number with a bean bag. Amusing.

To make an essentially tedious story short. A bond starts forming between the two. Zack protects Laney's younger brother Simon who works in the HS cafeteria  from bullies who want the kid to eat a pizza decorated with pubic hair.

To Laney's surprise Zack mounts a campaign for her to become Prom Queen. He also brings in a team to clean her house, presumably to free her for a makeup plus total makeover session with his younger sister Mackenzie.

What do you bet that all that, plus a nice new dress, will transform Laney into a pretty, cute young lady?  That she even moves gracefully now. OK. You won. This means that you have watched at least two more HS movies in your lifetime.

Brock (see above), in bed with Taylor, would rather watch on TV The Real World and himself in it, than make love with the girl. Without explanations, just before the prom date,  Taylor tells Zack she wants to go back to him. Brock has dumped her.

Cutting to the chase. Zack's pal Paul (he who made the bet) starts pursuing the New Laney. She will lose to Taylor for Queen, but by a small margin.  The prom has a most improbable, professionally choreographed dance. Paul has paid $300 for a hotel room where he is certain he can seduce the New Laney.  Instead, after a misunderstanding, she and Zack get back together.

The movie is slight, uneven, patchy and crammed with deja vu. There are a few good moments, but the dialogue among the teens, in jargon, is not among them. It's on the same level of interest as that of kids phoning each other by the hour.

Kieran Culkin and Anna Paquin (my, has she grown up since "The Piano"!) have little to do but do it in likable ways.

The "plot" is all surface and does not develop its sub-sub-themes. Among them, that of Zack's dad. who's been forever bugging his son. Papa's four years at Darmouth were the best in his life. He has developed an obsession for his boy to go to a major institution, and has been hammering this point ever since the kid was five.The reaction is that while  Zack  has been accepted at every Ivy League University, he has hidden this from his parents. Father finds the letters and has a heart-to-heart talk with the young man. The full situation has potential but remains skin-deep.

Among the many more barely sketched-out themes is the fact that Paul has betrayed Zack because he (Paul) was falling in love with Laney. But, boom!, we suddenly learn that he was after carnal knowledge first and last. Then there's the unexplained blond male friend of Laney's. Her only pre-transformation pal? A co-nerd?

'Nuff said. The film, apparently enjoyed by the young teens, all girls, in "my" audience, is, for viewers over 19, not as bad as watching the hearings in Washington, but not as good as watching the Animal Channel.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel