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Is ‘John Tucker Must Die’ The Worst Noughties RomCom? A Look at the Misogynistic Shakespeare Adaptation

by Oana-Maria Moldovan

Raise your hand if you are a John Tucker (Falstaff) slander enthusiast!

In the landscape of teen comedies, the 2006 film ‘John Tucker Must Die’ emerges as a delightful - yet quite misogynistic and queerphobic - homage to William Shakespeare’s ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’.

Directed by Betty Thomas, this high school RomCom channels the misadventures and comedic intricacies found in Shakespeare’s classic play. Buckle up for performative feminism, 2000s girl bossing and all the ways in which the Bard is more relevant today than ever.

The main antagonist, John Tucker, played by Jesse Metcalfe, embodies the charming and deceitful nature often seen in Shakespearean villains. His charismatic facade hides a multitude of romantic entanglements, reminiscent of Shakespearean figures who often face comeuppance for their deceitful actions.

Yet, in many ways John Tucker is not supposed to be seductive, since the character from the original play, John Falstaff, was supposed to be a fat knight - and yes, the irony is brilliant.

We could talk more about how the villain’s characteristics presented in the movie speak volume, about how a charming fat knight had to be transformed into a manipulative fit basketball player for the audiences to find him attractive, but that one is for later.

‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ is quite easy in its essence, since it was one of Shakespeare’s more lighthearted ones. Written around 1597, the story is set in the English town of Windsor and focuses on the main character, Falstaff, a chubby and cunning knight who tries to seduce two wealthy women, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, in the hope of getting his hands on their fortune.

However, like we also see in the RomCom, the women discover Falstaff's plans and decide to play along with him, creating amusing situations and complicating plots.

The plot also includes other characters, such as jealous wives, a doctor and a vicar, who contribute to the general chaos. The comedy is full of confusion, mistaken identities and happy endings.

Eventually, the characters succeed in revealing Falstaff’s plans and restoring harmony to their community.

On the other hand, the trio seeking revenge in the film, portrayed by Brittany Snow, Ashanti, and Sophia Bush, mirror the clever heroines of the Shakespearean comedy.

Drawing parallels to the dynamic duo of Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, these modern-day conspirators collaborate to expose John Tucker’s duplicity, reminiscent of the strategic schemes woven by Shakespeare’s female characters.

The play and the movie have three very important similarities between them.

1. We hate a guy named John, who uses women in his interest, whether it be money or having multiple partners. 

2. We are here for the road and for the friendship that rises between the affected women. 

3. This is not a love story.

However, the similarities, in most part, stop here. The thing is, humour the original really is better than the remake.

Now into the movie’s problems and how it represents a bad view for queer individuals.

You see, the original play’s villain had an actual purpose for being bad. He wanted money, wealth and status. Did he try to toy with the hearts of two women? Yes. Did he have his reasons? Also yes. 

That’s why John Falstaff is a good bad guy.

John Tucker on the other hand, we don’t actually see his reasons, other than him simply wanting to have multiple partners. Did he lie? Yes. Did he want to make the women suffer? Not so sure about that one. Did he just literally want three girlfriends? Again, yes. 

Maybe it was not intentional on the director’s part, or maybe it was. No one can be sure of that. But the fact still stands, John Tucker is a seventeen-ish year old boy who wanted three partners and didn’t know how to go around that. 

Let’s also not forget about the fact that his appearance was changed only for the audience to feel like these girls had a reason to fall in love with him. A fat guy couldn’t possibly have three girls in love with him, right?

So the villain is not really a villain. But how about the protagonists?

We are supposed to see  a story about friendship between women, but what we actually see is misogyny between all four of the main cast - less so on the main character’s part.

We see slutshaming, bad jokes about social views - can the noughties ever stop with the bad media about vegans? - and more importantly, three girls trying to bring down one another.

Such a classic 2000s romcom, also, such a bad one.

Interesting enough, Shakespeare’s original play is more appropriate in today’s political scene than this 2006 film. It’s not a surprising fact, we established already that his classics can be very much in tone to today’s world still to this day - it’s still interesting nonetheless.

John Tucker musn’t actually have to die, actually. The horrid interpretation of poly people in the media however...

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