With movies, sometimes timing is everything, and since there has been no shortage of high school romantic comedies of late, 10 Things I Hate About You comes out of the gate as an also-ran. That’s too bad because, for once, the source material isn’t other teen flicks, but William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
"I know Shakespeare’s a dead white guy, but he knows his shit," says an English teacher at the palatial Padua High School in Seattle – a good line which also indicates how much of a Hollywood fantasy these movie high schools really are. He’s absolutely right. The elaborate plots, role reversals and happy endings of Shakespeare’s comedies are ideal for these films, and provide 10 Things I Hate About You with a solid foundation.
At the film’s core are two polar-opposite sisters: the shrew herself, Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles), a senior whose open hostility to her environment and everyone in it is expressed by cutting remarks and occasional violence; and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), a sophomore who wants nothing more than to be adored, even if it means dumbing down and kissing up. Their overprotective obstetrician father (Larry Miller, a comedian whose masterfully sardonic line readings are put to good use here) won’t let the eager Bianca date until the obstinate Kat does.
So desire for Bianca drives an elaborate plot, hatched by Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the sweet-natured new kid who sees beyond her flighty facade, and his nebbish friend, Michael (the awesome David Krumholtz). Using the school’s dim-witted pretty boy, Joey (Andrew Keegan), they convince the notorious bad boy Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date the undateable Kat.
You don’t have to be familiar with Shakespeare to know what’s going to happen, but screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith and director Gil Junger bring some genuine charm to this updating.
Best of all, Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles possess a leonine grace that makes their mating dance seem like two big cats approaching each other with claws out – until a trust is established and, only then, does the purring commence.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].