She’s the Man (2006) was on TV yesterday, so I thought I’d give it another spin… mostly because I recently discovered that Alexandra Breckenridge actually has quite a substantial (though uncharacteristically chaste) role in it.
For those who don’t know, this teen rom-com “homage” to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night stars Amanda Bynes as ‘Viola Hastings’, a tomboy who is so frustrated by the dissolution of her school’s all-girl soccer team, and the coach’s subsequent refusal to let her try out for the boys’ team, that she decides to disguise herself as her own twin brother ‘Sebastian’ (James Kirk)… who has rather conveniently skipped off to London with his band, leaving her to fob off the principle of the new prep school he’s supposed to be transferring to… a school that just so happens to have a long-standing soccer-related rivalry with her own! Gender-bending farce and inadvertent sapphoeroticism ensue.
As I’ve said before, I think Bynes is super-cute and has great comic energy… but here, instead of attempting to mimic the actor playing her brother, she chooses to do a bizarre Jack Black impersonation, adopting an exaggerated accent and ludicrous mannerisms that make it hard to buy her as a convincing human being, let alone a man! And speaking purely from a sexist POV, it seems kinda pointless to take such a pretty, perky young woman and have her waste half her time on screen dressed as a boy, with her breasts bound. The whole “debutante ball” subplot got me thinking about Whip It, and how much more interesting this movie might have been if they’d had Ellen Page playing Viola instead… partly because she has a more “boyish” figure, and partly because it might have inspired them to make a more insightful and intelligent comedy.
Breckenridge has some funny scenes as the real Sebastian’s bitchy ex-girlfriend ‘Monique’… it’s a pretty shallow role, but she milks it for all it’s worth. Laura Ramsey is very appealing as ‘Olivia’, the third point of the freaky love-triangle that develops between faux-Sebastian and his sensitive-beefcake roommate ‘Duke Orsino’ (Channing Tatum). It’s a rather unrewarding straight role, but she manages to make the character seem remarkably sympathetic, even when she tries to trick faux-Sebastian into fancying her by cosying up to his best-friend. Tch, tch, tch! Oh, and Julie Hagerty scored a couple of solid chuckles as Sebastian and Viola’s clueless mother… while Amanda Crew and Jessica Lucas appeared as Viola’s loyal team-mates and co-conspirators, ‘Kia’ and ‘Yvonne’. Still, the MVP award has to go to Emily Perkins as ‘Eunice Bates’, the scarily intense geek-girl who develops a sweet-but-creepy crush on faux-Sebastian. Apparently it was a much smaller role in the original script, but when they realised how hilarious Perkins was at the first table read, they added more scenes for her… and rightly so! She damn near steals the whole movie with her performance…
Although it isn’t a patch on It’s A Boy Girl Thing, I’d say this was an (intermittently) enjoyable comedy overall. The plot is ridiculous, of course, and the subversion/examination of traditional gender identities is puddle-deep… but there are enough good jokes and fun characters to balance all that bad stuff out. Plus, there’s always the possibility that it will inspire younger viewers to seek out Ginger Snaps, and for that we should be thankful.