The makeover is a classic staple of contemporary movie culture, encompassing features as far-ranging as The Breakfast Club and Big Momma’s House. It’s even spread to TV, most cleverly in cult show Clone High’s convention-skewering ear-worm of a makeover song. Over the years, the idea of making over a character in order to further his/her (usually her, outside of the realms of wacky comedies such as the aforementioned Martin Lawrence vehicle and maybe Mrs. Doubtfire) status in a flick has been called into question, even sometimes chastised for being anti-feminist.
Regardless of the ideological concerns, there’s no denying the feel-good element. It’s nice to see a character emerge out of her cocoon like a butterfly, most often with a newfound zest for life and a confidence hitherto unseen. Thanks to their noteworthy makeovers, a select bunch of movies have even reached all-timer status, elevating the flicks to classics. These are my picks for the most special, memorable, and life-changing movie makeover moments.
Never Been Kissed (1999)
Raja Gosnell’s (who, funnily enough, directed Big Momma’s House the very next year) 1999 heart-warmer sees Drew Barrymore as Josie, a wannabe journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times who goes undercover as a high school student to nail her first big story, thereby bringing up a lot of painful repressed memories about her own high school experience as “Josie Grossie.” Genuinely heartbreaking flashbacks show the actor kitted out in braces, with frizzy hair and a frumpy wardrobe, but Josie’s initial makeover (via well-meaning colleague Anita) sees her strolling the halls on her first day in, of all things, a white feather boa.
The movie’s strong anti-bullying message is perhaps best captured in Josie’s speech at the prom, when, finally fully herself, she tells her assembled classmates to find out who they are and “try not to be afraid of it.” Josie’s makeover is, therefore, more about learning to love who she is inside, and to reflect that on the outside, than to necessarily throw off the shackles of her previous geekdom and be someone new.
In a 2015 interview with Glamour magazine, Barrymore discussed how she “loved” playing Josie and that it was one of her favorite roles she’s ever done. The magazine even had her recreate one particular scene to showcase her everlasting love of the character.
She’s All That (1999)
She’s All That is notable for many things, not least a super-weird performance from a pre-Fast And Furious Paul Walker (notice how he half-smokes a cigarette in just a couple scenes), and the inclusion of Usher, as a character who may or may not attend the high school with everyone else. Freddie Prinze Jr.’s class president is tasked, by Walker’s character, to turn the most hideous girl in school into the prom queen. But, as so cleverly sent up by Not Another Teen Movie (see below), all that appears to be wrong with Rachael Leigh Cook’s Laney is that she has glasses, a ponytail and paint on her overalls.
Curiously, for a teen movie so intent on pushing the myth of being popular above all else (albeit with a still sharp edge that skewers teen movie traditions, particularly in the casting of so many actors of color to play the coolest kids in school), the makeover itself is very sweet and well-intentioned. Mack, sister to Prinze Jr.’s character, Zack (I just got that), takes care of her subject’s hair, eyebrows, and clothing but introduces her as “the new, not improved, but different” Laney. And, it’s worth noting that as soon as we see Laney in school again, on the campaign trail, she’s back in her paint-covered overalls. In keeping with this idea, in a 2015 interview with Cosmopolitan, director Robert Iscove fired back at criticism of Cook’s casting, describing the scene as their “Clark Kent moment.”
If there is a better makeover reveal than “tell me about it, stud” we have yet to see it. The moment when the brand-new Sandy (previously Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity) strolls into the funfair, leaving everybody’s jaws on the floor in the process (but particularly a stricken Danny), is arguably one of the all-time coolest, if not the coolest, in cinema history. Nowadays, the idea that Sandy had to completely change who she is (or, at least, how she dresses) to impress Danny might seem a bit outdated. But it’s worth remembering that he also changes for her.
The beauty of Grease’s big makeover reveal, aside from the killer duet that follows, is it’s actually a double reveal. Sandy has tarted herself up as the kind of woman she imagines Danny wants, smoking, wearing tight clothing, and with big hair, but he’s also done the same, showing up to the fair in a Letterman sweater (much to the chagrin of his buddies.) True, Danny almost immediately chucks it aside but the message is still clear: both of them will have to adjust slightly in order for the relationship to work.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
In order to make a beautiful woman seem hideous (in Hollywood terms), very often the go-to is to put the actor in frumpy clothing, or hide her under big glasses. However, Anne Hathaway has twice been buried under frizzy hair in an effort to blunt her otherwise classically good looks. It made sense in The Princess Diaries, because her Mia was a dorky high school student, but there’s something hugely grating about how smart college graduate Andy turns up to an interview in The Devil Wears Prada. She looks as though she hasn’t even brushed her hair, which is surely a prerequisite even for the least girly among us!
Andy’s makeover is of the more wish fulfillment variety, particularly when fashion editors, tasked by Nylon with deciphering whether her Prada experience is realistic (the movie is based on a tell-all book), mostly pointed out that a lowly assistant would not, under any circumstances, get to take the Chanel home. Still, who doesn’t want to be dressed up by Stanley Tucci’s fabulous, no-nonsense fashionista, even if it means leaving those boots back in storage for the night?
At the end of the movie, when Andy is interviewing for a “real” journalism job, although she isn’t clad in head-to-toe couture, the hair is noticeably sleeker. So, really, her makeover was all about learning how to groom a bit better for a professional environment. Which she probably should have known anyway.