She's the Man

EntertainmentMoviesSportsAmanda BynesPersonal ServiceSammy Davis Jr.Vinnie Jones

Warning: "She's the Man" may just have you giggling like a little girl, even if you aren't one.

When Viola's (Amanda Bynes) soccer team is cut and her twin brother Sebastian (James Kirk) goes AWOL, she temporarily solves both problems by taking on his identity at Illyria Prep and joining the guys' team there. The problem is, in her manly guise, she falls for her roommate Duke Orsino (Channing Tatum) and becomes the reluctant object of affection for the pretty Olivia (Laura Ramsey).

Sound vaguely familiar? While some contemporary Shakespeare updates still obviously belong to the bard, like Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet" tale of woe, other adaptations, such as "Strange Brew's" inebriated twist on "Hamlet," had scholars blindsided. Bynes' starring vehicle falls somewhere in between, borrowing the basic plot, a few names and the overall farcical tone from the gender-bending comedy "Twelfth Night."

"She's the Man" successfully taps into the secret desires of its target audience: young girls. After establishing a bit of girl power righteousness (Viola can too play soccer with the boys), the film allows girls to vicariously infiltrate the mysterious world of boys and share a giggle every time Viola's disguise barely escapes detection. And only by becoming a boy does Viola learn to embrace her inner girl, ultimately winning the hunky yet sensitive Duke and wearing a pretty dress to the debutante ball.

Yes, there are quite a few gender cliches, but there's also a bit of gender irony. In most teen films there's the requisite makeover/shopping montage, but in this one, Viola gets a masculine makeunder in which she tries on different facial hair and has her breasts bound. But do we really care about this film's sneaky, subversive messages?

Well, no.

At 19-years-old, Bynes is a brave soul to dress in drag for the sake of comedy, especially when she physically makes an appalling teenage boy. The short hair makes her usually mobile facial expressions that much more exaggerated, and the padding just makes her look blocky, not masculine.

Her timing and physical comedy prowess, however, makes the whole ludicrous masquerade work. The most bizarre, yet hilarious aspect is her "male" speech, in which Viola mistakes hip-hop phrases for macho lingo and inexplicably affects an accent that's a cross between Sammy Davis Jr. and Billy Crystal's Fernando character. The rest of the cast members -- ranging from the attractive younger generation to adults Julie Hagerty, David Cross and Vinnie Jones -- are just as game, adding to the unrepentantly goofy comedy.

In the end, "She's the Man" is easy on the eyes and easy on the brain, not necessarily a bad thing for escapist fare. And iambic pentameter aside, that's just what the Bard intended "Twelfth Night" to be back in the day.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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