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She's the Man, But She's Also a Shakespearean Play

by Oana-Maria Moldovan

While teen movies of the 80s were defined by John Hughes and the Brat Pack, the 90s and early 2000s ushered in an era marked by literary adaptations and an abundance of foil characters.

From William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, to George Bernard Shaw, Edmond Rostand, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary Shelley, the last thirty years have witnessed a transformation of their literary works into romcoms. 

Now, let's delve into Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, cleverly reincarnated as the 2006 film, She's the Man. 

Directed by Andy Fickman and starring Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum, She’s the Man tells the story of Viola, a teenage girl whose soccer team faces extinction. 

The film skillfully intertwines mistaken identity, love triangles, and gender-bending characters against the backdrop of contemporary high school soccer, injecting a fresh and entertaining twist into Shakespeare's original plot.

In a witty adaptation, Viola (yes, they kept the name) pretends to be a boy, setting the stage for comedic misunderstandings reminiscent of Shakespeare's play. Her interactions with roommate Duke and efforts to win over his crush, Olivia, create a dynamic web of romantic confusion, much like Shakespeare’s play. These misunderstandings drive the humor and tension in the story.

Crucially, both She's the Man and Twelfth Night explore the theme of identity. Viola's transformation into her brother Sebastian allows her to see the world from a male perspective, leading to a deeper understanding of the opposite gender and contributing to her own self-discovery - a testament to Shakespeare's enduring relevance. 

However, the movie is not without problems. 

The only queer-coded character is used stereotypically, him being a “sassy” hairdresser, and acts only as a tool by Viola. 

And the sole person of color with a substantial role in the movie is relegated to comic relief and ends up with a character deemed undesirable by others.

Another hidden gem inspired by Twelfth Night is Just One of the Guys (1985), where the lead, Terry, navigates discrimination in pursuit of a summer internship. Similarly, Motocross (2001) features Andy (short for Andrea), who pretends to be her twin brother for a motocross competition to salvage her family's business.

While both movies are clearly inspired by Twelfth Night, and both are the predecessors of She’s the Man, neither adheres as closely to the original plot as She's the Man. 

All three adapt and modernise the play, but only She’s the Man incorporates subplots like everyone falling in love with the wrong person and maintaining character and location names from the original text.

In essence, all three films, including She's the Man, offer a contemporary lens through which to view Twelfth Night. They skillfully adapt Shakespeare's timeless themes and characters into a modern high school setting, preserving the essence of identity exploration, love, and comedy.

Edited by Emily Duff

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