Updating the Bard
When I was teaching Shakespeare to high school students in days of yore, the classes always responded best if divided into groups and assigned to adapt an act from one of the Bard’s plays into a new style and perform it for each other. She’s the Man, a humorous updating of Twelfth Night, reminds me of the comic mini-plays some of my students managed to create. Making Shakespeare more accessible for teenagers is a worthy goal in my book, so I applaud this latest filmmaking effort to do just that.
She’s the Man features the immensely talented Amanda Bynes (What a Girl Wants) as Viola, a prep school student who pretends to be her twin brother Sebastian (James Kirk) in order to play on a boys’ soccer team. As a result of her gender-bending activities, various romantic entanglements ensue. While impersonating Sebastian, Viola falls for her roommate Duke (Channing Tatum), who has a crush on Olivia (Laura Ramsey), who -- thinking Viola is Sebastian -- falls for her.
Because Bynes doesn’t look much like a boy, even with her Buster Brown wig, this movie is hard to believe and a tad too over the top. But Bynes makes it fun to watch. Her wonderful comic timing, hilarious facial expressions and skill at slapstick help bring Viola to life with such exuberance that it becomes very easy to cheer her on. There’s also a great deal of suspense concerning Viola’s shenanigans. How long will she be able to pull off her identity switch? What will she do to get out of showering with the team? Will the coach put her on the first string? Is she up to playing the game as well or better than the guys?
Two strong supporting performances add to the amusing hi-jinks in She’s the Man. David Gross (TV’s Arrested Development) evokes plenty of laughs as a quirky principal who’s almost always wrong about what’s going on in his school. And Julie Hagerty (Airplane) does the same in the role of Viola’s ultra-feminine mom. I couldn’t help chuckling at the look on her face when Viola said, “I don’t do ruffles,” and turned her nose up at the gorgeous dresses her mom desperately wanted her to wear.
Directed frantically by Andy Fickman (Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical) and cleverly written by Ewan Leslie plus Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, co-authors of 10 Things I Hate about You -- another Shakespeare updating (Taming of the Shrew) -- She’s the Man veers considerably from Shakespeare’s play, but it’s still an amusing and entertaining film.
(Released by DreamWorks and rated “PG-13” for some sexual material.)