It’s safe to say that during his ascendency to Hollywood’s A-list, where he now firmly sits, Channing Tatum has had a surprisingly varied career. He proved he could dance in Step Up and Hail, Caesar! He proved he could dance while taking his clothes off in Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL. He went all macho tough guy for G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra and White House Down. He showed his softer, romantic side in Dear John and The Vow. He made us laugh in 21 Jump Street, This Is the End, and 22 Jump Street. He even excelled in more under-the-radar movies like Side Effects and A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. If I’m looking at his IMDb page, though, there’s one performance that truly stands out as the most underrated Channing Tatum movie of them all. I’m talking, of course, about She’s the Man, which celebrates it’s 10th anniversary on March 17. She’s the Man is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which, as we all know, was directly inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow’s cross-dressing character Viola in Shakespeare in Love. (Just kidding, any Bard scholars reading this.) I won’t go so far as to say that She’s the Man is the best Amanda Bynes comedy along with the most underrated Channing Tatum movie, because have you seen What a Girl Wants? That's a mighty strong contender for the best Bynes joint. It has Colin Firth, for starters. But back to She’s the Man, and fair Cornwall High, where we lay our scene. Viola Hastings (Bynes) is amazing at soccer. She’s the star of the girls’ soccer team, and her boyfriend Justin (Robert Hoffman) says he thinks she’s better than some of his friends on the boys’ team. Unfortunately, the girls’ team gets slashed due to budget cuts. Viola suggests that she and her teammates try out for the guys’ team, but the coach isn’t having it. When she tries to make her case by getting Justin to repeat what he said about her being better than some of his teammates, he refuses to do so. She dumps him on the spot. When a frustrated Viola gets home, her twin brother Sebastian (James Kirk) tells her that he’s going to London for two weeks because his band booked a gig. The one good thing about having divorced parents who apparently don’t speak at all, Sebastian says, is that the twins can lie about their whereabouts by telling each parent that they’re at the other one’s house. Sebastian just got kicked out of Cornwall and is supposed to start attending the school’s biggest rival, Illyria. He asks Viola to cover for him while he’s in London, but she sees a much better opportunity. She’s going to pretend to be Sebastian, go to Illyria in his place, join the soccer team, and defeat Cornwall at a big game, proving her point that she’s every bit as good — if not better — than her now ex-boyfriend.
Enter Duke Orsino (Channing Tatum), Sebastian’s — well, Viola’s — roommate at Illyria. I’m going to be completely honest and say that it definitely doesn’t hurt that he’s shirtless when we first meet him, or that he’s also shirtless for roughly 75% of the movie. She’s the Man really does its part to cater to the female gaze. It also gives us shirtless Toby (Brandon Jay McLaren) and Andrew (Clifton Murray). You’ll hear no complaints from me about any of this. Male objectification aside, though, Duke is a delightful and surprisingly complex character. He’s not your typical hunk. Actually, he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s a hunk at all. I mean, sure, he’s part of the jock crew — soccer seems to be the sport of choice at Illyria. But he’s a senior who’s spent four years pining over Olivia (Laura Ramsey), and still can’t gather the courage to simply talk to her, let alone ask her out. In one of the movie’s most touching moments, Duke and Viola-as-Sebastian have a heart-to-heart in their room. Duke just kissed Viola (as Viola) at a carnival kissing booth, and he’s confused about the fact that he suddenly has feelings for someone besides Olivia, who’s ruled his every waking moment for all of high school. Viola is equally pumped about the kiss. She’s developed feelings for Duke during their time as roommates and teammates, and she wants to do whatever she can while disguised as Sebastian to encourage a relationship between Duke and Viola. Duke thinks it’s a little weird that Sebastian would be so excited to talk about his twin sister making out with his friend and roommate. He’s actually offended by the way Sebastian only talks about the physical side of relationships with women. “I mean, which one would you rather see NAKED?” Viola-as-Sebastian asks when Duke is confused by his advice to simply stop pursuing Olivia after all this time, now that he’s kissed Viola once. “Why do you always do that? Why do you always talk about girls in such graphic terms?” Duke fires back. “You know what? You have issues.” “You’re a really sensitive guy, aren’t you?” Viola-as-Sebastian notes. “What? No. It’s just... I don’t know. I just think that relationships should be more than just the physical stuff. I mean, don’t get me wrong, that stuff’s important, but I don’t know, when I’m with someone, I want to be able to talk about other stuff,” Duke confesses. “You know, serious stuff. Stuff I can’t talk about with anyone else.” Swoon. What a self-actualized young heartthrob. I mean, I’m not saying Duke is perfect. When he first meets Viola-as-Sebastian, he and his friends are pretty rude to him — they assume he's a freshman because he's so scrawny, and they think he's super awkward when it comes to regular guy conversation (to be fair, bro-versation is completely new territory to Viola) — until Viola’s friends from Cornwall help her pretend to be a total ladies' man. After Duke, Toby, and Andrew witness Viola-as-Sebastian’s facility with women, they decide they’re ready to be his friend. So transparent.
