One of the more memorable lyrics from the movie "Mary Poppins" was "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." Of course, that can be turned into a representation of any number of circumstances where an addition or alteration to something can make it more palatable, particularly for children and teens.
That's especially true for getting that demographic interested in classic literary works. The majority of today's kids probably view anything pre-"Harry Potter" as ancient history, especially if it's written in anything other than today's slang, such as the Queen's English. And since most would likely rather watch a movie rather than read the book on which it's based, why not expose them to the classics via contemporary films with which they can identify?
It's been done with works ranging from "Emma" (resulting in "Clueless") to "Othello" ("O") and "The Taming of the Shrew" ("10 Things I Hate About You"). Now you can add "She's the Man" to that list. Based on Shakespeare's comedy "Twelfth Night," the film is a combination of the Bard and "Just One of the Guys," "Ladybugs" and "Mean Girls."
While purists may balk at the master's work being turned into a dumbed-down, teen romance comedy, the concoction is sugary enough that it goes down without much fuss. Much of that can be directly attributed to Amanda Bynes who manages to bring enough fun to her dual role (the teen soccer playing version of Shakespeare's Viola) that it's not that difficult to accept the film for what it is.
And that's a teen-oriented fantasy piece where most of the adults are clueless, logic and credibility aren't always present or even desired, and where everyone (or at least the good characters) live happily ever after. Accordingly, while less-discerning kids will likely eat it up (gotta love those sugar-coated classics), mid to older teens and especially adults will likely need more than a spoonful of suspension of disbelief to get through this one.
Despite Bynes' mostly winning and certainly cute and engaging performance, she never looks, sounds or acts like a boy beyond the easy, slapstick style gender stereotypes. As a result, everyone around her who's not in on the ruse comes off as myopic, tone-deaf or just too dense to realize the guy's really a girl.
In adapting the original work, writers Ewan Leslie and Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith along with director Andy Finkman have obviously modified quite a bit of the material. Yet, they've also kept the misdirection and multiple, cross-person relationships somewhat intact, meaning there's lots of person A likes person B who likes person C who really likes A and so on. While younger kids will likely groove on the protagonist trying to juggle all of that while also maintaining her gender ruse, the romantic scenarios, adversarial urges and resultant complications thereof aren't quite as imaginatively complicated as they could have been.
The same holds true for the dialogue that isn't as snappy or witty as that of "Mean Girls." Perhaps that's due to the filmmakers wanting to play down a bit to the slightly younger audience (presumably partially weaned on Bynes' earlier TV work and movies). Yet, as mentioned earlier, Bynes and some of her co-stars manage to make a good chunk of the material entertaining enough that it won't cause too much cinematic reflux going down.
While a bit too obvious and over the top in her performance, the young actress is nevertheless fun to watch while trying to keep her inner girl self from surfacing while posing as her twin brother. That's especially true when interacting with the hunky soccer player -- embodied by Channing Tatum -- who just so happens to be her roommate and, shock of all shocks, is more sensitive than the dumb jock she initially figures him to be.
That said, there's little to surprise here (especially if you're familiar with the original work), including the obligatory musical montages as well as the scenes where the cross-dressing character must switch back and forth between genders, all while keeping everyone on both sides of her dual identities in the dark about what she's really up to.
Most telling about Bynes' performance is that when she's not on the screen, the film simply falls flat, with its goofy awkwardness becoming that much more apparent during those moments. Thankfully, that isn't too often, and the resultant picture -- while nothing great and certainly no classic in any sense of the word -- turns out to be more amusing and entertaining than I imagined it could possibly be.