I honestly like this type of film. No, it is not deep, but it does at least acknowledge that human beings, even when they are teenagers, are complex and thoughtful. I don’t know why it seems so appealing. Maybe it’s nostalgia – today’s teens are being profoundly ripped off, when films like Prom are meant to speak to them. Why are they not outraged? Oh yea, because they also like Justin Bieber. Kids these days will buy ANYTHING.
Luckily, people used to put thought into them. 10 Things I Hate About You certainly was one of the better teen comedies of the nineties. Was it deep? No, not particularly. I cannot even say that it does its source material justice. But it does seem to have its head on its shoulders (rather than below the belt line) which has become quite a rarity. It is not as good as, say, Easy A or Charlie Bartlett (certainly it is not on par with John Hughes) but it is certainly worth your time.
The plot, loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (yes, it was another late nineties film which is adapted from classic literature. Apparently, the children of yuppies were the replacements of snooty European aristocracy) concerns two sisters, Katarina (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik). Kat is a rebellious woman who is usually the first to quote Gloria Steinem in any English class. Bianca, on the other hand, is a sweet “girl next door” who is looking to date. But their father (Larry Miller) is worried of what dating will bring (he is a gynecologist and talks about how he has to spend his days with his arms in placenta) and forbids them to date. Later, he gives an addendum – Bianca can date whenever Kat finds a date. This spreads throughout the school, and Cameron (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) hatches a scheme to get Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date Kat so he may have a shot with Bianca. But male model Joey (Andrew Keegan) also wants to date Bianca and tries to hatch his own scheme.
The film works, honestly, because of Stiles and Ledger. I can think of many actors who would have turned the material into some sort of camp. Kat manages to fall in love without compromising herself (that is, without renouncing what she believes in) and Verona remains mysterious, but still likable. It is quite refreshing to see two young actors showing this much dedication to their work, even in a film that probably would not have ended up being a classic. Nowadays, Stiles isn’t really working, and Ledger…well, the less said, the better. Still, it was nice that we could see two young actors maturing. Ledger, at least, would go on to demonstrate his enormous talent.
But this was more than just a stepping stone for young actors. It was actually fairly well written, with some depth to the characters. Yes, it is true that some of them (Bianca and Joey) end up being more like caricatures of the usual high school stock characters. We have the bully, the ditz, and the hopeless geek all making some appearance. At least Kat (who also appears to be a sports star, although this is not given a lot of screen time) and Patrick have depth. So does Cameron.
That is one thing I always look for in actual teenage films – does it accurately depict what certain teenagers are like? This one does (right down to the detail of having a woman lift up her shirt to distract a man). I knew many who thought they are complex, and think that every single thing that happens to them is the greatest thing ever. Joey goes around bragging about his (likely nonexistent) modeling gigs, while Bianca complains about every single one of her father’s rules. Are they good people? No, but there is a sense of familiarity to them. Even the supposed outsiders like Kat and Patrick were written by having the screenwriters place an ear to the ground and see what life was actually like.
Now, they didn’t get it entirely correct. Some of their motivations seem rather…off. For example, one scene involves Kat getting drunk and trying to kiss Pat. He refuses on moral grounds, but she ends up angry with him. Why? I am not sure how many women would actually like for someone who is not exactly their boyfriend pawing at them when they are not capable of thinking rationally. Especially a strong woman like Kat, who you would think would be more upset because a man tried to take advantage of her in a weakened state. There were a few moments like this – mostly, I feel, to keep the drama going.
That is another flaw. The film has a run time of 99 minutes, but it still feels slightly too long. Some of the scenes feel like padding (particularly the aforementioned flashing scene), as is most of the drama between Patrick and Kat. We already know the ending within their first meeting, so why does the film need to mercilessly tease us? Sometimes it worked, but most of the times it just did not feel necessary.
Still – I liked this film. It was a smartly written film with two good performances. If more teen films used this as a baseline for quality, I have a feeling that we would be better off. But apparently, the baseline for quality is fart jokes and mawkish sentiment. Maybe looking into the past is a good thing, in this case.