Not every movie that we loved in our youth can stand the test of time. (I, personally, was devastated to rewatch Britney Spears' Crossroads and find that it wasn't actually the coming-of-age story our generation needed.) This is probably the most true when it comes to certain '90s teen flicks. She's All That, for example, is seriously problematic: Rachael Leigh Cook's character Laney is literally used as a pawn in a bet, and still ends up with the guy who made her one. (It's basically the Pygmalion myth, but with a happier ending and great '90s soundtrack.)
Almost 20 years after the film's release, Cook knows perfectly well that the movie that skyrocketed her to stardom didn't always portray women in the best light.
In a new interview with Glamour about the high school movie trend that took over cinemas between 1998 and 2000 (Can't Hardly Wait, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Drive Me Crazy are also namechecked), Cook recalled how her character was objectified, even though, technically, it was Laney's story.
"The male gaze was part of that movie, which is a little odd considering it’s a female-geared story. I remember filming a beach scene when the guys were supposed to realize, 'Oh, hey, she looks great!' Production had given me these cutlets to put in my swimsuit to, like, help out the ‘situation,' but I thought, Oh, I don’t think anybody’s going to notice if I don’t wear these, so I just left them in the trailer," Cook told Glamour. "I went out and we shot half of the scene, and then, if I remember correctly, the director [Robert Iscove] asked me if the wardrobe had changed. The way he asked wasn’t offensive — he just knew that things looked different. Sure enough, they went and got the inserts from my trailer... I was 18 — a grown-up — but it was still like, 'OK, I see how it is.'"
The disappointing part about the bikini scene? Laney is no dim-witted Barbie doll: She's a woman with serious ambitions who initially shuts down the popular guy because she doesn't think he's worthy of her. Yet the male gaze creeps into the film in subtle ways. The beach scene suggests Laney has some new value simply because she fills out a bikini.
It's worth wondering if having more women on set may have led to that particular moment playing out in a different way. Actress Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, who portrayed "mean girl" Taylor in She's All That, thought more women behind the camera may have made a difference in creating grounded, relatable female characters.
"Literally everything that character [in She's All That] did was something I would never do. I mean, just every single thing. There wasn't a single moment where I was like, I can relate to that, personally," O'Keefe recalled to Glamour. "I remember feeling like the lack of women in charge was a disconnect. I was always looking for where the women were. I can remember that, from very early on, there were always women in the hair and makeup department. There were always women in the costume department. I was always wondering, 'Where are the female directors? Where are the female producers?' At the time I didn't have any answers for it."
I'll admit it: I'll always love She's All That, and the teen flicks that emerged during the sub-genre's height. However, I'm grateful that, in 2018, our high school stories don't have to involve objectifying women. (And they certainly don't always have to involve literally betting on them, which is also pretty much what happens in 10 Things I Hate About You.) Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, for example, allows the titular character to be in charge of her own narrative, while still exploring that particularly special time in one's life.
By the way, there's still time for this film to try a different approach. In 2015, it was reported that a She's All That remake was in the works. Let's hope there are female characters who can grab attention no matter what they're wearing.