10 Things I Hate About You September 14, 2016
I’d hardly consider William Shakespeare to be a writer capable of churning out material to one day be modernized into the form of a teen movie, but 10 Things I Hate About You, a YA rom-com adapted from his marvelous The Taming of the Shrew, is cinematic evidence that any piece from Shakespeare’s oeuvre can be metamorphosed into any genre and be, at least with the right cast and crew doing the heavy lifting, ageless. Granted, the plot of The Taming of the Shrew is one of his most simplistic and easily transformable.
If you’re unfamiliar with its storyline, chances are you’ll at least recognize some of its tropes — the trivialization of romance in entertainment is as much a given as a climactic prom scene in a Sweet Valley High classic. In 10 Things I Hate About You, The Taming of the Shrew’s inner-workings are switched from palatially based to Washington high school set. The titular shrew is Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles), her long-suffering sister is Bianca (Laris Oleynik), and the rugged rogue dared to pursue the apparently untamable wild child is Patrick (Heath Ledger).
But in the film, the shrew becomes the most interesting character, if only because she goes from daddy’s little tantrum thrower to acid-tongued independent. Though friendless and widely despised for her willingness to call out unsightly behavior and for her unwillingness to hide her intellectuality, Kat is aware that she’s a lot to take in. But while she’s quick to admit that she’s temperamental, the school’s guidance counselor (Allison Janney) corrects her that her classmates more popularly consider her to be a “heinous bitch.”
And so she’s undatable, and such is a bummer, especially for Bianca. Bianca’s “beautiful and deep,” the school dweeb (David Krumholtz) sarcastically remarks, and is high on the list of the opposite sex’s list of potential hit and quit victims. But the Stratfords’ protective OBGYN father (Larry Miller) is unbudging in his disinclination for the girls to date — when prom season arrives, he grossly decides that Bianca won’t be allowed to attend the cherished event unless Kat finds a suitor first.
This poses an issue for the young men that want Bianca on their arm for the precious night and for the rest of the year. One is a nice guy with a genuine interest in the girl (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); the other is an asshole (Andrew Keegan) who wants nothing more than to get in her pants for a night. But since they both desire Bianca with similar fervor, scheming is the only way they’ll get somewhere, and so they join forces and bribe Patrick, the school’s symbol of rebellion, to try to win over Kat’s apparently unwinnable heart to further their own gain. Much to Patrick’s surprise, however, Kat’s a special girl, not necessarily the disdainful curmudgeon everyone’s made her out to be.
Of course she’ll eventually find out that her newfound love all had to do with lowbrow mischievousness and temporarily despise her beau until she gets over his one-time shallowness. Of course things will work out between Bianca and the better of the two guys who want her. Nothing about 10 Things I Hate About You is revolutionary — though some would have you believing that it’s just as good as the eons funnier and smarter Clueless and Heathers — but a high school movie with dialogue so sizzling and a cast so charming is difficult to withstand. I’d like to give it more credit because I find it to be so innovative in its approach, but incisive lines and intuitive performances cannot hide 10 Things I Hate About You’s plot-oriented tiredness.
A shame, because so much of the film is terrific. Stiles is a spunky heroine of unusual depth, Ledger is a winsome Tasmanian devil (with a hidden singing talent, as it turns out), and Krumholtz steals scenes as a goof who doesn’t deserve his alienation. Janney is a riot as a guidance counselor who writes cheap erotica in-between edgy disciplinary pep talks. But a teen movie that’s good but not great is still a rarity, and for now I’ll have to treasure 10 Things I Hate About You’s linguistic battles as much as I can. In a culture that worships Mean Girls, I’d like another detour into the YA genre of equal wit. B