I have vague memories of my prom. I remember my mother snapping endless photographs (“Joe, let’s get one of you and the toilet tank!”), that kid I punched in the lungs because he spoke ill of the Naked Gun movies, and those sappy slow dances with my girlfriend to Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight, a lovely song about an alcoholic who gets so wasted his girlfriend/AA sponsor is forced to take care of him. They are all snapshots of memories that evoke a time when I foolishly believed that college was an entryway into an adult universe where “connections” and superficiality no longer applied.
I thought about those snapshots (and my misguided notions of adulthood) as I watched no-name director’s She’s All That, a punishment to us all (God included – remember, He sees everything). The movie bravely casts robot Freddie Prinze, Jr. as the super-handsome, super-rich, super-intelligent, and super-athletic Zack Silar, a guy so gifted, he doesn’t display any of the traits I’ve described earlier in this sentence. Tragedy befalls Zack when his superficial and nasty girlfriend dumps him for the Real World star (unfortunately named) Brock Hudson (Matthew Lilard).
To prove to his friends (and to himself) that his girlfriend is disposable, Zack makes a wager: he will transform any girl, no matter how unattractive, into prom queen within six weeks. Things get interesting when his best friend Dean (Paul Walker) chooses Precious star Gabourey Sidibe as the target. Just kidding. The bet hinges upon the transformation of Rachel Leigh Cook, one of the most beautiful actresses of her time. Why would it be so difficult for Laney (Ms. Cook) to be prom queen, you might ask. Simple, say producers and the guy I’ve targeted for endless groin kicking. She wears glasses and overalls, often at the same time.
Some people suggest these ugly duckling movies tap into the secret dreams of women but I think it’s more for men. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to uncover a beautiful woman and be allowed to share with her your innermost feelings without being laughed at or considered weak? That is a fantasy.
So I’m putting She’s All That into the Fiction vs. Reality generator this week. This is for anyone who has realized that adulthood is just like high school only without the promise of a bright future. Just how would this movie play out in real life? Let’s find out.
Scenario # 1
What Happens: In an effort to navigate through a difficult break-up, Zach bets his best friend that he can make any girl the prom queen.
Hollywood Version: Dean, the guy in charge of picking the target, overlooks:
1) An ugly girl who blows bubbles near a dumpster
2) An obese girl who sits on concrete and shows off her collection of expired deli meat
3) A weird girl who cannot stop scratching her ass
Instead, he favors Laney, a gorgeous girl who wears glasses and trips up staircases. Zack, not relieved at having avoided the deli meat girl, whines, “Fat, weird boobs, and fungus, I can handle. Scary and inaccessible, I cannot!” I start to wonder (and worry) about Zack’s dating history.
Reality: Dean picks the obese girl who sits on the floor and recounts stories about her and her deli meats. After being seen with her in public, Zack’s social stock plummets, leaving him forlorn and directionless. After being branded a loser, Zack drops out of school. In lieu of being crowned prom king, Zack lands a job at the local bedding store and is branded “Mattress King” by his co-workers.
Scenario # 2
What Happens: Zack shows up at Laney’s after-school job at the Falafel Hut to ask her out.
Hollywood Version: Entitled Zack interrupts an elderly customer mid-order to cajole Laney into going out with him. Laney ditches her responsibilities to flirt with Zack. The customer… doesn’t mind! In fact, after waiting for nearly five minutes, he proudly declares that he would like Laney to “supersize his [falafel] balls!” Audiences laugh. The parents of the actor who recites that line share a wordless embrace in which it is understood that they have failed as parents and they will soon finalize the conditions of their suicide pact.
Reality: “Customer service is our number one priority,” says Falafel Hut owner Jomiuq Dhounsi. “Employees are guaranteed one smoke break per hour by law. Laney would have to put off her flirtation for another 45 minutes. In that time, if Zack did not purchase a delicious item from our menu, we would remove him from the store. Laney’s failure to comply would lead to her being fired immediately. Additionally, I would ban the man who said ‘supersize my balls’ for life.”
Scenario # 3
What Happens: During a pretty crappy art show, Laney forces Zack to deliver his own version of performance art.
Hollywood Version: Zack channels all of his intelligence and athletic ability into, ahem, playing hacky sack by himself while saying things like, “Don’t let it drop, Zack!” Later, when I wake up from my coma, I learn that Zack’s dropping of the hacky sack leads to thunderous applause from the audience. The host lavishes him with praise saying, “Art is love.”
Reality: According to Russ Sandsom, art director, NYU Tisch School for the Arts, “No. Art requires hard work, dedication, and a commitment to your point of view. It also requires a message. Art is not simply love. And even if it were, spewing out nonsense while kicking beanbags is not love; it’s calisthenics. I suggest they both seek jobs at the Falafel Hut. This demeans us all.”
Scenario # 4
What Happens: To further his evil plan, Zack asks Laney to go to the beach.
Hollywood Version: He blackmails her by threatening to befriend her lonely brother and chat about jockstraps with her father. Laney agrees and the audience is enchanted. Later, when Laney expresses dismay at the state of the environment citing a study reported on CNN, Zack yells, “Forget CNN! Have fun!”
Reality # 1: According to Regina Pionster, former head of the EPA, “This is exactly the kind of head-in-the-sand attitude that led to our destroying of the environment. It will be difficult for all of us in the future to “have fun” when the tide brings in wave after wave of disease and toxic chemicals.”
