Chick Flix Club: She’s All That


[Chick Flix Club examines films within the female driven comedy/drama genres (otherwise colloquially referred to as “chick flicks”) in order to understand why we may or may not adore these flicks despite not being in the intended demographic] 

Now that the Chick Flix Club has gone mainstream, you might be wondering why I’ve chosen She’s All That as the first for realsies post rather than something like Pretty Woman or Steel Magnolias. I wanted to showcase what the club was all about by dissecting one of the most formula subverting “chick flicks” available.

While She’s All That isn’t the first female driven film I’ve ever seen, it is the one I generally like to recommend as the icebreaker into the rest of the genre. Now, like all other of the other club posts, I’ll pose some questions which I hope get answers by the end of it. 

Is Laney really all that and a bag of chips? What’s with all of the 90’s pop culture references? Does any of this matter? Please read on and find out! Oh and if you haven’t seen She’s All That (it’s available on Netflix!), I should warn you that there are spoilers ahoy hoy. 

When Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.)’s girlfriend dumps him after Spring Break, he decides he wants to date someone else to make her jealous. In order to flaunt his popularity, Zack boasts that any girl who dates him could be Prom Queen. He then makes a bet with his friend, Brock (Paul Walker), that he could turn Laney Boggs (Rachel Leigh Cook), an art student who has “paint on her overalls” and is generally outside of every social circle, into the next Prom Queen. 

Before I begin the brunt of the analysis, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent Not Another Teen Movie, which parodies She’s All That in the best ways. It points out a lot of the aesthetic faults that SAT has, so I’m going to try and avoid things that have been said before. With that out of the way, Laney is an interesting protagonist. In fact one of the most compelling ideas in She’s All That, is that there no is true central protagonist. Each of the central characters, Zack and Laney, both have arcs that depend on one another. 

In most “chick flicks,” a male character shows up and dominates the life of a female character. For instance in Pretty Woman, Richard Gere attempts to change Julia Roberts from hooker to housewife blah blah blah. In SAT the film opens up with the male character, altering the cemented dynamic within the genre. It’s certainly pleasant. I never got the feeling that one character was more important than the other. Both Zack and Laney have their problems, Zack has an overbearing father and Laney is poor or something, and finding each other through all of that mess is what truly is at the center of the film. Their shared paths eventually skew the rules of the genre (a female protagonist changes due to a male character’s influence). By sharing importance, both evolve rather than having one all-knowing individual essentially mentor the other into becoming a better person. 

The only thing that bothers me about She’s All That is the social standards. You see, Laney Boggs is only aesthetically displeasing. That is to say, she was metaphorically in a cocoon the whole time (represented by the image above during a stage performance). Her glasses, ponytail, and paint covered overalls were a physical manifestation of the mental barrier Laney placed around herself due to trauma. Since Laney lost her mother at a young age she refuses to bare herself emotionally to others (besides her family and best friend) and forces herself to be an outsider. Rather than focusing on this, the film chooses to revel in its quirky and humorous teen nature and only hint at the emotional breakthroughs Laney may experience. 

Unfortunately, the same goes for Zack. At first, Zack is established as the conventional male lead. He’s handsome, has a higher social standing than the female, and fulfills the random man candy aspect of the genre. As I mentioned earlier, the new dynamic presented with the male lead being introduced first leads to some interesting philosophical questions for both characters. Unfortunately, most of these questions are squandered in favor of focusing on the aesthetics. Zack rarely reveals his emotions (like Laney) due to a traumatic upbringing, and when he does, it genuinely brings weight to his character. He has a moment during a stage show where he knocks a hackey sack around. As he kicks it, thoughts of his inner struggle with his father reveal themselves and then proceed to quickly fading away thereafter. While his trauma is slightly explored, it really could have gone further. 

Things ending before they should is a problematic theme throughout She’s All That, but it likely comes with the territory. While SAT may be a “chick flick,” it also rests nicely with the teen comedy/drama genre. I could even go as far to say that my problems with the film stem from the limited scope of the teen drama. While some teen dramas or comedies explore darker and more compelling themes to their fullest (like A Walk to Remember), most decide to rest on their laurels and entertain for an hour and a half with some quick jokes and pop culture references. The title itself should speak to this. Does anyone say “all that” anymore? And you could look to other cop outs like those two random guys rapping about the plot of the film who reference the title, that one character who is a reality star from The Real World, or one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Sarah Michelle Gellar cameo. 

To sum it all up, She’s All That is not necessarily “all that.” But it really shouldn’t be. If Laney was truly “all that,” there wouldn’t be room for Zack to potentially grow as a character. Whether or not his opportunity is wasted doesn’t matter since Laney does eventually grow and accept a new person into her life. Because they found each other through the acceptance of the other’s trauma, Zack and Laney’s romance felt earned. That’s not necessarily something I can vouch for most teen flicks.

She’s All That does have a weight that isn’t respected by most. If you can get past the early nineties ‘tude, Paul Walker’s lack of acting skills, and weird African American to Caucasian ratio, then you have a gem on your hands. 

Speaking of gems, next time the Chick Flix Club will explore a hidden gem in horror. It’s hidden because most are put off by gore, cheap jump scares, or the general misogyny of the horror genre.

The CFC will be back in October with…Scream.