Though I hate to admit it, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith have scored again. "She's the Man" is a ridiculous but ultimately entertaining teen movie which takes the gender-bending action of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" and drops it in the middle of a modern-day American boarding school. The premise should sound familiar because screenwriters Lutz and Smith also penned "10 Things I Hate About You," another twist on Shakespeare, starring the likes of Julia Styles and Academy Award nominee Heath Ledger (before he was an Academy Award nominee).
It's more of the same, of course, but seeing Shakespeare's work go Hollywood, and, thus, be ripped to shreds, continues to amuse. "She's the Man" also focuses on a decidedly less bitter heroine than the shrew, Katarina, played in 1999 by a very stilted Styles. If that makes the film less witty, who cares? Not half of this film's target audience, who came mostly to see Channing Tatum with his shirt off.
Like Kat in "10 Things," Viola (Amanda Bynes) is a tomboy and a soccer star on the women's team at Cornwall Prep. Her life is soccer, which becomes a problem when her school cuts the women from the sports program. Better than most of the boys, Viola wants to suit up with them but is snubbed by both the coach and the team's captain – her boyfriend. So it's "end of discussion
end of relationship." Viola hatches a plan to pursue her sporting dreams at rival school Illyria, where her twin brother has just enrolled. Twin brother, Sebastian, is skipping off to England for two weeks and nobody at Illyria has ever met him.
If you missed the set up, read "Twelfth Night." It's pretty obvious what happens from here. Viola disguises herself as her brother and moves into the dorms where she meets her roommate and fellow soccer player Duke (Channing Tatum). She begins to gear up for Illyria's season opener against Cornwall and has to navigate a complicated love-triangle, in addition to other challenges like taking a shower alongside her male teammates, without them finding out about her girl parts.
In reality, nobody who looks like Bynes could get away with impersonating a 17 year-old male. Viola is too pretty to be a boy; in other words, dressed as her brother, she makes Orlando Bloom look like a frost-bitten lumberjack. This fantasy aspect doesn't detract from the film, though. Viola puts on her wig and fake sideburns and, suddenly, she's the most socially awkward nerd-boy you've ever seen. Suspension of disbelief works.
The Sebastian disguise doesn't have to be convincing. What matters is that all the other characters are oblivious to facts that are obvious to the audience. The laughs come from seeing Viola get away with a ridiculous scam. In one scene, Duke and fake Sebastian hug each other, but Viola slips out of character and gets a little too friendly. It's not that homoeroticism or homophobia are inherently funny, it's the knowledge that Duke is disturbed by being frisked by someone who is actually a girl that makes us laugh.
Other than that, "She's the Man" offers audiences the simple pleasure of Amanda Bynes who seems to be a natural in comedic roles. Her Sebastian/Viola is definitely a caricature but it's a perfectly illustrated one. From her mixed-up half southern, half Canadian drawl (her misguided version of the typical teen boy cadence), to her crotch grabbing and Eminem-like posturing, Bynes has a lot of fun and, as a result, the jokes land.
It's a teen movie, so the ending is typical and cheesy. While sister film "10 Things I Hate About You" had a wild feminist streak in it and touched on somewhat weighty issues, such as the pressure to have sex, "She's the Man" lacks a serious undercurrent. But this is probably a good thing. "10 Things" was, at times, too earnest and moralizing. "She's the Man" doesn't pretend to be more important than it is. It'll earn a spot on the shelf, in between "Bend It Like Beckham" and "Legally Blonde." (And, like Reese, maybe Bynes will win an Oscar in 10 years. Anything is possible – just look at how "Crash" won Best Film.)
Copyright (c) 2006 by Lauren Simpson