Should I Watch..? '10 Things I Hate About You'
What's the big deal?
10 Things I Hate About You is a romantic comedy film released in 1999 and is a loose reworking of The Taming Of The Shrew by William Shakespeare. Relocating the setting to an American high school, the film depicts the romantic complications between a group of friends as their school prom approaches. The film's title is the name of a poem written by one of the characters and is also meant to sound a little like the title of the aforementioned Shakespearean comedy. The film stars Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Olyenik and Larry Miller and directed by the debuting Gil Junger. Released to a generally positive reaction from critics, the film opened at number two in the US behind The Matrix (which is nothing to be ashamed about) and would go on to earn $53.4 million worldwide. The film proved to be the launching pad for Stiles, Ledger and Gordon-Levitt and was followed by a short-lived TV series of the same name in 2009.
What's it about?
Arriving in Seattle to attend Padua High, new student Cameron James instantly falls for the beautiful and popular Bianca Stratford. However, he is warned off by his nerdish friend Michael Eckman - not only is Bianca self-centred and pretty air-headed but her overprotective father won't let her or her more anti-social sister Kat date until they graduate. Besides, Bianca is more interested in senior student Joey Donner anyway. Frustrated by the behaviour of his two daughters, Walter Stratford decides that Bianca can date as soon as Kat does - knowing that this is extremely unlikely.
After learning of Bianca's predicament after attempting to ask her out, Cameron and Michael hatch a plan - hoping to get Kat to date the school's resident bad-boy Patrick Verona, this will free Bianca up to be dated by Cameron. Uninterested at first, Patrick is then offered money to take Kat out on a date and while she rebuffs him at first, Kat soon starts warming to Patrick. But of course, the path of true love rarely runs smoothly and especially in an American high school rapidly approaching the end-of-year prom...
Katarina "Kat" Stratford
Susan May Pratt
Karen McCullah & Kirsten Smith*
Release Date (UK)
9th July, 1999
Comedy, Drama, Romance
What's to like?
Like most films set in an American high school, 10 Things I Hate About You is a bright and sunny affair that depicts your school days as being the best of your life. We've seen countless films featuring teenagers in love or in lust and we all know what to expect. Thankfully, this film is brave enough to actually deliver something far deeper than the endless rip-offs of Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Cleverly updating and modernising Shakespeare's play not only makes the film more accessible (I, for one, haven't seen much of Shakespeare's work and definitely not The Taming Of The Shrew) but also still relevant. We all remember our feelings during our tumultuous teenage years so in a weird way, we relate to the film's story despite it being written - in essence - some 500 years ago.
The film is rightfully remembered for launching the careers of stars who would all goon to become highly respected thespians in their own right. But no star shone brighter than Ledger here - his energetic and youthful appearance gives the film a much needed emphasis. His character seems to be the film's driving force and when he first appears, you can't help but suddenly resume your interest in the pic. The film's highlight is his performance singing Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You in time with the school's marching band - he not only appears to relish the opportunity to sing so publicly but isn't afraid of making a fool of himself. It's a performance that wins you and Kat over.
- The film didn't use a single set - every scene was shot in full on location. The school featured in the film was actually Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington. Originally planned as a grand hotel and railway station, it was converted into a school after a devastating fire.
- Incidentally, the marching band that appears does not belong to Stadium High School (which didn't have one at the time) but nearby Lincoln High School. They were supposed to perform the song I Think I Love You by the Partridge Family but it had already been used in Scream 2 a few years earlier. Stiles then suggested the song which featured in the film.
- What's really weird is that Ledger is the third actor to sing Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You in a film before then going to on to star as a Batman villain - Christopher Walken sang it in The Deer Hunter and Michelle Pfeiffer sang it in The Fabulous Baker Boys before both starred in Batman Returns. Ledger, of course, would go on to star as the Joker in The Dark Knight.
What's not to like?
First off, let me just say that rom-coms aren't really my thing and especially those set in an American high school. Everyone is so good-looking, smiling all the time and conforming perfectly to well-established character stereotypes. Granted, there isn't much learning being done but who cares when everyone (except the antisocial nerds and Goth losers) is getting excited about The Prom, the single most important occasion in any teenager's life. As a Brit who personally hated almost every minute of school, I simply cannot identify with this impossible handsome cast.
Anyway, I take umbrage with Stiles' casting - while she's still funny in the role, she looks too old to be playing a high school student. The film's pace seems a bit off and doesn't really kick into gear until Ledger's bad boy enters stage left. There are also some characters who seem to be largely peripheral but could have been more interesting than some of the principal players. Take Union's Chastity for example who seems criminally under-served by the script. And while I have already admitted my ignorance of the narrative of Shakespeare's tale, I found myself struggling to keep track of what was happening. Maybe I was distracted by the Nineties' fashions and soundtrack.
My biggest issue was that I wanted to be enraptured with the film and by and large, I wasn't. Given the talent of the cast and depth of the story, I was left feeling somewhat short-changed. The film doesn't offer much more than any one of numerous high-school comedies (it reminded me at times of Never Been Kissed, another school-based rom-com released the same year that didn't float my boat) and I wanted to see more of the teachers, especially Alison Janney's very funny guidance counsellor who spends her days writing erotic fiction in between offering hopeless platitudes. Her brief appearances in the movie are far funnier than what most of the lead characters get up to.
Should I watch it?
It might not be big but it is clever - 10 Things I Hate About You is thankfully much smarter than many of the other school comedies available to watch but sadly not that much more enjoyable. It has its moments and the cast provide plenty of romantic misunderstandings and teen verbiage to remind American viewers of the folly of their youth. But given the strength of that cast, I can't help but feel that the film could have been better - possibly with a director more experienced than poor Junger who would quickly slide into direct-to-DVD infamy.
Great For: American audiences, anyone familiar with The Taming Of The Shrew, Nineties "Valley Girls", launching careers
Not So Great For: British viewers, anti-social nerds, cynics
What else should I watch?
Perhaps the most well-known adaptation of Shakespeare's work is the 1967 film version of The Taming Of The Shrew, starring two of Hollywood's most romantically linked stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. But perhaps a less obvious adaptation is the musical Kiss Me Kate which features bickering former lovers in the lead roles and Cole Porter songs. The Bard is, of course, responsible for some of the most timeless and cherished works of all time from the overly soppy Romeo And Juliet to the dark and bloody Macbeth. There are countless film adaptations of Shakespeare's work but I'm mostly unfamiliar with them. Always had a soft spot for Macbeth though, the most recent adaptation was released in 2015.
It's fitting that Ledger would arguably have the most acclaimed career following his star-making turn in 10 Things I Hate About You. Nominated for his performance in Brokeback Mountain before winning posthumously for The Dark Knight, his career will forever be overshadowed by his passing in 2008. Stiles, for her part, popped up in the awards-hungry Silver Linings Playbook as well as proving to be a cornerstone of the Jason Bourne series. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt has proved to be a darling of the indie scene as well as box office success - his turn in 500 Days Of Summer and Brick would lead to massive success with Inception, one of the most intelligent and stunning films of the 21st century.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox