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Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" Retold in "She's the Man"

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2006 21 Jul
Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" Retold in "She's the Man"

DVD Release Date:  July 18, 2006
Theatrical Release Date:  March 17, 2006
Rating:  PG-13 (for sexual material)
Genre:  Comedy/Romance
Run Time: 105 min.
Director:   Andy Fickman
Actors:   Amanda Bynes, Channing Tatum, Laura Ramsey, Robert Hoffman, Vinnie Jones

Oh, boy!  It’s the Bard, in another high school drama.  Would he be dismayed?  Probably not.  After all, even though it’s all about teenagers, all is well that ends well.

When her tony high school dissolves the girl’s soccer team, Viola Hastings (Amanda Bynes) is devastated.  An excellent athlete who plays center forward, Viola asks if she and her friends can try out for the boy’s team.  Not only does the coach refuse, but Viola’s boyfriend, Justin (Robert Hoffman), the team’s captain, also disses her soccer skills – in public.   Mrs. Hastings, Viola’s mother (Julie Hagarty), is delighted that her tomboy daughter won’t be playing soccer anymore.  She just wants Viola to put on a dress and make her debut.

So when Viola’s twin brother Sebastian sneaks off to London for a couple of weeks (he’s in a rock band, and their parents are divorced and clueless), Viola decides to impersonate him at his new prep school.  With the help of a gay hairdresser friend, she arrives in time for soccer tryouts and moves into Sebastian’s dorm room – right next to Sebastian’s hunky roommate, Duke (Channing Tatum).  But, even dressed as a boy, Violet isn’t quite good enough to make the soccer team’s starting lineup.  Fortunately, she’s paired with Duke’s crush, Olivia (Laura Ramsey) in biology.  Olivia has no interest in Duke, but Viola offers to put in a good word for him, in exchange for some advanced soccer training.  The only problem is, Olivia is falling for Violet/Sebastian – and Violet is falling for Duke.  And then there’s the matter of Sebastian’s ex-girlfriend, Monique (Alex Breckenridge), who keeps poking around.

Sound familiar?  It should.  “She’s the Man” is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s comedy, “Twelfth Night,” set – as they all seem to be, these days – at an expensive private school.  Written by Karen McCallah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, who penned “Legally Blonde” as well as another Bard-goes-teen hit, “10 Things I Hate About You,” this film isn’t quite as good as either of their previous efforts.  It’s not terrible, though – especially if you’re a teenager who enjoys watching pretty girls and guys.

It does stretch credibility.  Although the former Nickelodeon star (“What a Girl Wants”) does a decent job with her ‘two’ roles – especially the back and forth switches – Bynes is not particularly believable as a boy.  She looks barely old enough to be in junior high, and it’s nearly impossible to believe this sprite could compete with 26-year-old guys (the age of the two main male actors, in real life).  And, while it’s supposed to be funny when Violet deepens her voice, she comes across as a bizarre mixture of hillbilly meets gangsta meets Desi Arnaz.

I also had a problem with Andy Fickman’s (TV’s “Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical”) decision to portray Violet as ill-mannered and rude at a Junior League meeting, where she eats as if she’s never even seen a silver spoon – much less been raised with one in her mouth.  It’s yet another way that this director caters to the kids, which will leave a lot of adults rolling their eyes.  At least he’s left out the scatological humor.

Tatum does a fantastic job as the clueless jock who isn’t quite as dumb as he looks, as does Ramsey in the sweet but not syrupy role of Olivia.  So do all of the supporting characters, who finish the film in typically Shakespearean comedic fashion, with final pairings all around.  English soccer star Vinnie Jones even does a stint as a snarling coach.

Unfortunately, all the adults are portrayed as self-obsessed idiots – something that seems to be standard fare in teen movies.  Mrs. Hastings is completely over the top as a wealthy divorcee and Junior League member, and her daughter shows nothing but disdain and mockery for her.  Mr. Hastings (John Pyper-Ferguson) is absent until the end, but equally clueless and narcissistic.  The boy’s soccer coach, who won’t let Violet try out, is misogynistic and rude.  And the school principle (David Cross), who hams it up well, is a dork verging on psychotic who’d never be at the helm of a prestigious prep school. 

Are they funny?  Not really.  They mostly underscore the film’s message that adults are self-absorbed and out of touch with reality – which leaves teens to fend for themselves, even if that means being rude, fighting, lying or doing whatever it takes to survive.  Teens do know best, after all.  It’s unfortunate that the film had to go in this direction, but sadly, this kind of message has become the norm – and it’s ubiquitous.  Parents will definitely want to address it with their kids, pointing out the absurd but dangerous worldview which rejects authority and places whims and desire at the helm of our lives.

Shakespeare aficionados will appreciate the various winks at the original play, which include most of the same character names, a school play by “Twelfth Night’s” alternative title (“As You Will”) and yellow socks on the Malvolio character – all discussed in one of the DVD extras.  And, obviously, the best way to see this film is after reading “Twelfth Night,” with a long discussion afterwards about the parallels.  Failing that, it’s not a bad introduction to the Bard, for older teens – a little twisted teaching not withstanding.  

  • Director and Cast Commentary featuring Amanda Bynes
  • Deleted Scenes
  • “Making the Man” (how the movie was made)
  • Gag Reel
  • Dave Lichens Music Video
  • Cast Photo Album
  • Pop-Up Trivia

AUDIENCE:  Older teens and up


  • Drugs/Alcohol:  No obvious drinking, drug use or smoking.
  • Language/Profanity:  Approximately a half dozen camouflaged profanities.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Multiple sexual references and allusions – some discrete, some less so – but most by teens.  Several also engage in heavy kissing and/or groping, but none take place in bed, and there is no nudity.  In one scene, a teenage boy flirts with an obviously gay character and briefly touches his hand.
  • Violence:  Very mild.  In one scene, two boys fight (one ends up with a bloody nose) and in another, three girls fight (no one is injured).