SHE'S THE MAN: Ten Years Later

Ten years ago I was beginning my second semester of college, working thirty hours or so a week at Wendy's and increasingly enjoying more and more movies in my free time. My schedule throughout the week was decent as I only had class on Tuesdays and Thursdays while working the other three days to get a solid enough paycheck to sustain my mostly free weekends. Still, if there was a way to save money I would certainly take advantage of such opportunities and one of the ways to do so was to enjoy $5 Tuesdays at my locally owned movie theater. They also had a deal where, if you brought your own bowl on Thursdays, they would fill it up with popcorn for you. This popcorn deal of course spawned several interesting stories, but to the more pertinent point I was reminded of such movie-going experiences because over the last few weeks I've seen a number of anniversary articles about films that are turning twenty this year. While prestigious fare like Fargo and the now more affectionately rendered The Birdcage make for understandable reflections I was only nine in 1996 and therefore could only comment on something like Disney's stop-motion James and the Giant Peach (trust me, I checked) feature that I remember enjoying as a child, but probably haven't seen since 1997. And so, I bumped things up a decade to the year where I went to the theater consistently on Tuesday nights, for $5 dollars, and every now and then stumbled upon something more enjoyable than I might have expected particularly in these early months of the year.

If there was to be one film released in March of 2006 that likely deserves some type of retrospective piece written about it it would be V for Vendetta...or Inside Man...or Dave Chappelle's Block Party...or Thank You For Smoking...or Lucky Number Slevin...or Slither...or man, how good was March 2006? But while any one of these films would make interesting retrospectives that examine how such films have aged and how the perspectives on such products have changed given the cultural landscape they now exist within, especially Block Party and Slither, but while those films may be more worthy both were preempted in theater-going experiences by the more cookie-cutter, total Hollywood product that was given a wide release on March 17, 2006 and that was She's the Man. Yes, the Amanda Bynes-led take on Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night" that followed her 2003 mega teeny-bopper effort What a Girl Wants and her 2007 follow-up Sydney White that tried to seemingly replicate the success of She's the Man is ten years old.

A decade ago Bynes was thought to be one of the few 90's child stars that would make a successful transition into an adult movie star and with this little streak in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium it was hard to argue otherwise. She certainly wasn't the only twenty-something making these kinds of movies at the time as Disney rivals Lindsay Lohan or Hilary Duff could have just as easily filled this role, but Bynes had a clear penchant for comedy none of these other flavors of the decade did and that was clear from the first time she appeared on the SNL for kids that was Nickelodeon's All That. Beginning in 1994 and running through 2005, Bynes appeared on the sketch show from 1996-1999 where she became a highlight with popular sketches such as "Ask Ashley". This led to a solo show for the stand-out on Nickelodeon that ran from 1999-2002 before breaking into the bigger mainstream with a co-starring role on the WB sitcom What I Like About You and co-starring with Frankie Muniz in 2002's Big Fat Liar. All of this forward momentum more or less culminated with Bynes' starring role in She's the Man as afterward her credits only include the aforementioned and underwhelming Sydney White, a couple of TV movies and, most significantly, her two supporting roles in 2007's Hairspray and 2010's Easy A. This final credit on her Imdb page is certainly indicative that her time had passed as the more current crop of young female stars led by the likes of Emma Stone were getting their first chances to prove themselves, but for that brief moment in 2006 it looked as if Amanda Bynes might in fact have enjoyed the type of career Stone is now having.

Unfortunately, we now remember She's the Man not for the downright odd and strangely awesome comedic performance Bynes delivers, but more for the fact it offers a pre-Step Up Channing Tatum. Sure, one can talk about Coach Carter or, if you're a cinephile and/or hipster who likes to claim you knew Tatum would one day be as big as he is now then it was A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints that also came out in 2006, but if you want to talk about the beginning of Tatum being a heartthrob you start with She's the Man. It's not difficult to know that Tatum would have likely gone on to just as much success as he enjoys today without having starred in this teen movie, but if nothing else it too was a precursor to how well he might handle comedy making 21 Jump Street not as much of a surprise as most found it to be at the time. There are several scenes throughout the film that demonstrate Tatum's fondness for playing it cool in humorous situations, but more importantly his willingness to play along no matter how ridiculous the premise seemed to get or just how obvious it seemed to everyone in the audience that Sebastian was clearly not a dude. While Tatum might be one of the reasons why the film remains relevant today, he is not the reason the movie made a lasting impression on the generation for which it was aimed at when initially released in theaters. Before Amanda Bynes had Twitter she was my generation's next great comedy actress and thus given the world in which we now live She's the Man should remain all the more precious to us. A relic of a forgotten time that, when re-visited, reminds us of what we actually lost to the world of social media and instant gratification that was just beginning to blossom when this movie hit the big screen.

