’10 Things I Hate About You’ at 25 – Review

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Director: Gil Junger
Screenwriter: Karen McCullah, Kirsten Smith
Starring: Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, Andrew Keegan, Gabrielle Union, David Krumholtz, Susan May Pratt, Allison Janney, Larry Miller

In Ten Things I Hate About You, the 1999 teen comedy based on William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”, bad boy Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) is desperate to regain Kat Stratford’s (Julia Stiles) attention after having rejected her advances the night before. To be fair to Patrick, Kat was quite wasted at the time, but that didn’t stop her from taking his rejection personally. One student, Michael (David Krumholtz), informs Patrick that Kat hates him “with the fire of a thousands suns.” Not to be deterred, Patrick resolves to get Kat back by paying the high school band to accompany him as he dances across the stone bleachers singing Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” until two security officers tackle him, whisking him off to detention. Kat is bewildered, but clearly touched, her eyes glistening as she laughs.

The best romantic comedies always have at least one moment like this – a grand gesture that makes you swoon and your heart flutter. A magical moment that turns iconic and then synonyms with a certain time and place in pop culture. In a coming of age story, though, these moments are somehow even more exhilarating, transporting us back to when we were the same age, when every heart break felt like the end of the world and every declaration of love felt like the beginning of a new one. Ten Things I Hate About You embodies that experience with a kind of heightened emotional intelligence. With a sharp script, a dynamic visual style and charming performances, it is easily one of the best teen comedies of all time.

Our story starts with Cameron James (Joseph Gordon Levitt) on his first day at a new school, Padua High in Seattle, where he is immediately taken with the pretty and popular Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik). There’s just one problem: she doesn’t date. Neither does her anti-social older sister, Kat, thanks to their father, Water (Larry Miller), who is a neurotic gynaecologist terrified of teen pregnancy. With Bianca desperate to date the self-absorbed, would-be actor Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan), Walter finally institutes a new rule: Bianca can date when Kat does. Cameron and Michael then hire the intimidating Patrick to try and ‘tame’ Kat, but things get complicated when Patrick actually falls for her.

Ten Things I Hate About You is notable partly because it was such a breakthrough moment for its young cast, especially for Ledger, Stiles, and Gordon-Levitt. And it is true that their performances help to further elevate an already emotional and funny script. Ledger in particular is effortlessly charming. It’s easy to compare Ledger to the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, given both actor’s capabilities as romantic leading men and their shared desire to distance themselves from the label of heart throb. Given the trajectory of DiCaprio’s career, it is hard not to mourn for what Ledger could have accomplished as an actor. At the same time, it is incredible to think about the mark he did make before his passing only eight years later. His performance as Patrick is cool and slightly aloof, but also personable, and it’s easy to see why Kat falls for him. Ledger is the perfect compliment to Stiles’ stone-faced, unenthused Kat, and it’s wonderful to watch her walls slowly come down as she begins to trust him. Stiles is assertive and contrary, but she is also likable in spite of trying so hard not to be. Together, they are the heart of the film and it only works because of their palpable chemistry.

Though Gordon-Levitt is cute and utterly sincere as the love-struck Cameron, David Krumholtz steamrolls right over him in every single scene they share ensuring that Gordon-Levitt becomes completely lost when he has to play opposite either Krumholtz or Ledger. Though Krumholtz has worked steadily over the last 25 years on stage and in Television and film, most recently playing physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, it is a crime that he is not a much bigger star considering how charming and funny he is in this movie. Michael is supposed to be a stereotypical “geek” but Krumholtz plays him like he just walked off the streets of Martin Scorsese’s New York City, and he ends up being the most interesting character in the film.

In “The Taming of the Shrew” Bianca is presented as an ingenue – the ideal woman – in comparison to her sister Kate, who is seen as too wilful for her own good. In Ten Things I Hate About You, screenwriters Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith, who also wrote Legally Blonde, Ella Enchanted and She’s the Man, challenge these archetypes and even work to subvert them. Bianca may be still be the quintessential girl next door, but she’s more self aware than most give her credit for. She is an active participant in the plot and even throws a punch or two in defense of Cameron. When it comes to Kat, it’s clear that McCullah and Smith had no interest in their heroine being tamed at all. The movie is on Kat’s side and she is only seen as an insufferable, angry feminist to misogynists like Joey, who would much rather women be seen and not heard. In comparison, Patrick, who also has an unfavorable reputation at school, isn’t afraid of Kat and he never tries to change her.

It is worth noting, though, that Kat’s self-importance is challenged in the film by her English teacher, Mr. Morgan (Daryl Mitchell), a black man who rightly calls Kat out for her privilege as a white woman. Ten Things I Hate About You is certainly not winning any medals for inclusivity given that Mr. Morgan is one of only two black actors to appear in the film, but this moment is surprisingly self-aware and refreshing for a film of its time. On the flip side, Ten Things I Hate About You does suffer from a few gags that definitely don’t work anymore, like when Kat flashes one of her teachers in order to get Patrick out of detention.

Ten Things I Hate About You is indulgent in the best way, and the script gives the characters room to breathe. This is most evident in the paintball scene, where Patrick and Kat let off steam and share their first kiss wearing plastic ponchos, covered in paint, their hair matted to their faces. Small moments like this, and when Kat and Patrick debunk all of the rumors people have spread about them, matter so much more than the plot, and allow us to truly get to know these characters, to relate to them and to believe in their connection. Director Gil Junger and cinematographer Mark Irwin, who has worked extensively in both comedy and horror, employ some truly interesting visuals, such as a shot looking up at several floors of students as yellow flyers for a house party float down the flights of stairs from above, or a long tracking shot as Patrick walks up the hallway of a concert hall, revealing the neon lights of the stage. The film’s aesthetics are well complimented by its memorable alt rock soundtrack.

Ten Things I Hate About You has just about everything going for it: a beautiful, charismatic cast, banger needle drops, and a script that just barely shows its age. It invites us to remember how it feels to be young and foolish, headstrong and passionate, and says loudly that true love will not seek to tame our fire or extinguish it, but keep it burning long into the night.

Score: 18/24

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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