Before watching the movie:
So here’s a high school movie about gender-swapping body swapping. Commentary on the differences between men’s and women’s experiences is something that doesn’t always age well, especially with recent trends, so I’m not sure if this will come out as something to really recommend. It looks like the characters have some traits that make them slightly more than stereotypes, which makes it more likely positive statements can be made.
After watching the movie:
Nell Bedworth and Woody Deane grew up as next door neighbors and can’t stand each other. Nell is a cultured bookworm, Woody is a chauvinistic jock bully. Forced to partner on a museum trip, they get in yet another argument directly in front of a statue of the Aztec god of discord, and the next morning they wake up in each other’s bodies. The first day they hope it will just pass, and try to bluff their way through the school day, but the next day, still transposed, they argue about how each is misrepresenting the other and start one-upping each other in life reputation sabotage until Nell breaks up with Woody’s girlfriend Breanna and Woody rides off for the night with sleazeball classmate Nicky who makes salacious claims about what happened the following day. Seeing how hurt Nell is by the rumors Woody confesses are a lie, the two bond over beating a confession and apology out of Nicky,. Realizing they may be stuck together indefinitely, Nell and Woody decide they’re going to have to help each other through their big all-or-nothing college auditions: Woody posing as Nell through a Yale interview and Nell posing as Woody to quarterback the Homecoming game in front of a talent scout.
It’s difficult to justify their families being neighbors for nearly two decades. It comes out that their fathers used to be friends before Nell’s mother made them stop seeing each other because she didn’t approve of the Deanes, but that’s a tenuous thing to keep them together on, since the Bedworths come off as significantly distant from the Deanes financially, and the divide is further widened by the white collar intellectualism versus the blue collar simplicity. They’re from two different worlds, and one of them hasn’t moved away yet?
Next to the basic “what it’s like to be a boy, what it’s like to be a girl” exploration, there’s also a critique of the elitism that keeps people like Nell from understanding people like Woody. There’s something of an equivalence being suggested between Woody’s chauvinism and Nell’s elitism, since that’s what either of them need to overcome to work together. Neither sees the other as a kind of people that deserve real respect. I don’t think that’s an especially fair equivalence to make, since it comes out as sexual harassment and objectification versus “I don’t want you associating with those people”, but the movie takes a “that’s just boys, most of them grow up eventually” attitude to the former, which is how a lot of people still excuse such behavior.
Aside from framing that as typical men’s mischief, there was some good commentary on societal expectations placed on gender roles. Some of that might have come from my own perspective, but there’s definitely some serious exploration of men’s and women’s social subcircles, and on how the way people were raised affects but isn’t the ultimate determinant of how they behave.
Social currents have changed a lot in the last decade, but this is not as behind the present as I was afraid it might be. While it fails to condemn piggishness as anything worse than immaturity, the stratification element is definitely current and relevant today. Also it’s funny and sweet at times, and that’s almost as important as the messages it’s built on.