Sunday, April 16, 2006

Originality, Where For Art Thou?

On Friday, I saw 'She's the Man', a teen movie adaptation of William Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'. It's been a while since I first read 'Twelfth Night' at school and (as Keira Knightley might put it) swore to loathe it for all eternity. I was intolerant to its incessant meandering romance and infuriating flakiness. Since then I've warmed to it, thanks largely to 1998's Oscar-winning Shakespeare In Love , which uses many of WS' fine works and remains one of the most intelligent and insightful screenplays in recent memory. It's rare that a film and its ensemble can be so totally in control of its mood and tone in a way that's involving rather than mercilessly repellent.

Most certainly the finest example of a Shakespeare-based teen movie that I have seen, is 1999 version of 'The Taming of the Shrew', Gil Junger's Ten Things I Hate About You . As well as being very entertaining, it contains an emotionally packed and utterly tireless turn from the revelatory Julia Stiles as the shrew, Catarina Stratford. Perhaps the adoration that I have for this film was always going to put 'She's the Man' at a comparative disadvantage. Nevertheless, I do maintain that this most recent of adapted offerings instigates rather more concerning results.

If anybody isn't quite familiar with the plot of 'Twelfth Night' it's too complicated for me to explain right now. But basically, Viola, played by teen TV star, Amanda Bynes, impersonates her twin brother Sebastian (sideburns, the full works) after her school soccer team is cut. But in a bid to get close to her beloved sport she ends up picking up another passion in life, Duke Orsino, the captain of the team.

Bynes, a breakout performer from sketch show 'All That', is hardly my favourite of the recent teen phenomenon (Duff, Lohan etc.) and is an actress I found detestable in truth. What a pleasant surprise it was then to find Bynes incredibly suited to her gender-balancing role. Using all of her goofy and blatant humour, she absorbs the transparent naivety of Shakespeare's love triangle, feeding on her character's variety in a way that contrasts those before her, such as Paltrow and the aforementioned Stiles. Although her task is perhaps easier, in the sense that it allows her the freedom to be particularly intentional, she drives the film as best she can under the circumstances.

When attempting to adapt the massively read play into a modern-day marvel, as Junger did in '99, is where this particular stab fails to pierce beyond even the flimsiest of surfaces. Where 10 Things embraced teen culture and its shallow, black-and-white mirage, 'She's the Man' flounders under its soccer semantics, so obsessed with delivering its mechanical outline so satisfyingly. It wastes opportunities to capitalise on gender-based flaws, and fails to generate any real concern for the goals of the characters. A real shame.

What can be said for this particular Shakespeare imitation is that it at least attempts to reference the original, although sometimes perhaps too faithfully. Still, there's something admirable about its careful mirroring of the play. The matching twists and plot turns involved in the creation of the romantic comedy patent. Regardless of this, 'She's the Man' is most definitely an unsuccessful attempt to modernise this particular love triangle. Shakespeare won't be turning in his grave just yet, but he's probably beginning to wonder if people will ever tire of his work. It's not looking likely.

Grade: C-


Kamikaze Camel said...

lol, i sorta liked it. It was fun and utterly ridiculous

Georgia said...

Interesting blog...a good read.

A Cassville Heritage Association member, Cassville, Georgia

Johnny Reb said...

Interesting blog. Keep up the good work.


Johnny Reb

SCV Member said...

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SCV member

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