Director: Gil Junger
Cast: Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, David Krumholtz, Andrew Keegan, Larry Miller
Plot: Bianca (Oleynik) is ready to date, but her overprotective father (Miller) refuses to let her, until her bad-tempered sister (Stiles) also starts dating.
To call 10 Things I Hate About You a re-imagined version of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew under-sells it a bit. Yes, there are points when Gil Junger seems to be celebrating this intertextual connection, having certain characters be obsessed with the Bard and the protagonists sharing the names of their Shakespearian counterparts. However, the Taming of the Shrew is a play awkwardly out of date with a moral of “women should know their place as the property of their husbands”, that doesn’t play so nicely in the modern world. But Junger’s film is hardly an anti-feminist piece. The better way to compare 10 Things I Hate About You to Taming of the Shrew is a film that takes the opening premise of the play and then writes its own ending. While the opening is definitely Taming of the Shrew in a high school setting, the rest of the film plays out as its own creature, a touching, heart-warming rom-com that stands up as its own original piece of work.
For those, a little sketchy on their Shakespeare, the plot is as follows. Larry Miller plays the father of two teenage girls. Working as a doctor on a pregnancy ward, Miller lives with the horrors of teenage pregnancy on a daily basis. Driven mad by the concept that his daughters could one day make the same mistakes as his patients, Miller tries every trick in the book to keep his daughters from boys, especially as prom lurks around the corner. He enforces a rule that Bianca (Oleynik) can only date when school social outcast, Kat (Stiles), does. This is a big problem for the pretty Bianca, with several boys begging for her hand in marriage, including the vain wannabe model, Andrew Keegan, and nerdy new boy at school, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Gordon-Levitt comes up the scheme to pay someone to date the bad-mannered sister, in order to make Bianca available for dating. Enter the unpredictable bad boy, Patrick Verona. Verona, played roguishly handsome by Heath Ledger, is feared by everyone in the school as the kid more likely to burn your textbooks rather than speak to you and the centre of rumours about his stint in prison. Everyone steers clear of him and he likes it that way. However, realising he is the only person capable of standing up to the equally scary, Kat, Gordon-Levitt bites the bullet and offers him money to start dating her. Ledger swaggers in, confident he is charming enough to woo the “undateable” sister, but finds himself challenged by her. Soon, it becomes more about the money, but the challenge, and then, eventually, genuine love. What begins as a Shakespearian set-up (romance tinged with absurdly over-complicated schemes), grows into something quite sweet. The romance between Ledger and Stiles is genuinely endearing, and also engrossing. Ledger starts to fall for her, yet he realises that their love is based on a trick. Of course, it is all going to go to hell and that makes it tragically painful to watch their love slowly crank up a gear, like a rollercoaster you know has a broken track somewhere in the near future.
But really, this is so much more than a high school Shakespeare movie. Junger’s picture deserves credit elsewhere. It is a lively teenage movie, peppered with colourful, pretty teens and delivered with a pulpy, comic-book rhythm. The characters and gags are larger than life, making the events of the movie feel cinematic and exciting. It might take a few moments to come around to this style of story-telling, but if you are willing to give up on a sense of realism, then 10 Things I Hate About You will surely enchant you. The cast are all phenomenal. The central couple are played wonderfully. Ledger is burning with complicated charisma, his bad boy image giving away to a softer side. He is so much more than a pretty face you always worrying you are going to end up seeing in a movie like this. And Stiles gives bite to the lead heroine figure, a complicated, sweet girl, struggling to find her way through high school. She is mocked for daring to be her own person, but you can see why she is disliked with her arrogant need to be better than everyone else. Yet, her passion also makes her interesting, fierce and, ultimately, likeable. You just wouldn’t want to cross her on the way home from high school. The great thing about Junger’s movie is that the supporting cast are just as great to watch. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and David Krumholtz hover around the borders of the plot, sparking nicely when needed and having their own interesting character arcs. Andrew Keegan plays the comic relief and does a fine job at being the douchebag in the school who you just want to see get what’s coming to him. Even Larry Miller’s father, while his views on dating are extreme, makes sense as a character, as you can see why his job makes him act the way he does. For a large part of the movie, Larisa Oleynik is the weakest of the bunch, her Bianca meant to be the starlet of everyone’ eye, easy to fall in love with, but in reality, being a shallow, vapid teenage girl obsessed with dating and caring about little else. For a long time, Kat is the better sister of the two. However, eventually, the script tidies her character up, offering a glimpse of a deeper persona and, while that doesn’t really answer why she drove everyone crazy, it does make Oleynik a little more than the weak link of the cast.
However, the true way to prove is 10 Things I Hate About You is a classic is to focus on the scenes that stick in your memory. I hadn’t seen this movie in years and while my memory of the plot was hazy, certain scenes instantly flashed back to my mind. The scene where Heath Ledger corners Julia Stiles in a library, stealing conversation through the gaps in the bookcase, is such a simple scene, but Junger directs it with such charming energy that it finds a way of coming across as so much more than just another talking head conversation scene. There is also the grandiose set-piece where Heath Ledger serenades Julia Stiles in front of the whole school. Try watching that without a smile being plastered across your face (I will allow a single tear at the thought of the fact Heath Ledger will never get the chance to tackle these roles again). And then there is the final scene, where Julia Stiles reads a Shakespearian sonnet out to the class. It is beautiful, heart-felt and the stuff romantic films are made of. At the very least, much more romantic than Taming of the Shrew.
Final Verdict: It feels cheap to call 10 Things I Hate About You a Shakespeare knock-off. A thoughtful, original high school movie that does all the right things.