Movie review by Greg Carlson
A plucky if empty-headed teen romp, “She’s the Man” loosely updates Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” as a gender-bend-it-like-Beckham tale of a soccer-mad lass talented enough to best her male competitors. Penned by Ewan Leslie, Karen McCullah Lutz, and Kirsten Smith, “She’s the Man” provides just enough diversion to satisfy its running time, despite its breezy superficiality. The latter two screenwriters scored considerably better marks with their previous Bard-borrowing teen flick “10 Things I Hate About You,” which coasted through a fair amount of the plot of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Younger audience members certainly won’t care – or notice – that “She’s the Man” jettisons as much Shakespeare as it can while hanging on to the central cross-dressing conceit.
Headstrong, tomboyish Viola (Amanda Bynes) sees her soccer season slip away when Cornwall Prep cuts the girls’ squad. Taking advantage of her brother Sebastian’s decision to sneak off to play in a rock music festival in London, Viola disguises herself as her sibling in order to try out for the men’s team at rival school Illyria. A monster-sized suspension of disbelief is needed to buy Bynes as a male, but the game performer makes the most of a thinly written role – even though it requires a few too many throat-clearings and broad behavior corrections (such as what to do when nailed in the groin by an errant soccer ball).
Naturally, Viola-as-Sebastian ends up bunking with the handsome Duke (Channing Tatum, whose wooden delivery is often rendered unbearable by lame line readings), and must figure out how to keep her biology a secret at the same time she is proving herself on and off the soccer pitch. Complicating matters is the romantic attention of Olivia (Laura Ramsey), who finds the new “boy’s” empathetic demeanor totally irresistible. Jealous Duke, who has the hots for Olivia, agrees to coach his new roommate in soccer in exchange for help from Viola/Sebastian in wooing Olivia.
It is too early to tell whether “She’s the Man” will ever develop a large enough following to equal the cable television potency of “Just One of the Guys,” the durable 80s teen flick which employs a great deal of the same plotting. Bynes alternates between adorable and irritating (and that goes for her appearance as either sex), but most of her cast-mates are forgettable. The chief exceptions are Julie Hagerty as Daphne, Viola’s debutante-obsessed mom, and David Cross as Principal Gold, an earnest if out-of-touch headmaster given to off-center reveries and misplaced advice. Cross is brilliant in his fleeting onscreen moments, even if his character in “She’s the Man” resembles “Arrested Development’s” Tobias Funke.
Several of the film’s subplots – especially one involving a snarky, uptight, goody-two-shoes who sets out to ruin Viola – go absolutely nowhere. Additionally, the movie often strains to manufacture complications for Viola’s ruse (a frantic and nonsensical interlude at a carnival, in which Viola changes back and forth between boy and girl, belongs in a sitcom). “She’s the Man” should have exchanged its mugging and slapstick for some intelligently presented ideas about the ups and downs of gender expectations during high school. But this is teen-movie territory, which tends not to aim too high, and as a result, “She’s the Man” is indistinguishable from dozens of other movies with titles like “She’s All That,” “Get Over It,” “”Bring It On,” and “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 3/20/06.