“She’s the Man” is not only an underrated teen comedy, but stands as the greatest Shakespeare adaptation since “10 Things I Hate About You.”
The 2006 movie stars Amanda Bynes as Viola Hastings — a high school soccer player with a twin named Sebastian. When her soccer team gets cut and Sebastian ditches school to play music in London, Viola decides to pose as her twin brother and join the rival high school’s soccer team.
While wearing her disguise, Viola falls in love with her roommate Duke. But Duke (played flawlessly by Channing Tatum) is already in love with Olivia, who in turn is crushing on “Sebastian” (who is really Viola).
Sound familiar? This is basically the entire plot of “Twelfth Night” — a comedic play written by Shakespeare sometime around 1600 — except in Shakespeare’s play, Viola believes her brother Sebastian died at sea.
The brilliance of “She’s The Man” lies in its subtle re-telling of “Twelfth Night.” I was 15 years old when the movie first came out, and unaware of pretty much anything written by Shakespeare that wasn’t “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet,” or “MacBeth.”
Bynes’ unique brand of physical comedy is written into a story that requires no background in “Twelfth Night” in order for teen viewers to appreciate it. The movie came out the same year as “Step Up” (Tatum’s breakout film), which means you get peak athletic, but doofy and not-yet-famous Tatum. Man-candy and Bynes’ humour aside, the story also works to defy stereotypical gender roles — a theme welcome in any teen rom com.
Once you do learn a thing or two about Shakespeare and “Twelfth Night,” the movie-watching experience is only enhanced.
The clever ways in which names and locations are re-purposed is one big part of the “She’s The Man” magic. Viola, Olivia, and Sebastian all have identical names and plots, but Tatum’s character Duke Orsino has a twist.
In the play, Viola falls in love with the Duke of Illyria — a man named Orsino. “She’s The Man” named Tatum’s character Duke Orsino, and the school he attends is called Illyria Academy.
There are other character name quirks like this. A “Twelfth Night” character named Malvolio is another man who loves Olivia, and Feste is the fool in Olivia’s court. But “She’s The Man” combined these into the character Malcolm Feste, and gave him a pet tarantula named Malvolio instead.
There are plenty of other hidden references to Shakespeare throughout the story. Viola’s debutante ball takes place at the Stratford Country Club, riffing on Shakespeare’s own hometown. Several side characters take their names and personalities from other play characters, like the Illyria headmaster Horatio (played by David Cross) or a popular date spot Cesario’s.
Shakespearean roots aside, “She’s The Man” is a darn fun movie. Roger Ebert gave it three stars back in 2006, and said Bynes “is convincing, and her poise, under the circumstances, is extraordinary.” The excellent mid ’00s soundtrack includes the All American Rejects, OK Go, and The Veronicas. Plus there are no fewer than four jokes about flirting with the opening line: “Do you like cheese?”
If you’ve never see “She’s The Man,” I forgive you. But only if you swear to rectify that life mistake by watching it within the next 48 hours. This is a teen comedy worthy of everyone’s one hour and 30 minutes, especially given its perfect Shakesperean adaption choices.
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