10 Things I Hate About You is based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Set in Seattle, 10 Things takes place in one of the most unrealistic high schools ever, where the guidance counselor spends her free time writing erotica, the english teacher constantly insults his students and raps Shakespeare, white rastas are commonplace, and no one is interested in dating Julia Stiles. When new kid Cameron shows up on campus, he is instantly smitten by one Bianca. Only problem is that she is strictly forbidden from dating due to her ridiculously overbearing dad. Her dad eventually relents, and tells Bianca that she can only date when her sister, Kat, gets a beau. Now, Kat is a man hating hardcore feminist, so the chances of her getting a date are next to nil. So, Cameron hatches a devious plan. He pays off the rebellious bad boy in the school, Patrick Verona, to go out with Kat so that he, Cameron, can date Bianca. No one expects that Patrick could fall for Kat, and she for him.
It's a fairly standard setup, but, it is based on a classic play of olde, so, lackluster plot progression is instantly forgiven. The characters are all well written and performed, and, 'gasp', feel like real people, which is rarity in romantic comedies, and is practically unheard of in romantic comedies set in high school. It's still refreshing to see, 11 years after the fact.
10 Things I Hate About You is basically the film that was responsible for Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. Ledger plays Patrick as an anarchist in training. He lounges around school, lights up in class, and drills holes in french books. Ledger shows us just a taste of the genius that brewing beneath his rough exterior in this. He's very sweet, consistently funny, and full of emotion. We constantly root for him, despite the fact that he acts like a total dick for a good portion of the film. Julia Stiles is another revelation. It was a breath of fresh air, seeing a female lead in rom-com who wasn't a superficial, man hungry whore. Stiles is wonderfully spunky, sarcastic, and hard assed, but, capable of turning the other cheek and being sweet and lovable when it is called for. You want her and Patrick to work out, and, when you genuinely want the relationship in a rom-com to work out, you know something is being done right.
The film wasn't responsible for making Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but it helped the mainstream crowd take notice. I can guarantee that were some people out there who were all like, "That guy in the hamster wheel hallway fight in Inception. What else has he been in? He was Cameron in 10 Things I Hate About You? No way!" As the instigator of all this craziness, Gordon-Levitt is a far cry from most other roles that he is known for, but, in no way does that diminish the quality of the performance. He is very funny, extremely vulnerable, and delightfully optimistic. His is the role we can connect with most. I goes without saying that I found him to be the most enjoyable part of the movie. It's a shame though. Makes you wish he didn't get all serious on our asses after this. Oh well. It's not like I'm complaining.
Other performances include Larisa Oleynik, tearing it up as Bianca, David Krumholtz before he got mathematical on us as Michael, Cameron's partner in crime, and Andrew Keegan as Joey, the resident jock douchebag who all the girls inexplicably adore.
Performances here might not have been considered all that back in 1999 (this was before I developed taste, so I have no idea), but compared to most of the stuff that passes for performances in rom-coms these days, they are practically Oscar worthy!
Before all the moroseness set in!
What the hell happened to director Gil Junger. Oh, right! He made Black Knight as a follow up to this, and everyone lost interest. It's a shame, because when your freshmen effort is this good (damn, JGL does seem to work with first time directors a lot), you deserve to have a spot in the limelight. Junger does a great job handling all the high school stereotypes being thrown in the pot here, breathing new life into them so that they seem new all over again. Writers Karen McCullah Lutz and Kristen Smith also deserve praise for their biting and smart script. Jokes fly fast furious, the dialogue oozes wit, and everything that the characters are saying sounds like something they would actually, you know, say. It's a well written script that still holds up more then a decade later.
There are some minor things holding 10 Things I Hate About You back from an ECSTACY(yes, I know I spelled that incorrectly). As with all films of this genre, the rules of reality are bent to service the plot. We're meant to believe that Cameron would defend Bianca's honor having never talked to her? Some of the characters are one note and only really there to fill the stereotype. Keegan's Joey stands out in my mind. He's really only there so we can hate him. I mean, we have a really easy time doing that, but, it would've been nice if there was something more to him, that's all.
But, when it comes down to it, 10 Things I Hate About You is a great film. 11 years after the fact, it is still better than 99% of all romantic comedies clogging the theaters. Certainly one of the strongest adaptations of the Bard's work, 10 Things rides high on seriously strong performances and clever and witty writing. Soundtrack ain't bad either. Regarding 10 Things I Hate About You: "O, what a rouge and peasant slave am I!"