She's the Man (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them". - Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene V

That single quotation, and a few of the names and plot points are all that remain of Shakespeare in this "updated" version of Twelfth Night. There's a Viola, a Duke Orsino, an Olivia, and a Sebastian. Somehow, however, I don't remember there being a "Coach Dinklage" or a "Principal Gold" in the original. Maybe the version I read was the abridged one… As was proven with 10 Things I Hate about You (written by Karen McCullah Luzt and Kristen Smith, two of the co-scribes of this picture), it is possible to re-imagine the Bard in a modern high school setting, but She's the Man doesn't do it well. First-time director Andy Fickman is too concerned with juvenile, sit-com level humor. With all the gender bending, one could envision the potential for a high school sex farce, but the PG-13 rating eliminates the most intriguing possibilities. So we get all the expected things PG-13 movies deliver: nudity hidden from the camera's view, innuendo that only a prude would consider risqué, and homosexuality as a punch-line. At least the 1980s teen sex comedies (which this resembles in all the worst ways) had the decency to deliver. All She's the Man does is tease.

If you're familiar with Twelfth Night, you probably won't recognize much of it here. Illyria is now a school, Duke is a first name, and the screenwriters didn't have the guts to name anyone Toby Belch. (Although the name in itself probably would have been more amusing than half of what passes for comedy.) Nearly every joke in the film is a re-tread of something we have seen before. Why does a "boy" have tampons in his luggage? How will "he" cope with taking showers in an all-boys dorm? What happens when the shy girl with glasses and braces gets a chance to let loose? If there's comic potential in these concepts, She's the Man fails to discover it. Instead, it drags out scenes that would make Bosom Buddies look sophisticated.

Viola (Amanda Bynes) is a soccer-playing girl who is at loose ends when her school cuts the girls' soccer program. So, she does what any self-respecting young woman would do: impersonate her brother, who happens to be about to start at another school where no one knows him. And, as luck would have it, brother Sebastian (James Kirk - no Star Trek jokes here, but who would name their kid that?) is off in London pursuing his dream of being a musician. So, Viola gets started at the new school, and falls in love with her hunky roommate, Duke (Channing Tatum). Alas, Duke is interested in Olivia (Laura Ramsey), who has, in turn, fallen for Viola. And just wait until the real Sebastian shows up, home a day early from overseas. Meanwhile, the R. Lee Ermy role is filled by Vinnie Jones, who plays the soccer coach who never smiles. But his high decibel tirades are much ado about nothing. And all's well that ends well.

It's easy enough to suspend disbelief about the premise, even though Amanda Bynes never comes close to looking like a boy. But when the script calls for the inclusion of characters like Viola's freaky mother (Julie Hagerty, whose portrayal is more shrill than nails on a chalk board) and Illyria's creepy principal (David Cross, trying to make pedophiles funny), it goes too far. Some audience members will ignore this extraneous stuff and focus exclusively on Viola. That's the best approach to getting through the movie, because Bynes is better than the material. Unfunny accent aside, she has screen presence and a good sense of comic timing. She saves a few of the gags and her delivery hints at a self-awareness that the director may not have intended.

The target audience is teenage girls (the core of Bynes' fan base), and they'll probably have fun with the movie. However, She's the Man is neither smart enough nor funny enough to have cross-over appeal to any other demographic. It's not a complete wash out - a few of the jokes work, Bynes is engaging, and there's a certain masochistic enjoyment in seeing how badly the Bard can be bludgeoned. But the laundry list of things She's the Man does badly is too long to recount. Some movies are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. For She's the Man, the answer to the multiple choice question is (d): none of the above.

She's the Man (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2006-03-17
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1