Friday, 26 May 2006

She's the Man (2006)

Amanda Bynes is unconvincing as a man, but those Abercrombie and Fitch models!

We feel that Shakespeare is just a misunderstood bloke, an ordinary homeboy whom the passage of time has done unspeakable evils to, like having the Royal Shakespeare Company perform all his plays in outlandish costumes and accents out of Masterpiece Theatre. Poor Bard. His reputation really needs to be rehabilitated, and who better to do it than the Americans, and what better way to adapt Shakespeare’s light-hearted plays as high school comedies? After all, the Lutz-Smith writing team turned The Taming of the Shrew into the immensely funny Ten Things I Hate About You two years ago.

Imagine the lasting appeal of Shakespeare if he had chosen better names for his plays!

Titus Andronicus - The Roman Chainsaw Massacre
Merchant of Venice - The Ah-long of Venice
Richard III - The Hunchback of England
Hamlet - I Know What You Did Last Summer
Romeo and Juliet - Romeo Must Die
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy

We also feel that football movies are embarrassingly painful to the point of unwatchability, with the possible exception of Bend It Like Beckham. So why not save both Shakespeare and football movies at the same time? Indeed, why not cross Shakespeare with football movies (along with high school comedies)?

While Bend It improved the genre single-handedly by having a female footballer, the idea of an all-girls soccer team didn’t seem credible enough to audiences. She’s The Man wisely ditches that idea early, as Viola (Amanda Bynes) finds out her school (Cornwall High) has canned the female soccer team, because “it’s a scientific fact” that women will never be as athletic as men – according to the coach of the men’s football team.

What does a girl need to do to prove herself? On the eve of getting transferred to a new high school, her twin brother, Sebastian (James Kirk), has run off in secret to England to pursue a music career (It sure beats getting shipwrecked. W Shakespeare, remember to take notes), so Viola decides to get a haircut, take on her brother’s identity, try out for the Illyria high school football team, and hopefully exact some poetic justice by scoring the winning goal for the Illyria-Cornwall match.

Now, there can be only one result when you have crossdressing twins: massive hilarity. As with other harebrained ideas, Viola’s scheme is flimsy, and in constant threat of getting exposed. How she deals with hanging around real guys in the dorms, classrooms and shower rooms (after all, she really wants to play football!) is amusing, much more so than when her ineffectual impersonation of a boy actually slips.

Does Amanda Byne look like a boy in her disguise? Of course not – she looks like a pudgy kid in elementary school, and she’s at least a head shorter than the masculine James Kirk, who plays Sebastian. It’s a relief that the script does not require its audience to suspend their disbelief, because the best laughter-inducing scenes in the movie involve how Viola resorts to rather outrageous plots to convince her friends at school of her manliness, and more importantly, how these friends actually get completely suckered, so much so that some of the girls start falling head over heels for her, while Viola starts falling hard for her roommate, Duke Orsino.

Since Amanda Bynes looks nothing like a boy and her feminine curves are no longer seen after the first 15 minutes, this movie will not attract the hot-blooded male demographic. Instead, the real star of the show is Channing Tatum, who stars as Duke Orsino. A model for Abercrombie and Fitch and underwear catalogues, Tatum takes every chance he can to show off his sculpted body and drive the females (and some boys) in the cinema to distraction.

Coming off from a torrent of heavy summer blockbusters, audiences searching for lighter fare will be entertained and tickled by the improbable love triangles involving crossdressing twins and mistaken identities. The only misgiving I have with She’s The Man is its reluctance to leverage more out of the gender confusion mayhem. Here, it appears more strait-laced, prim and proper than a certain bawdy bard.

First published at incinemas on 1 June 2006

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