Once they start hanging out with Viola-as-Sebastian, though, they all drop the tough-guy facades and become genuine friends. She’s the Man is a really sweet movie that contains some spot-on commentary about the personas teens think they have to adopt to make it through high school, and what can happen when they’re finally brave enough to let their guards down. Not everything is sunshine and roses, of course. Duke finds out about Viola’s deception during the middle of the climactic soccer game against Cornwall. They fight. Afteward, he has to decide if he can admit to himself that he fell for her not only when he kissed her as Viola — because that was mere physical chemistry, they’d never actually met at that point — but really when she was pretending to be Sebastian. It takes a mature high school boy to realize that he’s in love with the person underneath the facade of gender performativity.
Back in 2006, this was some groundbreaking stuff. Gender fluidity was not a concept being explored in many high school movies. Hell, it wasn't a concept being explored in many mainstream films at all. Just to give you an idea of other movies set in high school that would be considered contemporary with She's the Man, you're looking at Bring It On (2000), The Princess Diaries (2001), Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) Mean Girls (2004), and John Tucker Must Die (2006). Some of those are amusing films, sure, but they're not breaking any boundaries when it comes to exploring gender norms.
She's the Man not only contains the type of commentary on gender fluidity that's more at home in 2016 than it was in 2006, it also features winking meta-commentary on just how difficult it is to survive being a teenager with all the judgment from one's peers. You see, there's a dorky girl named Eunice (Emily Perkins) — isn't there always a dorky girl named Eunice, Hortense, or something of the sort? — who is of course considered a social pariah until Viola-as-Sebastian helps Duke, Toby, and Andrew see that she's actually a nice, thoughtful person.
Viola-as-Sebastian brings Eunice on a double date with Duke and Olivia, and when Toby sees this, he admits that he's actually had a crush on Eunice for a long time. "How come when I wanted to ask Eunice out everyone made fun of me, but then Sebastian likes her and suddenly she's cool? Screw you guys. I hate high school!" Toby yells. The stupidity-of-high-school condemnation is a classic moment that only the most self-aware teen comedies contain.
Despite these prescient moments, She's the Man wasn't a huge success at the box office. Its production budget was $20 million, and it made only half of that back on opening weekend. It's total domestic gross was only $33.7 million. Still, many critics found the movie charming, including Roger Ebert.
In the 10 years that have passed since the film first debuted, it's become a cult classic. You can still find people tweeting about it all the time. "She's the Man is such a classic," @lacey_gabrielle wrote on March 5. "I can quote 75% of She's the Man," @lexnuno wrote that same day. GIF sets and memes from the movie abound on Tumblr. Look, She's the Man even comes in handy for Bachelor comebacks!
Let's get back to the movie, though. Wouldn’t you know it, Duke is that mature teenage boy who’s capable of accepting that he fell for Viola, the person, even in the guise of her twin brother. “A few days ago, I kissed this girl at a kissing booth, and now, I just can’t seem to stop thinking about it... Plus, I miss my roommate. I really liked him,” Duke says when he shows up at the last second to be Viola’s date at her debutante ball after their fight during the big game (which they won, because this is a happy high school movie, after all). “Well... maybe if I’d have known you were a girl, we wouldn’t have talked like we did and gotten to know each other the same way, and that would have been a shame,” he continues, admitting that it might have even been for the best that their relationship started the way it did, given his insecurities when it comes to communicating with the opposite sex. I'm really not kidding when I say this is the most underrated Channing Tatum movie, ever. In addition to him playing the deepest, most sensitive high school jock of all time (sorry, Troy "Bet on It" Bolton, you're now in second place), it’s the movie where he answers the phone like this.
And freaks out over a tarantula like this.
And casually spins a soccer ball on his finger with a tampon in his nose.
He also walks into a bathroom looking like this.
I rest my case. If Channing Tatum is reading this right now, I’m sure he’s all like…
I DO like cheese, Duke Orsino, and I love that you do, too.