10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

6 Jul

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Mix William Shakespeare with John Hughes, and you get “10 Things I Hate About You.” But despite how insipid that may sound, it’s more entertaining and funny than you might expect. This is a charming, amusing high-school comedy that takes elements from Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and brings them to the modern times of late-‘90s high school comedy-drama. The results are an amusing, smart script and talented actors to follow.

The “Shrew” is commonly known as Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles), a high school senior who is a nonconformist (which we immediately figure out in an opening scene where she listens to old hard rock while other girls listen to the hipper tunes) and antisocial. She’s hostile towards certain people, argues in her English class, and is sometimes referred to as “the wild beast.” Her younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), on the other hand, is the exact opposite of Kat. She’s popular, pretty, and superficial. She wants to date, but her strict father (Larry Miller) won’t allow her to unless Kat does. The shy new kid Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who has an instant crush on Bianca, finds out about this rule. So he and his friend Michael (David Krumholtz, very funny) decide to find a date for Kat. They hire the slick, rich, vain pretty-boy Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan), who also wants to date Bianca, to hire somebody to take her out. He chooses a possible candidate in Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger), the school’s mysterious bad-boy, paying him to date Kat. But this proves to be complicated as Kat immediately thinks nothing of Patrick, other than disgust, and on top of that, Patrick actually starts to fall for Kat. So with some help, he attempts to “tame the shrew.”

If the story sounds like an updated (for 1999) version of “The Taming of the Shrew,” that’s exactly what it is. But not only that—there are many references to Shakespeare throughout the movie. A few lines of the original source are said jokingly (“I burn, I pine, I perish” is what Cameron says when he first notices Bianca); Michael dresses up in Shakespearean-era wardrobe to impress a girl he likes (who also reads “Macbeth”); the high school is called Padua High; sonnets are used as rap lyrics by the English teacher, played by Daryl “Chill” Mitchell; and so on and so forth. It’s all pretty clever in how the film knows that it’s in a Shakespearean story and yet doesn’t go so far that it becomes annoying. It works and delivers a few laughs.

The characters are some of the more interesting individuals you can find in a high-school comedy. Kat is not a one-dimensional “shrew” used as a tool to get the story going; she has reasons for being rebellious and actually does have feelings, which are stated in some early stages, but revealed further as the film continues. Of course we all know early on that Patrick will turn out to become a nice guy underneath the tough exterior, but a refreshing take has it so that Patrick can use it to his advantage. He’s not so much of a blowhard—there’s more to him than meets the eye, which even Kat comes to find. Bianca realizes her conceitedness that popularity brings her to being part of, and discovers she genuinely likes Cameron, who tries everything just to date her. At first, Cameron is a bit selfish and kind of a dork, but when he realizes certain flaws about Bianca’s personality, even he becomes three-dimensional. Michael is kind of an outcast on campus, but at least he knows his place in high school and uses it to his advantage. And then there’s the villain, Joey. I usually hate cardboard-cutout bullies that spoil everything in romantic comedies, but this kid cracks me up because he knows he’s a villain and has fun with his persona. (He’s also a model, which leads a very funny line after being hit in the nose: “I’m shooting a nose-spray ad tomorrow!”)

All of the actors play their parts well. Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger share undeniable chemistry, Larisa Oleynik brings more than meets the eye with her part, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is likable, David Krumholtz is funny, and Andrew Keegan is suitably slimy. Adult actors include Larry Miller as Kat and Bianca’s strict father, who gets a few funny lines every now and then; Daryl “Chill” Mitchell as the wisecracking English teacher; and Allison Janney who is funny as the sex-obsessed guidance counselor (by the way, she only gets two scenes early on and is never seen throughout the rest of the movie—why?). They add to the charm and humor of “10 Things I Hate About You.”

NOTE: I think the Allison Janney character had scenes that were cut out of the movie to give it the PG-13 rating. There are already lines of dialogue that include double-entendres and sexual references (and a drawn penis on Michael’s face), so more of Janney’s sexual talk would probably grant the movie an “R.”

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