10 Things I Hate about You (United States, 1999)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Never has the teen movie genre been more active than it is today. Seemingly every weekend, there's a new entry, and the solid box office performance assures that there will be many more to come. A trend with recent teen films has been to recycle classic ideas. Clueless is a remake of Jane Austen's "Emma", She's All That is George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion", and Cruel Intentions is "Les Liaisons Dangereuses." 10 Things I Hate About You, the latest high school film, is a modern-day, souped-up version of William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." What sets this apart from its many competitors for teen dollars is that not only does the movie feature a surprisingly edgy and intelligent script, but it offers a group of characters capable of holding an audience's interest for more than 90 minutes.

Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) are sisters, but, despite sharing the same parents, their personalities are polar opposites. Bianca, the younger, is pretty, popular, and shallow. Kat, the older one, is a rebel without a cause, a girl who is described kindly as being "incapable of human interaction." Kat and Bianca's father, Walter (Larry Miller), has one hard and fast rule for his daughters: Bianca cannot begin dating until her sister does. This represents a major problem for the socially-adept Bianca, since Kat shows no inclination whatsoever to date. As the prom approaches, Bianca finds herself as the object of two boys' affections: cool, vain Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan) and kind, somewhat shy Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Working as reluctant allies, Joey and Cameron pick out a potential date for Kat: Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger), the local bad boy. They reason that Kat might find him too great a challenge to refuse, and, once she starts going out with him, Bianca will be free to date one of them. But getting Kat and Patrick together proves to be a difficult chore, and, when he realizes that he genuinely likes her, Patrick must go to extraordinary lengths to tame the shrew.

10 Things I Hate About You is top-heavy with the references to Shakespeare. The Bard's sonnets are being taught in English class, so we get to hear bits and pieces of them. A couple of would-be lovebirds enjoy quoting from "Macbeth" and dressing like they belong in the 16th century. The school where most of the action transpires is called "Padua High." The main characters have last names like "Verona" and "Stratford", and their first names are variations of their "Taming" counterparts: Kate becomes Kat and Petruchio becomes Patrick. It's not as clever as Shakespeare in Love, but, as a way to sneak in literary asides, it works.

One of the most refreshing things about 10 Things I Hate About You is that it doesn't feature the same tired faces that adorn every other movie of the genre (I'm speaking about the Jennifer Love Hewitts and Sarah Michelle Gellars). No one in this film is a big star, but everyone is a capable actor. Julia Stiles (Wicked) is brilliant as the "tempestuous" Kat, whose sullenness hides a bubbling sensuality. She's the film's real standout, although she is almost matched by her dashing, romantic counterpart, Heath Ledger, with whom she shares an undeniable chemistry. Also solid are Larisa Oleynik as the pretty-but-petty Bianca and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the guy everyone hopes gets the girl. As Cameron's best friend, David Krumholtz provides some comic relief, and Andrew Keegan is effective as the oily villain.

The dialogue in 10 Things I Hate About You is peppered with sexual references and double entendres. In fact, they're so thick that I was surprised the film got away with a PG-13 rating. Kat has all of the best lines, and Stiles utters them with relish. Smart, sharp dialogue may not be the foundation of a good movie, but it certainly is a key ingredient, and one of the reasons why 10 Things I Hate About You succeeds. The comedy (and there's plenty of it) is of the hit-and-miss variety, sometimes trying too hard to get laughs instead of letting them come naturally. Some of it (such as an English teacher's treatment of his students) is genuinely funny, while other examples (the buffoonery of Kat and Bianca's father) miss the mark by a wide margin.

The love stories (there are two: Kat/Patrick and Bianca/Cameron) are frothy, although the plot is littered with the debris of several unfortunate romantic comedy devices. (For example, Patrick asks Kat to the prom because Joey pays him $300 to do so and she inevitably discovers this in a contrived manner.) However, if we accept that these elements are a necessary part of the genre, then 10 Things I Hate About You ranks as one of the strongest entries in the recent wave of teen-oriented films - a pleasant blend of Shakespeare and John Hughes. That makes it an entertaining option with appeal for more than just kids.

10 Things I Hate about You (United States, 1999)

Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 1999-03-31
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Content, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1