In the very first scene of the 2006 movie She's the Man, a teenage girl frolics on a beach with her boyfriend, playing a chill game of soccer. The opening credits feature names we've come to know well: David Cross, Amanda Bynes, Channing Tatum. She's the Man was released 10 years ago today, and—for the most part—critics panned it. But they were wrong. She's the Man is a teen cinema masterpiece.
To say that She's the Man isn't universally adored would be an understatement. The film is solidly green (43%) on Rotten Tomatoes and has a score of 45 on Metacrtic—most people reviewing the film gave it less than three stars. She's the Man has lower scores than Hotel Translyvania 2. That might be because it was made just for young women.
She's the Man, like 10 Things I Hate About You before it, is a redesigned Shakespearean play set in the messy world of affluent teens. The movie follows Amanda Bynes as Viola Hastings, a superstar soccer player who decides to impersonate her twin brother at his all-boys school after her school's soccer team gets cut. The plot is based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, but with the stakes cut in half. In Twelfth Night, the protagonist worries that her brother may have been killed at sea. In She's the Man, Viola's brother Sebastian just flies to London to play with his band in a music festival.
Is this realistic? Absolutely not. Does Amanda Bynes convincingly pull off behaving as a teen boy? Not in any world imaginable. Could Amanda Bynes actually live with a boy (in this case a 26 year old Channing Tatum) in an all-boys dormitory, and shower/get dressed without getting caught? Nope.
But that's not the point. She's the Man's strength is not its plot. It's all about the characters. And the characters are just trying to have fun. Viola doesn't file a Title IX complaint because her high school cut the girls soccer team. She just goes out and joins the boys.
As Carina Cochano wrote for the Los Angeles Times on March 17, 2006, the flick is: "So good-natured, and its cast seems to enjoy itself so thoroughly, that the total annihilation of disbelief it requires winds up feeling like a reasonable enough request."
One of the harshest critiques of this movie came on March 16, 2006 from Peter Travers at Rolling Stone, who claimed, "There I sit, suffering total numbness of body and brain, no longer having to wonder what it might be like to be buried alive in gooey marshmallow."
In a way, he's right: She's the Man is a marshmallow movie. It's never snarky. It's never mean. It's always sweetly good-natured. It reeks of positivity. But where Travers is wrong is that it is not a movie without depth. Its underlying moral—that people should be nice to one another and not bully—is a common for teen movies, and a message that will probably always be necessary.
But where She's the Man really shines is in its character complexity. Teen movies can often fall into easy stereotypes about high school, but when given the chance, She's the Man tries its best to subvert them. For example, Channing Tatum's character, Duke, functions as the jocky popular guy, but behind closed doors, he crumples into a kind of spineless sap who is terrified of rejection. One of his friends, who talks about women crudely, actually has a crush on the most popular girl in school.
In fact, upon rewatching, it's pretty evident that Bynes' character (as absurd as she sometimes is) delivers a fairly complex critique of suburban white male masculinity. She questions the men around her regarding the way they talk about women, and sometimes goes overboard in her impersonation of how guys act, and they call her out. In Bynes's unconvincing fake boy, the movie finds the space to question what gender really means and how it gets displayed.
Even the hallowed movie critic Roger Ebert wrote—on March 16, 2006 for the Chicago Sun-Times—that Amanda Bynes kills this role: "…As Shakespeare might say, she achieves greatness, or maybe she has it thrust upon her."
Ultimately, what makes She's the Man good, even 10 years later, is how fun it is. The jokes are teenage-level crude, and much of the humor is physical instead of sharp-witted. It works because Bynes doesn't hesitate to look ridiculous–she dives right into the gooey marshmallow, and has a ball.
"[It] made me wish I were 13 again, because this is precisely the kind of movie I would have gone nuts for in the ninth grade," Wesley Morris wrote for the Boston Globe on March 17, 2006. And that, indeed, is the heart of She's the Man.
Is it a sappy, ridiculous mess of a movie? Absolutely. But it makes you feel like a teen again, in the best possible way.
She's the Man is available to rent on Amazon Prime.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.