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Director: Gil Junger
Writers: Karen McCullah, Kirsten Smith, William Shakespeare
Stars: Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik
Release Date: March 31, 1999 (United States)
Run time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Cameron James, a new student at Padua High School in the Seattle area, falls in love at first sight with beautiful and popular sophomore Bianca Stratford. Geeky Michael Eckman warns him that Bianca is vapid and conceited, and that her overprotective father does not allow Bianca or her older sister, the shrewish Kat, to date. Kat, a senior, is accepted to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, but her father, Walter, wants her to stay close to home and attend his alma matter University of Washington. Bianca wishes to date affluent senior Joey Donner, but Walter, an obstetrician worried about teenage pregnancy, will not allow his daughters to date until they graduate. Frustrated by Bianca’s insistence and Kat’s rebelliousness, Walter declares that Bianca may date only when Kat does, knowing that Kat’s antisocial attitude makes this unlikely.
When Cameron asks Bianca out, she informs him of her father’s new rule and, as a pretense for allowing her to date Joey, suggests that Cameron find someone willing to date Kat. Cameron selects “bad boy” Patrick Verona, but Patrick scares him off. Michael assists by convincing Joey to pay Patrick to take Kat out, under the pretense that this will allow Joey to date Bianca. Patrick agrees to the deal, but Kat rebuffs his first few advances. Michael and Cameron help him by probing Bianca for information on Kat’s likes and dislikes. Armed with this knowledge, Patrick begins to win Kat’s interest. She goes to a party with him, which enables Bianca to go as well, much to Walter’s dismay.
At the party, Kat becomes upset when she sees Bianca with Joey, and responds by getting drunk. Patrick attends to her, and Kat starts to open up, expressing her interest in starting a band. But when she tries to kiss him, Patrick pulls away and Kat leaves, infuriated. Meanwhile, Bianca ignores Cameron in favor of Joey, leaving Cameron dejected. But Bianca soon realizes that Joey is shallow and self-absorbed, and asks Cameron for a ride home. Cameron admits his feelings for her and his frustration with how she has treated him. Bianca responds by kissing him.
Joey offers to pay Patrick to take Kat to the prom so he can take Bianca. Patrick initially refuses, but relents when Joey offers him more money. Kat is still angry with Patrick, but he wins her over by serenading her with the accompaniment of the marching band, and she helps him sneak out of detention. They go on a date, which turns romantic, but Kat becomes suspicious and angry when Patrick insists that she go with him to the prom, an event she is adamantly against. Bianca is irritated that Cameron hasn’t asked her to the prom, and so accepts Joey’s invitation, but Walter won’t allow it unless Kat goes too. Kat confesses to Bianca that she dated Joey when they were freshmen and, succumbing to peer pressure, had sex with him. Afterwards she regretted it and Joey dumped her, so she vowed to never again do anything just because everyone else was doing it. Bianca insists that she can make her own choices, so Kat agrees to go to the prom with Patrick, and Bianca decides to go with Cameron instead of Joey.
All is going well at the prom until Bianca learns that Joey planned to have sex with her that night. Angry that Bianca has spurned him for Cameron, Joey reveals his arrangement with Patrick, which causes Kat to leave, heartbroken. Joey then punches Cameron, but is in turn beaten up by Bianca for having hurt her, Kat, and Cameron. Bianca and Cameron share another kiss.
The next day, Bianca reconciles with Kat and begins dating Cameron. Walter admits that Kat is capable of taking care of herself, and gives her permission to attend Sarah Lawrence College. For an assignment in which the students were to write their own versions of William Shakespeare‘s Sonnet 141, Kat reads aloud a poem titled “10 Things I Hate About You”, revealing that she still loves Patrick. Patrick surprises her with a Fender Stratocaster bought with the money Joey paid him, and confesses that he has fallen for her. Kat forgives him, and they make up with a kiss.
There was a run of movies, for several years around the turn of the Millennium, that focused heavily on the Hollywood version of an American High School experience. Clueless was kind of at the forefront of this, in my memory, telling a modern version of Jane Austen’s Emma in a southern California setting. Varsity Blues was a peak into the world of High School football. Bring It On is a film focused on High School cheerleaders. She’s All That was a retelling of My Fair Lady and Pygmalion. She’s All That took its inspiration from the John Hughes High School movies of the 1980s. There were a *lot* of these movies and I am no doubt leaving out many. The plot for 10 Things I Hate About You might be the best of the bunch. It is ridiculous and silly, but that is no surprise because the play upon which it is based, The Taming of the Shrew, is also ridiculous and silly. Thank you William Shakespeare. Once you accept the absurdities, the movie becomes a highly enjoyable trip back in time for an aging Millennial and a terrific introduction to the careers of both Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles.
The most antiquated thing about the story is the idea that the two pretty girls would begrudgingly yet respectfully obey their father’s strict rules regarding their dating lives, without sneaking out or rebelling directly. In fact, they obey so stringently that their friends at school are well-aware of these rules. I think that this is where the heart of the movie can be found. They clearly love their dad. Even after the disastrous prom, the film gives us a great scene where Kat is given permission by her father to attend college on the east coast. This moment in the plot was a great reminder by the screenplay that Kat really is a kid going through some really tough things, and as a result, this might have been the most hart-warming scene in the entire movie. The fact that these two teenage girls love their father, and respect him, lets the audience root for them both throughout the film. We get to see both of them as deeply flawed, but ultimately good natured. We need to see them as good natured, too, to make the work done by Cameron and Patrick (Heath Ledger) to win them over feel worthwhile.
At the time of the film’s release, Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles were both relative unknowns. Obviously Ledger went on to much more serious roles, and an Academy Award, before his passing, but given that so much of his later work was not in comdy, I really enjoy knowing that a character like this one – filled with joy and humor – was inside of him, too. Stiles had a subsequent career that was extremely active, and she has appeared in a lot of big films and franchises, though I still she might still be most well known for this role. That just kind of goes to show how great she actually was in Ten Things.
The movie does indulge in one thing that I find creepy as an older adult, though it is very common for all of the above mentioned “high school movies.” It over-adultifies (that’s a word) the characters who are still kids. It’s not that sexually active high schoolers, who drink, cuss, smoke, and do drugs are completely uncommon, it’s that the film makes it all just a little too pervasive. It feels forced and unnatural. The scene that I was most uncomfortable with as an adult was Kat flashing her teacher to distract him and to allow Patrick’s escape through the detention window. Obviously there were no consequences for that in the plot and it was just… icky. Julia Stiles sells the whole scene though with this very authentic and embarrassed-seeming smile. The other icky subplot was the porn author guidance counselor character. I’m sure a lot of people thought that was funny but she mostly just grossed me out. Maybe I’ve just read too many stories about abusive public school teachers and admins in my adulthood to find humor in this anymore.
Setting that aside, the film works really well. Ledger and Stiles had great romantic chemistry, as did Oleynik and JGL. David Krumholtz was great as Michael, giving the character an almost “old Jewish man” comedic sensibility that for some reason works, and is really funny, coming from a high schooler. Andrew Keegan was also great as Joey. His earnest and insecure discussion with Bianca about his hopes for landing in a hemorrhoid commercial was really funny, as was the way he sold being beaten up by Oleynik’s Bianca.
Overall, this is a terrific, feel-good, nostalgia-laden movie. The performances were great across the board (particularly Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles.) If you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while, I highly recommend a rewatch.
What do you think about this movie?