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Sunday, March 19, 2006

She's the Man

Have you ever wished the Essex Cinemas had cotton candy as a confectionary treat? Well She’s the Man is a cute piece of fluff, the cinematic equivalent of a gooey, airy treat on display there now. It’s cotton candy for the brain, which is what basically all which one needs or expects from Amanda Bynes to make it enjoyable. Unlike her peers, Bynes seems in no hurry to prove her adulthood by public displays of drinking, drug using, serial marrying, or slathering herself in piercing and tattoos to show her contempt for the Hollywood “machine” that has made her a success. Instead, she chooses material that seems to fit her well. She is cute, personable, and comes across as the daughter every parent wishes they had and every ten year old wishes was their big sister. Unlike the Lohans, Duffs, and (god forbid!) those wretched Simpson sisters, Bynes doesn’t seem like she needs to keep the phone number to the local STD Clinic on speed dial, so who better to take a role that could well slide into salacious territory and keep it “Beaver Cleaver” clean than our little Amanda.

Okay, so She’s the Man isn’t exactly Shakespeare. Well, it is, but if he were alive today he’d probably sue so it is just as well he’s not around to see what’s become of his work and it’s just as
well if you pretend that you don’t recognize that this is essentially a rip-off of Twelfth Night. Think of it as an homage. Better yet, think of it as a remake of Just One of the Guys, a 1985 movie that could easily be the working script for She’s the Man, and is still rerun ad nauseum on Comedy Central whenever there is a gap between reruns of that other gender-bending teen flop Sorority Girls. For some reason Comedy Central seems to think all good humor is based in cross-dressing. Go figure. At least they’ll have a new staple to add to the rotation when She’s the Man reaches cable television in a year or so.

So, as for the movie itself… In She’s the Man Bynes plays Viola, a teenage soccer player, who is traumatized early on to find that the girls’ soccer team of her high school has been cut due to funding problems and the boys’ coach refuses to allow the girls to try out for the boys’ team and make it co-ed. Even Viola’s dumb jock boyfriend, Justin (Robert Hoffman), is unsupportive after privately telling Viola the night before that she could easily beat “half the guys” on the team, Does
there need to be much more than this to set a sensitive yet determined soul such as Viola to prove her point at (almost) any cost?

Fortunately for Viola, all this drama coincides exactly with her twin brother Sebastian’s secret plan to sneak off to London for a few weeks, just as he was supposed to start boarding school at the very same high school that Viola’s school is scheduled to play against in the BIG championship soccer tournament in just ten days. Even more fortunate for Viola is that her mother (Julie Hagerty in her patented dimbulb role) is willing to let Viola simply leave home to stay with her divorced father for a few weeks without even checking with him to see if he is okay with this arrangement.

And most fortunate of all, Viola just happens to have a best friend who is gay (though the “G” word is never, ever mentioned in such a family-friendly film) and stereotypically, naturally, a cosmetician. Who better than to be-wig and make-up Viola to “become” her brother Sebastian so that she can
infiltrate his new school and join the soccer team just in time to prove to herself, her school’s boys’ soccer coach, and the audience, that she is a perfectly perky young man as well as a perfectly perky young woman and, most of all, a perfectly perky perfect soccer player.

Once the set-up is established, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night receives the “Pimp My Ride” treatment and a lot of harmless, neutered hijinks follow. Viola as Sebastian emerges at her, er, his new school as a studly, manly man. In reality, nobody who looks like Bynes could get away with impersonating a 17 year-old male. Viola is simply too pretty to be a boy. Frankly, she makes fey Orlando Bloom look like a lumberjack by comparison. Still, if you can get past that point, it is easy to believe the rest that follows.

In the next ten days Viola falls for her new roommate, Duke (newcomer Channing Tatum), who wants Olivia (Laura Ramsey; Lords of Dogtown), who actually likes Sebastian who is really Viola. Meanwhile, the real Sebastian’s girlfriend, Monique (Alex Breckenridge), hates Olivia because she thinks Olivia is moving in on her boyfriend, unaware that the “Sebastian” Olivia is in love with is actually Viola in disguise. Olivia ends up putting the moves on Duke to make “Sebastian” jealous, which works, but not for the right reason, of course, since Viola also has a crush on Duke who has no idea she’s a girl. It is all very complicated, but also very entertaining, which is the point. What could have been reduced to lots of sex jokes and leering glances in the shower are played chastely though ultimately the only proof of who’s who does come to a big reveal requiring a doffing of pants in a most unusual setting.

She’s the Man isn’t going to entertain many adults under the age of sixty, and probably not too many teens over the age of sixteen, but for grandparents wanting to believe that their grandchildren are as pure-as-snow cute and clever as Bynes and friends then this is going to be like pabulum for their soul. For kids and younger teens who, in the tradition of Lisa Simpson, read “Non-Threatening Sexually Ambiguous Teen Boy Magazine” and want to think of their coming adolescence as a G-rated frolic, then She’s the Man is going to be as comforting as a weekend stay at Michael Jackson’s because their grandparents told them it was going to be all sunshine, lollipops and Jesus Juice.

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