If you’ve had an in-person conversation with me in the last couple weeks, you know that I recently watched Addison Rae’s hit Netflix movie “He’s All That.” My initial reaction to this film was simple: culture is dead. We took culture, and we killed it. Every five minutes I had to close my eyes, repeatedly and violently slap my forehead and say out loud to my empty dorm room, “This is so bad. This is so bad.”
Now, while I had a pretty visceral reaction to this movie while I was watching it, I’m not someone who actually believes humanity is out of good ideas. Sometimes I’ll hear people say, “[Specific decade] had the best movies,” or, “[Specific decade] had the best music,” and I just cannot subscribe to that kind of thinking. The subjectivity of art aside, no time period can claim to possess the absolute best of any medium. Did “The Shining” come out in the 80s? Yes, but “Get Out,” “Midsommar” and “Saint Maud” were all released in the last five years.
Let’s also keep in mind that for every “The Shining” there’s at least one “Children of the Corn” (Stephen King, I’m sorry you’re catching some strays here, but you have so many adaptations, and not all of them can be Kubrick level). The 80s also produced “Hellraiser,” a movie I am not afraid to say is B-tier at best, as well as countless other films we don’t bother to remember because they would drain the color from our rose-tinted glasses.
That’s why I can’t let “He’s All That” bother me for long. Was it borderline offensive because it was so bad? Yes. Is it the only movie released this year? Definitely not. “Judas and the Black Messiah” came out earlier this year, and that movie gave me high blood pressure for a week because it was so good at making me feel things. “The Green Knight” also came out this year, and while I’m not sure it’s the best thing ever, it’s definitely an earnest attempt at being something of substance, which is more than I can say for Rae’s debut.
Really, I almost feel bad for Rae. Maybe she really does want to be an actress and a serious one. She probably didn’t have much say in deciding to be the lead in this movie. My guess is that some Netflix rep approached her agent, who, wanting to make their own salary, told Rae, who’s 20 years old, by the way, “This is a great opportunity. You definitely can’t pass this up.” And then Rae’s parents told her the same thing, so she signed up to do this movie, which she probably can’t tell is some of the worst writing ever put to screen (since Netflix can’t make a bad movie.. right?), and now this is the tone of her career. By very little fault of her own, her current reputation as an actor is making Netflix tons of cash (since half of “He’s All That” is shoehorned product placement) and getting hate-watched by everybody on the planet.
“He’s All That” currently has a 30% critic score and a 24% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. On Letterboxd, the movie has an average rating of one point four out of five stars, or about 28%, which is consistent with the Rotten Tomatoes ratings. While the word of these websites is certainly not to be considered law, when you observe consistent numbers like these, they can usually be trusted.
The brutal thing about these ratings is that they don’t really mean anything in terms of preventing another movie like this from being made; Rae signed a multi-movie deal with Netflix last week, and, writing aside, her acting chops are not exactly Streep-level. How is this possible? Most likely because Netflix doesn’t have to worry about this movie bombing at the box office. When they can release a movie directly to the platform, they can count on viewers to watch it because a) it’s free and b) it’s awful. Hate-watching on Netflix presents no risk to the viewer and presents advertisers a great opportunity to shove their product into a horribly sequenced pool party scene (I’m looking at you, Pizza Hut). Because “He’s All That” has no real substance, it has to rely on product placement for a decent amount of transitions (my personal favorite is a hard cut to a girl shopping online at Old Navy), which means Netflix has already made their money back and then some. As far as they’re concerned, “He’s All That” was a huge success.
Not to mention that Rae, at the time of writing this, is sitting at 83.4 million followers on TikTok, a decent number of whom, I imagine, will watch and praise everything she does just on the basis that she did it. She cannot lose.
Really, my biggest issue with “He’s All That” is how completely tone-deaf it is. As an example, let’s explore the school dance scene. Before we dive in, I’ll remind you of a few key details. Addison Rae is a TikTok influencer, and Rae’s character, Paget, is also a social media influencer. Here we go:
Paget wins prom queen because of course she had to win prom queen. At this high school, the prom queen gets to make a speech, for some reason, and, for some other reason, Paget has prepared slides for said speech. I’m talking a full-on Google Slides presentation for winning prom queen. Her speech essentially boils down to, “Don’t try to sell yourself as a product on social media. Just be yourself and whatever, I don’t know. I like some dude who doesn’t like me because I was mean.” After this speech, Paget, of course, ends up with her love interest and continues to be a highly successful social media influencer.
There are a lot of numbers to run on this one. First of all, Paget, really, shouldn’t have won prom queen for reasons I don’t have time to get into. For real, I have no clue how she pulled that off. If you know, shoot me an email. Secondly, Netflix has some nerve to a) hire Addison Rae b) to play an influencer who c) wins prom queen and d) tells the audience not to give social media too much power over their lives.
All these results of Netflix’s audacity amalgamate into something that is truly horrendous and almost impressive in its refusal to do anything well. And I understand that I, personally, have never made a movie, and I cannot fully appreciate the difficulty of making a move or the inherent achievement in completing a project on this type of scale, but if you’re given the type of budget Netflix can hand out, you should be able to do better than 30% on Rotten Tomatoes.
What really hurts about “He’s All That” isn’t wasted potential, which is what usually causes me a lot of movie pains. “He’s All That” hurts because it was doomed from the start. Not doomed to fail (Netflix made sure of that with the help of Pizza Hut), but doomed to be an unwatchable movie. It was a cash-grab reboot nobody asked for with a lead actor who had never acted. The biggest tragedy? That they brought Matthew Lillliard back into all of this; he deserves better.
I think this all boils down to what I perceive to be the biggest problem in the creative culture right now, especially as it relates to the internet, where Addison Rae was born, as far as I’m concerned. The culture right now, from where I’m sitting, is a lot more concerned with content than it is with substance. Is “He’s All That,” at the end of a day, a 90-minute feature film? Sure. Did it accomplish anything, or make me feel anything other than rage and artistic dread? Absolutely not. Maybe that was the goal of the movie, and I’m the one looking stupid right now, but I doubt it. As far as I can tell, “He’s All That” was a movie made by a brand for other brands, not by a person for other people. Nothing about this movie is human, genuine or vulnerable. It’s just a movie.
Like I said earlier, however, I know “He’s All That” can’t bother me in the long term. It’s an atrocity, without a doubt, but the scales have to be balanced out. Other movies will come out this year, this decade, that blow my mind in an incomprehensible way, which will more than make up for this experience. Not to mention that old movies might be old, but they still exist, and they still rock. Go watch anything from Kurosawa and try to feel pessimistic about film. You can’t do it.
“He’s All That” is not all that, but it’s also not the only movie out there.