In case you haven't been keeping up She's The Man follows high school soccer player Viola Hastings (Bynes) who decides to impersonate her twin brother Sebastian at his new boarding school and play on their soccer team when her high school cuts her own team. Replacing Shakespeare's shipwreck with soccer balls Tatum plays top jock Duke, Viola's roommate, soccer teammate, and eventual love interest, once they get the whole cross-dressing situation straightened out.

To be honest, after watching the film with twenty-eight year old eyes rather than my eighteen year old eyes it's clear She's the Man isn't really what one might call a good movie, but rather a movie that has its moments. The thing is, it has a consistent amount of moments. An unexpected amount of moments even. The music is time stamped, the dialogue can be especially cringe-inducing and yet, it is impossible not to laugh throughout due mostly to Bynes' committed albeit inconsistent performance. The voice fluctuates from scene to scene and sounds like nothing you're familiar with, but it is the delivery under this strange male guise that Bynes gives audiences some of the biggest laughs. Were Bynes to have fulfilled her destiny I likely wouldn't think about this film with such reverence, but given it is the best example of what could have been it holds a special place in my adolescent heart. Maybe this realization is what led to the strange need to write about this film rather than those aforementioned films that are more deserving or at least more widely respected than this admittedly disposable teen flick. I hate to use the word disposable, but it's easy to see how the film could be perceived in such a way. While disposable, I'd argue that if one were to give the film a fair shot it would, at the very least, be unforgettable for better or worse. In retrospect it's somewhat surprising how hip to itself the film actually is and is only propelled that much further by the performances from both Bynes and Tatum.

Some may complain that for the cross dressing/gender bending bit to work the actor has to at least be somewhat convincing as the opposite sex and while Bynes could never actually pass for a high school aged guy if she really wanted to, that is beside the point. That she plays the ridiculousness of her situation up in every scene is ultimately what sells both the ability to buy into the premise while simultaneously allowing us to laugh at the comedy. Though She's the Man may not be that great of a movie and might hardly pass as a good one on several accounts it works mostly on the charm that Bynes brings to every scene. It succeeds on the pure likability of her persona and that's really all that matters ten years later. It is what tells modern audiences all we need to know about the film.

Women have been portraying men on screen for comedic effect since Marion Davies in When Knighthood Was in Flower, but that doesn't make the joke play any less successfully and Bynes parlayed that age old joke from an age old premise into almost $60 million worldwide on a $20m budget. The lesson to take away from She's the Man is not that the box office profit determines the success of the film or that it dictates the quality as it's clear given the films run on DVD and in syndication that there is plenty to be made for the rights holders of such broad and disposable teen comedies, but more that time tells us what a film might really mean to the world at large rather than its initial release and immediate perception. In short, perspective. Truth be told, She's the Man may or may not be remembered at all in ten to fifteen years and the same goes for Bynes, but for the current generation who are actually beginning to make those very real steps from adolescence into adulthood (babies, mortgages, actually purchasing washers and dryers) the film is a reminder of youth and a time when cell phones were still flip phones and answering machines still existed in homes. It is a reminder of how much potential Amanda Bynes had and what a different path the world might have held for her were a number of factors that were likely already in motion before and during the production of She's the Man not to derail her from all the opportunity she'd afforded herself in her own adolescence. Maybe Bynes had no desire to have a screen career, maybe she decided the films she was making were indeed disposable and that she didn't want such fodder to determine her legacy, but in taking the unfortunate turns she has it is those very films that will now not only inform her legacy, but be held in regard as an example to when she was 'sane' and 'on the right track' with She's the Man being the beacon of such examples. Most important to note though, is that She's the Man is a portrait from the first decade of this century. A portrait of a time in my life when the world was a little less complicated and while the overall quality of the film is disputable what it actually provides is a comfort zone that will always be there to return to and thus the reason it will always hold a strangely special place in my gullible heart.

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