Tomboyish Viola loves to play soccer, but her school has just cut the girls' team. When she attempts to join the boys' team, she's told girls don't have what it takes to compete.
Viola needs to find some way to show the coach—and her boyfriend, the team's captain—that she is just as good as they are. About that time, her twin brother, Sebastian, tells her he is ditching the first two weeks of school to go to London to try to get a big break for his budding music career. So Viola gets the idea to go to Sebastian's elite prep school disguised as her brother. Dressed as a boy, she'll play on that school's soccer team for the big game against her high school. That will show everyone, once and for all, that she doesn't play like a girl.
Things immediately get complicated. Viola, now "Sebastian," moves into the boys' dorm and quickly gets in over her head while handing out dating advice to her lovesick roommate, Duke. He wants to go out with school "hottie" Olivia but doesn't have the nerve to ask her. Olivia's not interested in him, anyway. She's more interested in "Sebastian." And "Sebastian" (remember, he's really she) finds herself falling for Duke. Then things go from complicated to crazy. Olivia hits on Duke to make "Sebastian" jealous. The real Sebastian's ex-girlfriend, Monique, begins to stalk "Sebastian," thinking she is he. And then Sebastian suddenly shows up—just in time for the big soccer game.
At a carnival a fake fortuneteller looks into a crystal ball.
The story is built around a love triangle based on a gender-bending misunderstanding. While impersonating Sebastian, Viola sits in the boys' locker room as they change clothes; she reacts with disgust as a boy strips naked in front of her, glancing several times at his crotch. (The camera doesn't peek.) Several of the girls wear very low-cut blouses or dresses. Girls wearing bikinis play soccer on a beach, and cheerleaders wear very skimpy, form-fitting uniforms. Various boys and girls kiss passionately. Olivia and Viola man a carnival kissing booth.
To convince the other boys of her "maleness," "Sebastian" makes a big deal of ogling girls' backsides, pawing and swatting at them. (The camera ogles, too.) She adds that she'd like to have sex with one girl, using a crude slang term. The girls are in on the deception, and they in turn hug and paw "Sebastian."
Viola's fiftysomething mom speaks in suggestive terms about a high school boy. The school principal jokes about "sexual tension" between "Sebastian" and Olivia, adding, "Abstinence is the key to not ..." but lets the statement trail off. "Sebastian" asks Duke which girl he'd rather see naked, Viola or Olivia. To his credit, Duke says, "Why do you always talk about girls in those terms. There's more to girls than just the physical stuff."
[Spoiler Warning] The real Sebastian proves he's a boy by dropping his pants in the middle of a full soccer stadium. (Girls in the crowd react with apparent glee; his dad reacts with pride.) Viola then takes her turn, lifting her shirt, with similar reactions from the males. (Moviegoers see only lower legs and bare shoulders, but it's disturbing to watch the nonchalance with which the two expose themselves.)
An oblique joke about women's high heels hints that the principal is a cross-dresser, and there's also a suggestion that the male friend who helps Viola turn into "Sebastian" has homosexual inclinations. The principal uses British slang for men's genitals, and a few other double entendres and sleazy comments pop up.
Two boys get into a fistfight, and three girls duke it out in a restroom, with slaps, chops to the throat and kicks to the torso. One girl is tripped and hits her head on the floor. Duke snaps a boy in the back of the head with a wet towel.
Some of the soccer action is rough, with elbows and hard hits. "Sebastian" is hit in the crotch by the ball (the joke is that she fails to react as a boy would). Another boy is hit in the face by a ball. Players from opposing teams get into a shoving match on the field.
Other Negative Elements
Both Sebastian and Viola lie to their mom. Sebastian justifies lying and skipping school—and flying to London without permission—by saying, "If you want to chase your dreams, sometimes you have to break the rules." He believes that getting away with "murder" is a benefit of having parents who live in separate houses, calling it "the beauty of divorce." Viola also mouths off to her mom.
Duke discovers tampons in "Sebastian's" luggage, and "Sebastian" explains that they're for nosebleeds, demonstrating by putting one up her nose. We later see Duke with a tampon up his nose after getting in a fight. Freshman soccer players are hazed and told, "Welcome to hell." They're also instructed to take off all their clothes. Panicked by this, "Sebastian" pulls the fire alarm.
The Violent Femmes and Sum 41 get advertised via a T-shirt and a poster.
As are 10 Things I Hate About You, O and Underworld, She's the Man is based loosely on one of Shakespeare's plays. This time it's Twelfth Night that receives Hollywood's teenization. Looking for insider clues and references to the Bard's work? Take notice that the school in the movie is named Illyria. (The movie's Duke is patterned after the play's Duke of Illyria.) And in the play, Viola takes the name Cesario; in the film that's the name of the local pizza joint.
In addition to delving into mistaken identities and, yes, cross-dressing deception, Shakespeare's tale lampooned social conventions. She's the Man attempts to do this, too. But while seeming to try to instruct tweens and teens to accept people for who they are and to stop objectifying the opposite sex, it ... objectifies both sexes. The filmmakers focus on girls' skimpy outfits and cleavage-revealing tops, and they portray them as wanting nothing more than to have a boyfriend. The guys don't fare much better. Six-pack abs ripple across the screen. And Duke is hopelessly at the mercy of his own fleeting infatuations, as is at least one of his teammates.
What could have been (and, to be fair, at times is) a broad farce about mix-ups, misunderstandings and miscommunication in the end becomes what it hopes to mock: a story of sexual titillation and stereotypes, marred all the more by bad attitudes and foul language.