Reality # 2: “This is a form of bullying,” asserts psychologist and author of See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me…KILL Me! Martin Van der Kloot. “Zack exhibits symptoms of borderline personality disorder: He is smart but vacant. He attracts people into his web of lies using superficial charm and when he no longer needs them, he tosses them away without a care for their well-being. He may make her prom queen, but most likely he will make her crazy.”
Scenario # 5
What Happens: After Laney turns down an offer to play volleyball, one of Dean’s girlfriends commends her decision, saying that she is not a good athlete.
Hollywood Version: To spite the girl, Laney changes her mind and… ruins a perfectly good game of volleyball with her terrible display of athleticism. The guys are… delighted!
Reality: According to Martha Liviner, feminist and author of Semyn, “This is our worst fear. We have a strong woman who demands to be taken seriously only to embarrass herself while the men laugh at her and think of her as a sex object. I do not blame the men; I blame Laney for allowing them to objectify her… and for liking it! She set the women’s movement back 40 years.”
Scenario # 6
What Happens: To score points, Zack defends Laney’s brother.
Hollywood Version: Laney’s demented brother, who roller skates around the cafeteria offering freshly ground pepper to the students, is taken aside by two nice young men who give him a dirty magazine. Zack shows up and through sheer eye contact forces the two nice men to eat “pubes” off of a pizza. The audience cheers for brave Zack/the pubes.
Reality # 1: As soon as Zack leaves, the boys would beat and murder Laney’s brother, perhaps with his own peppershaker.
Reality # 2: According to Helena Ruskosky, cafeteria cook, “I wake up at 4:30 each morning and spend hours carefully preparing and seasoning all of the lunch-time meals. My staff and I are deeply insulted by this boy’s disrespectful and gratuitous use of pepper. For shame.”
Scenario # 7
What Happens: At the senior prom (and before Laney and Taylor battle it out for prom queen), the kids perform an impromptu yet professionally choreographed dance routine on the floor.
Hollywood Version: No one seems to notice or mind. Everyone has a blast.
Reality: According to Book of Mormon choreographer Fredrich Bartone, “To coordinate such efforts would require at least 4 hours of practice each day not including time for stretching. That includes the DJ. This does not account for the individual workouts of each of the dancers. To imply that an impromptu dance routine could be choreographed on the spot is not only disingenuous; it’s dangerous.“
Scenario # 8
What Happens: After losing the crown to Taylor, Laney’s teacher praises her work.
Hollywood Version: The teacher tells her that she faxed her artwork to all of the major art schools and that her piece is “by far the best I’ve seen this year.” Laney and the audience are elated! She is going to art school.
Reality: “Not likely,” asserts Brandon Mal, Parsons admissions director. “Our admissions committee meets just once each year. This occurs in April. By the end of June most of our spots are filled and for those that aren’t we have a long wait-list reserved for people who supply us with completed portfolios, not faxed versions of work that is deemed the ‘best’ by a public high school teacher. And it was only the best she’d seen in one year. I might suggest Laney make drawings for the Falafel Hut.”
Scenario # 9
What Happens: Laney’s best friend, a fat kid who carries Cheetos in his overall pockets and spends the prom in a secluded section of the auditorium preparing and eating a turkey dinner, runs down a flight of stairs to warn Zack about Dean’s unsavory plans to bed Laney.
Hollywood Version: The kid is so ineffectual and overweight that jogging 20 feet renders him completely useless. After trying and failing to communicate the message, he simply gives up and falls to the floor proving true the old maxim I made up in middle school: fat kids are worthless (unless someone throws a football/chainsaw into their groin; then, they are temporarily hilarious).
Reality: Same. Hollywood gets it right.
Sadness Alert: Further proving my point, a hard target Internet search for photos of Elden Hanson, the actor who played best-friend and Eunuch Jesse, yielded no results for images or video clips to accompany this scenario. Just like in real life, the sexless best friend is erased from our collective memories. So I just threw up a photo of a fat kid so you can get the point.
Scenario # 10
What Happens: Zack and Laney finally get together.
Hollywood Version: After apologizing for his involvement in the bet (and for creepily standing in her living room for untold hours), Zack opens up to Laney about his dreams and desires. The romantic music swells. They fall in love. After spending the duration of the movie locked in a state of inertia about his future (“Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth? I can’t just pick one!”), Zack chickens out and declares, “I’m going to art school.”
Reality# 1: According to psychiatrist Marc Levinson, “This is typical co-dependent behavior from a narcissist. He comes off as very powerful and decisive, but it masks a deep insecurity that leads him to follow a girl he just met. For a man who is supposedly brilliant, his choice of an awful girlfriend (Taylor) and to pursue an avenue of art for which he has no discernible talent betrays a lack of self-knowledge or street smarts. I suggest cognitive behavioral therapy for Zack and a restraining order for Laney. A narcissist will never willingly leave his supply. I fear for her and us all.”
Reality # 2: After revealing his innermost fears and secrets, Laney laughs in Zack’s face. Turns out it was all a bet she made with his best friend Dean to see how pathetic and weak he could become at the hands of a strong woman. Laney and Dean make out in front of him. Then, they force him to eat pizza replete with “pubes.” Zack kills himself. Laney’s brother sprinkles pepper onto his lifeless body.
Final Thought: Movies are fond of relaying the message that high school is silly and pointless but at least there was a sense, unanchored but sure, that it was leading to something brighter. Adult life is just as silly and pointless but leads us only to the grave. One can only hope for the early onset of dementia.
The reality is that adult life is still based upon superficiality and “who you know,” stalking is not perceived as “romantic persistence,” art is simply more than kicking bean bags, and for the love of God, if you have to pick an unlikely prom queen, always, always go with the lady holding expired deli meats.