She’s the Man

If She’s the Man, directed by Andy Fickman, is trying to say that the sexes in America still live in stereotypes, the message is muted by an implausible coming-of-age story. In the recent film The Ringer, a misfit with no disability tries to compete in the Special Olympics as a mentally challenged athlete with the ulterior motive of winning a cash prize to pay for someone’s expensive medical procedure, but his teammates quickly identify him as a phony and let him continue the ruse because his underlying reason is honorable. She’s the Man begins with the premise that tomboy Viola Hastings (played by Amanda Bynes) wants to play soccer at Cornwall Preparatory with the boys team when the girl’s soccer program is cancelled for lack of players inspired by Bend It Like Beckham (2002). But the coach, full of misogynistic stereotypes, turns down her request; her boyfriend supports the coach, so she dumps him. However, when her brother Sebastian (played by James Kirk) sneaks off to London in order to play with a rock group, Viola decides to impersonate him at Illyria Prep so that she can get on their soccer team as a boy and defeat Cornwall, as captained by her fomer boyfriend. To do so, she must check into the school dorm, pretend to be a boy, try out for the team, and somehow avoid being discovered in the showers and skins-and-shirts practice sessions. Her effort to pretend to be a boy takes some coaching from friends but is not perfected by the time she first meets her hunky dormmate, Duke (played by Channing Tatum). Since filmviewers will immediately realize that her masquerade would never work in real life, the filmmakers must somehow hope that her bad acting will be viewed as a burlesque so that laughter will drown out her obvious inability to play a part that would have been better suited for Reese Witherspoon. Indeed, what might have been outtakes have make the film even more zany than what would have happened if the acting were up to the role. In any case, while several ongoing teenage romances get tangled and untangled, Viola falls in love with Duke, whom she has undressed psychologically in the dorm and, while playing the role of a girl, kissed passionately at a kissing booth at a carnival. At a critical moment, her gender is discovered on the soccer field during the critical match between Cornwall and Irylla, when male chauvinism and Cornwall clearly must both be defeated to make the story worth the effort. The film ends with everyone happy, including a reunion between her divorced parents and an unexpected mating between two very unlikely students, but not without lampooning the obsessions of some Southern women with their phony feminine charms. Applause certainly goes to screenwriters Ewan Leslie and Karen McCullah Lutz for loosely adapting the story from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” MH

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