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“Well I loved the idea of playing a girl who dresses up like a dude ...” -Amanda Bynes

August 17th, 2007     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments

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In keeping with Thea’s first Film Friday post of surprising feminist classics, for this week’s installment I decided to rent what I assumed was a typical teen flick, recommended to me by means of some feminist blogs. She’s the Man, a 2006 film starring Amanda Bynes, is on the surface (and via its marketing) a fluffy teen update on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a tactic not uncommon to the genre. The surprising part is that the film tastefully deals with a variey of vital gender issues, which is ironic given that I sent my boyfriend to go and rent it and when he couldn’t find it on the shelves was ashamed to ask for it, feeling the need to explain “uh, it’s for my girlfriend.”

The film’s premise is a simple one: Viola’s high school girls’ soccer team is cut from the curriculum,  so when her twin brother decides to ditch for a couple weeks in London to pursue his music career (he’s not into or good at sports,) Viola heads over to his elite boarding school and disguises herself as him so she can be on the boys’ team. Your typical gender bending hilarity and comlicated teen love triangle ensues.

Let’s face it, most typical mainstream teen (girl) flicks don’t really give teens enough credit. And it would have been really easy to screw this film up. Admittedly this isn’t a Phd thesis in gender studies, but I was happy to discover it wasn’t your typical fluff either. I find that many films that use boys dressed like girls or girls dressed like boys use cheap homophobia gags and gender stereotypes to get laughs, but instead this movie deconstructs a lot of the belief systems around male and female roles. The gags actually seem to centre around how bullsh*t it is to believe that boys are unemotional and only into sex, and that women are needy and talk all the time.

Amanda Bynes’ character is refreshing as a female role model for a variety of reasons - she loves to play soccer and hates the fact that her mother is forcing her to be in the local debutante ball, but that doesn’t mean she’s painted as some akward, clueless “anti-girl” who needs to be “feminized.” (In fact, my boyfriend commented that “she’s quite stylish.”) She’s also very funny, and not in the sense that she’s being mocked - and let’s face it, funny ladies are hard to come by in mainstream movies unless they’re the butt of a joke. Bynes is actually revealed to be an adept comic actress in her own right.

When Viola’s soccer team is cut from her school’s sports roster she immediately tells the coach she wants to try out for the boys team, and when he says “girls can’t play soccer” and her boyfriend doesn’t support her, she ditches him on the spot.  When she makes her transition from girl to boy (by means of her gay male hairdresser friend, perhaps the only perpetuated stereotype in the film,) the scenes that follow do a lot, via comedy, to deconstruct your typical “girls are sensitive and emotional” and “boys are tough and good at sports” dichotomy. When it’s revealed that all along she was disguised as a boy to play the game she loves, even her new hard-as-nails, tough-guy soccer coach is revealed as surprising, stating “we don’t believe in gender discrimination on my team.” In this film, “ugly” means ugly on the inside, as the shallow “hot girl” is called out as unattractive, and the “psycho geek girl with a headgear” is treated with kindness and later romantic attention.

Having said all that, the film could have gone farther in terms of it’s potential to state that we fall in love with people, not genders. The female character who falls for Viola as a boy immediately couples with her brother Sebastian as soon as Viola’s true identity is revealed, despite the fact she’s never even had a conversation with him. It’s obvious Duke has feelings for Viola as a boy (indicated by their shared emotional moment where he admits that he “wants to find someone he can talk to”) but is only able to admit it when she reveals she’s a girl.  I would have liked to have seen a little love conquers gender action, but maybe that’s asking a little too much.  Also, I wasn’t hip to the fact that after all her standing up against the debutante ball and her rejection of it as a ridiculous tradition, she ends up participating once she’s successfully coupled.

Despite those flaws, all and all I was satisfied and yes, entertained by the film and am now an official Amanda Bynes fan.

Anyone else seen it?

Tags: film fridays, film reel

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