In the days of William Shakespeare, originality was frowned upon. Storytellers and playwrights of the age were judged on how well they could tell stories the audience was already familiar with. Centuries later Hollywood still takes that approach far too frequently, even taking liberties with the Bard’s own work. Such is the case with She’s the Man, a movie liberally based upon Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. How liberally? Let’s just say it trades Shakey’s “If music be the food of love play on” for the more updated “She shoots, she scores!” for an opening line. Alas, how times have changed.
Shakespeare’s comedies were often based on mistaken identity and gender swapping, particularly by women. She’s the Man uses that same plot device as the movie’s lead character, Viola (Amanda Bynes), dresses up as her twin brother Sebastian in an effort to prove that she’s just as good a player, if not better, at soccer than guys. The result is a comedy more along the lines of a teenage Tootsie, Soul Man or Mrs. Doubtfire than a modern retelling of Shakespeare, whose play really only provides names for the characters and a loose framework for the story.
Viola’s attempts to pass herself off as a guy start to cause problems as she ends up in a romantic triangle of sorts with her roommate, Duke Orsino (Channing Tatum) who has feelings for Olivia (Laura Ramsay) who herself has developed an attraction for Viola-as-Sebastian. While trying to help Duke Viola finds herself growing fond of Duke. The whole thing is best summed up by one of Duke’s friends when he finds out it’s okay to like a girl that was previously unaccepted by the jockish clique: “Man, I hate high school!” The story may seem absurd to people who have left high school behind, but for those currently living that life all of this probably seems far too familiar, girls masking themselves as guys aside.
That high school audience is going to be the main target audience for the film. They are a group who can drool over the unrealistically good looks of everyone at Illyria Private School, an audience that can easily connect with the romantic ins and outs of the characters, as well as an audience that grew up with the skit humor of Amanda Bynes. That audience will most likely be more forgiving of Bynes’s portrayal of Viola-as-Sebastian. While the overdone attempt at faux-masculinity would work well in a five minute skit, it tends to grate the nerves over an hour and a half. How any girl who has a brother so close to her age could be so clueless about guys is a big mystery. The story has some fun with that, however, by having Tatum’s Duke end up revealing himself to be more sensitive than his external appearance would let on.
Bynes’s masculine performance aside, the acting in She’s the Man isn’t half bad, especially contending that it’s a comedy. Bynes gets a few good moments in when she’s not mugging as a guy. Channing Tatum looks good for the male lead, although he could have used a little more work on his actual performance which tells the audience he’s a conflicted character because of his sensitive side, but never really shows that depth. Sadly the more experienced cast members tend to be the weaker members of the ensemble. David Cross’s principal seems forced and out of place, as if director Andy Fickman just used Cross out of personal favoritism of the actor, and not of an actual need. Julie Hagerty is underused as Viola’s mother. Only Vinnie Jones is put to best use in the role of a soccer coach that is every referee’s worst nightmare.
In many ways She’s the Man is the perfect homage to Twelfth Night. It borrows heavily from many movies for its story and characters with very little original about the movie itself and sells itself with attractive people and pulsing music like many modern releases. She’s the Man should play well for the intended audience, appearing as little more than fluff to audiences outside of that target. If, however, it manages to develop in its audience an interest in stories like those Shakespeare wrote I can hardly complain as a critic. After all, some movies do achieve greatness, even if that wasn’t their original intent.
Whether or not you care for the movie, the DVD release for She’s the Man is one of those so heavily loaded with features you can’t help but be impressed. Fully loaded with bonus material, this is one heck of a DVD.
I must admit, this is one of those cases where the bonus material on the DVD made me more appreciative of the picture itself. Through the featurettes and his commentary track, director Andy Fickman exposes a lot of his personal tastes and philosophies. Formerly a theatrical director, Fickman wanted to pay tribute to Shakespeare’s original work without it engulfing his own picture. As such there are lots of little details I never would have known about (such as the yellow socks the Malvolio character, Malcom, wears in one scene) that Fickman put in for his own personal gratification. Knowing Fickman’s approach to this film, as well as his previous work (he directed last year’s Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical) I can say Fickman is a director to take note of. He has a lot of potential, even if films like She’s the Man doesn’t totally show it.
There are two commentary tracks for the movie, one with Fickman and the cast members and the other with the writers and producers. Both are pretty standard fare for commentaries. The real enjoyment, however, is in the trivia track, which offers text tidbits on Shakespearian references and soccer knowledge.
With few special effects or big sequences, a featurette exploring behind the scenes of the movie doesn’t have tons of material to show off. Instead “Making the Man” talks about forming a bond between the cast and filming the soccer scenes while another featurette explores Shakespeare’s influences on the story. A gag reel, quite a few deleted scenes, a photo album and, a music video round out the rest of the material.