Twenty years ago, my college Shakespeare class took an afternoon off to see 10 Things I Hate about You in the theater. After the success of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet in 1996, Hollywood released a slew of the Bard’s plays adapted for modern movie audiences, some with more success than others. 10 Things being a high school movie, we serious college scholars didn’t have super high hopes for the film, but it proved to be entertaining and an afternoon well spent.
Based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate about You centers around the Stratford sisters, Kat and Bianca, and the men who want to date them. Dating either girl proves tricky, as Kat (Julia Stiles) seems to have sworn off all men and their father has let it be known that they generally aren’t allowed to date. Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls in instalove with Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), however, and plots with his wingman Michael (David Krumholtz) to turn the tables in his favor. Before long, Cameron finds an opening when the sisters’ dad says that Bianca can date when Kat does, thinking happily that Kat will never want to date. But he doesn’t count on the wiles of high school boys: Cameron and Michael quickly decide that the easiest solution is to pay one of their fellow students to take out Kat. Unfortunately, even with the promise of payment, Kat’s tempest-like temperament strikes fear in the hearts of their fellow teenagers, and the duo begin to look for a guy who has a scarier reputation than hers, one Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger).
Watching this movie twenty years later was a treat. It’s chock full of late 90s nostalgia, from our obsession with designer coffee and Seattle, to midriff revealing t-shirts and that Barenaked Ladies song that I once knew all of the words to: One Week. This was the time of bubblegum optimism blooming out of the Grunge era, of Britney Spears and also Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The peppy music and cuteness always had a dark side just around the corner, and the outright gloomy media was often portrayed in a cutesy fashion. The biggest thing by far to this time period, however, was Girl Power.
The Taming of the Shrew is probably the opposite of an ideal feminist story. A boorish man tames an out of control women by sometimes cruel means. Not a plot for modern audiences unless adapted well, and 10 Things somehow manages to poke fun at the whole feminist “girl power” movement, while portraying women running their own destinies as, well, a lot fun for both sexes. The movie presents Mr. Stratford as overprotective, but well-meaning, and his daughters as smart, yet clearly still needing guidance. The love stories that ensue aren’t so much about falling in love as two people realizing they have the same things in common. The factor most working in the favor of both the father and the would-be suitors is that the men are present, wanting to be at least a little part of the girls’ lives. This is contrasted with what should have been the most prominent female in the movie: Mrs. Stratford. She abandoned that possibility just as she abandoned her family. Perhaps a caution to women following their own dreams while ignoring everyone else’s, their mother’s abandonment hovers on the edges of the story until Kat briefly brings it to the forefront, neatly explaining the past behavior of both herself, her father, and Bianca, and indicating rocky years ahead as the three continue to deal with the rip in their family.
10 Things I Hate about You definitely knows its roots are in Shakespeare, from the over-the-top sexual innuendos to balcony serenades, but the best part has to be the Shakespearean words and quotes worked into the dialogue. They also picked probably the coolest castle-looking high school to film at, as well as choice spots like a stone troll under a bridge and an outdoor paintball park. As in all of Shakespeare’s works, the characters are at once stereotypes, yet unique in their own ways, and they each have chances to shine, like Michael, who easily woos Mandella (Susan May Pratt) by latching on to her Shakespeare obsession.
As far as the actors in the movie go, they all suited their roles, but none really stood out except for Julia Stiles as Kat and Health Ledger as Patrick. Patrick turns out to be a modern, sensitive, young man, and it’s a shame Ledger didn’t get to play a proper boor, because it probably would have been pretty funny. The poem that is the title of the movie isn’t actually about hate at all, but about love and forgiveness. The message of the movie is that everyone has reasons for what they do, and sometimes that’s understood by those around them, and sometimes not. It’s special to find someone who understands you, and not to be taken for granted, thus Patrick is easily forgiven by Kat, Bianca finds she must choose Cameron, and Mr. Stratford finds he must support his daughters’ dreams even if he doesn’t always agree with them.