Movie Review: She's the Man
By Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune Staff Writer
Falling somewhere between that ubiquitous community theater production of "Romeo and Juliet: A Hip-Hop Love Story" and Amy Heckerling's scrumptious, ohmigod take on Jane Austen in "Clueless" is "She's the Man," a veeeeery loose adaptation of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" featuring the refreshing comic charm of teen starlet Amanda Bynes.
Bynes, a five-time Kids' Choice Award winner and current star of the WB's "What I Like About You," plays Viola Hastings, a flirty-tough soccer chick who gets the naivete kicked out of her when coach drops the girls' soccer team and refuses to let her play with the boys. Determined to compete, Viola takes over her twin brother Sebastian's identity, showing up as a boy at Sebastian's new boarding school, Illyria Prep, while he runs off to London to pursue his rock 'n' roll dreams. (Some passionate genes these kids got.)
First comes the makeover. Set to a cringe-inducing punk-pop version of Mary Tyler Moore's theme song, Viola gets a boy wig, some stick-on sideburns and a crash course in manliness from her male hair stylist and his frosty blond highlights. She's gonna make it after all!
Viola as Sebastian speaks with a slight Southern drawl and stumbles around her new dorm room pigeon-toed, unable to get a complete sentence out to roomie Duke, who looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch model and is played by newcomer Channing Tatum, formerly an Abercrombie & Fitch model. Small world.
As you can imagine, sticking a girl dressed up as a boy into a dorm with hunky boys lusting for girls is the stuff of comic mix-ups, and in "She's the Man," we have plenty. Duke finds himself strangely able to open up to new pal Sebastian about his crush, Olivia, who ends up falling for the most sensitive guy at Illyria, Sebastian, who, as Viola, is in love with Duke, who eventually thinks Sebastian is trying to move in on Olivia when all he's really trying to do is not get called out as Viola and make first string before the real Sebastian gets back from London. "Syriana" it is not.
But director Andy Fickman, heretofore primarily a stage director for such timeless shows as "Jewtopia" and "Reefer Madness," and co-writers Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith (who together penned "Legally Blonde" and the "Taming of the Shrew" rip-off "10 Things I Hate About You") have a good feel for this material, indulging our collective teenage fantasies and providing all the right payoffs at almost all the right moments.
If awkward as Sebastian, Bynes is a real star as Viola, rolling her eyes and contorting her face like the reigning teen queen of sarcasm that she is. And, lucky girl, she gets to act with both hunky Tatum and hunk-of-a-different-sort David Cross, who plays Illyria's oblivious principal.
True, "She's the Man" is far more earnest and far less fashionable than "Clueless" - in short, it's not a satire - and nowhere near as baroque as that "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" knockoff, "Cruel Intentions," but it does its job. It's a cute romantic comedy, just as Shakespeare intended.
"She's the Man"
Directed by Andy Fickman; written by Ewan Leslie, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith; photographed by Gregory Gardiner; edited by Michael Jablow; production designed by David Bomba; music by Nathan Wang; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner and Ewan Leslie. A DreamWorks Pictures release; opens Friday, March 17. Running time: 1:45. MPAA rating: PG-13 (some sexual material).
Viola Hastings - Amanda Bynes
Daphne - Julie Hagerty
Duke - Channing Tatum
Olivia - Laura Ramsey
Principal Gold - David Cross