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10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

DIRECTOR: Gil Junger

CAST: Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, David Krumholtz, Andrew Keegan, Gabrielle Union, Larry Miller, Allison Janney

REVIEW:

That 10 Things I Hate About You possesses a little more wit and intelligence than your average high school romantic comedy might be less surprising when one realizes it’s a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy The Taming of the Shrew.  A “hip” script featuring some snappy one-liners and a likable and charismatic cast help enliven this into both one of the more enjoyable high school comedies, romantic comedies, and modernized Shakespeare adaptations floating around out there.

The convoluted premise is kickstarted by the desire of Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik) to find a Prom date.  Her overprotective father (Larry Miller) has decreed that Bianca can’t date until her older sister Kat (Julia Stiles) finds a boyfriend herself, secure in his confidence that this will never happen because, while the perky but shallow Bianca is popular, Kat is an anti-social rebel without a cause.  Bianca is the object of desire for both cocky and vain Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan) and shy, awkward new kid Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and while Joey and Cameron are polar opposites, neither can make a move on Bianca until Kat gets a boyfriend first.  To this end, they form an unlikely alliance to recruit mysterious bad boy Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to seduce Kat to get Bianca on the market, gambling that Patrick is the only guy tough enough to take her on.  And in typical romantic comedy fashion, complications arise when Kat starts to let her guard down and Patrick starts to like her for real.

Unsurprisingly considering its source material, 10 Things I Hate About You is chock-full of Shakespearean references, some more obvious than others.  We’ve got obvious shout-outs like Shakespeare being taught in English class and Cameron’s friend Michael (David Krumholtz) finding a girl to spout Shakespearean love sonnets with, but also ones that some viewers might not pick up on, like the Stratford sisters getting their name from Shakespeare’s birthplace, the school Pedua High having the name of the city where the original play takes place, or Patrick Verona getting his last name from the setting of Romeo & Juliet.  Most of the characters’ names are slightly (in some cases not at all) altered versions of the cast of The Taming of the Shrew; Katherine becomes Kat, Petruchio becomes Patrick, while Bianca is still Bianca.  The title itself is inspired by another poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and her famous insult “how do I loathe thee?  let me count the ways”.    The script by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith throws in plenty of snappy one-liners, insults, and double entendres, and the sharp, irreverent dialogue helps make the characters feel a little more snappy and interesting than the generic caricatures filling too many high school movies and/or romantic comedies.

The cast isn’t populated with “big stars” (though some are recognizable faces), but the young actors are engaging and likable.  Julia Stiles chomps into the tempestuous Kat’s acerbic one-liners, while her romantic partner Heath Ledger is more stoic (apart from a rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You”) but suitably hunky and broody as the not-so-bad-boy Patrick (he also gets to keep his Australian accent).  Larisa Oleynik is the pretty-but-shallow Bianca, who comes to a realization about her own behavior, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is suitably puppy dog-ish as the guy everyone roots for to get the girl.  In supporting roles, David Krumholtz and Andrew Keegan effectively fill out the obligatory high school archetypes of the nerdy sidekick and the preening, preppy “villain”.  The adults, Larry Miller as Kat and Bianca’s paranoid, overprotective father, and Allison Janney as the guidance counselor who spends more time working on her erotic novel than paying attention to the students, hilariously steal scenes.

While it’s a little hipper and sharper than your average high school romantic comedy, 10 Things I Hate About You doesn’t transcend the genre.  There’s an obligatory “bonding” montage—in this case, Kat and Patrick playing paintball—meant to show us how they’re letting their guards down with each other, and everything leads inexorably to Prom confrontations and the tired tropes of secrets unraveling at inopportune moments and someone storming tearfully out of a ballroom.  But if it surrenders to some worn-out obligatory tropes and narrative conventions, it enlivens the proceedings with not one but two romances that both manage to be enjoyable, and serves up plenty of snappy one-liners.  In the all-too-often barren wasteland of sameness of generic high school comedies and/or romantic comedies, it represents a bright spot.

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