10 Things I Hate About You
There are a few different angles from which to approach “10 Things I Hate About You.” One is as a part of the literary adaptation-as-teen movie boom of ’99 which included “She’s All That” and “Cruel Intenions.” One is as a teen comedy, and part of the string that gave us “American Pie.” And one is simply as a romantic comedy, and a darn good one at that. The angle I’d like to discuss, however, is how it was our introduction to Heath Ledger, who played Patrick Verona, the bad-ass teen with a tough rep who tries to woo Julia Stiles’s equally tough Kat Stratford in this adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It didn’t occur to me while watching it this morning just how much I would miss Ledger watching it, but as Verona, he showed all of the traits that would give him the rep as one of the best actors of his generation he carries still, eight years after his death. Many of his most successful films after this- “The Patriot,” “A Knight’s Tale,” “The Brothers Grimm,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Dark Knight” and even his aborted performance in “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”- tapped into the easy charm and blend of warmth and depth he showed in Gil Junger’s teen comedy, and built on it for one of the most impressive careers in modern cinema, making his passing that much more difficult to take. Who could imagine that one of the most exciting 9-year careers that we’ve seen in movies would start with a silly teen rom-com?
“10 Things I Hate About You” is a pure delight, and that extends beyond the work Ledger and Stiles, who also broke out after this film, do as the “tamer” and the “shrew,” as they fit into the parameters of Shakespeare’s story. The other couple at the center of the film Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cameron James, who has just moved to the Seattle high school, and has fallen hard to Kat’s sister Bianca, played by Larisa Oleynik (whom also played opposite Gordon-Levitt on TV’s “3rd Rock From the Sun”). The big problem for Cameron is not only that the popular, but vapid, Joey (Andrew Keegan) also has eyes for Bianca, but also, her father Walter (played by the very funny Larry Miller) forbids Kat and Bianca from dating, as he sees a lot of pregnant teenagers as a doctor and wants to shield his daughters as much as possible. When Bianca gets wooed by Joey and Cameron, however, her father changes his rule from “no dating” to “no dating unless both of you are,” using Kat’s general unpopularity and standoffish nature to his advantage. That’s where Patrick comes in, as Cameron and his friend Michael (David Krumholtz) get Joey to pay Patrick to try and date Kat by making him think he’ll have a chance at Bianca when they’re really doing it for Cameron. That’s as much of Shakespearean writing as you’ll see in the film outside of the student’s English class that leads to the emotional climax of the film, although yes, the prom still figures in to things- “10 Things I Hate About You” isn’t entirely devoid of cliche.
Writers Karen McCullah & Kirsten Smith adapt the structure of Shakespeare’s play to their own devices, and don’t rely of it to be clever- this is very much a modern rom-com, rather than just teens playing like Shakespearean characters like in Baz Luhrmann’s admittedly great “Romeo + Juliet.” Director Junger comes from TV, so you won’t see much in the way of adventurous filmmaking, nor should- he just lets the actors go, and they all do great work, whether it’s Ledger singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” to Stiles with a marching band backing him or the climactic moments at the prom where the truth comes out, or Stiles’s raw, emotional declaration of love in the middle of class. They do right by the Bard, and they help make a typical teen comedy into a successful display of talent and fresh personalities that still holds up today.