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Why to Love '10 Things I Hate'

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 31, 1999

  Movie Critic

10 Things I Hate About You
"10 Things I Hate About You" is a modernized version of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." (Touchstone)

Gil Junger
Heath Ledger;
Julia Stiles;
Larisa Oleynik;
Andrew Keegan
Running Time:
1 hour, 30 minutes
For sexual situations
Here are 10 things I really like about "10 Things I Hate About You."

1. Dead White Male No. 1 – that is, Shakespeare. It's a variation on "The Taming of the Shrew," set at Padua High School in, I suppose, a suburban if imaginary Venice, although that's Seattle in the background. The bright young scriptwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith throw their teenage characters through the dizzying plot pyrotechnics of the Bard – the romantic subterfuges and ruses, the quickly shifting alliances – but find a way to do it that both honors the original and smartly plays off the contemporary.

2. It's a celebration of young American women, finding them smarter, tougher, shrewder, more rigorous, more persistent and more honest than any movie in many a moon. The Stratford sisters are beauties, yes, but people, oh yeah. Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) is perky and popular and smart enough to see quickly enough through the confabulations of Padua's reigning Lothario, Joey Donner; her big sister, Kat (as in "Kiss Me Kat"; it's that Kat), is angry at the system and a royal feminist pain in the backside of every human thing, especially male, at Padua. Played brilliantly by Julia Stiles, Kat sees through everything from cheerleading to patrimony, patriotism and parochialism. She's a pistol.

3. Decent guys. The boy side of the Shakespearean equation is also neatly evoked: Besides the self-loving Joey (really a minor figure), the gist of the plot follows Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt of "3rd Rock From the Sun" in the movie's version of Lucentio) as he contrives to get brooding hunk Patrick Verona (Aussie Heath Ledger as the movie's gentleman of Verona, Petruchio) to take out Kat because Kat and Bianca's father has decreed that Bianca can't date till Kat does. What's begun in cynicism soon turns to love, however, when Patrick realizes he could fall in a hard way for Kat, and Kat – beneath her didactic heart – begins to feel a thaw.

4. Comic turns from littler folks. The supporting cast is fabulous. Larry Miller has been around for years, usually as a grumpy schlumph. In "10 Things" he's Kat and Bianca's father, an obstetrician, obsessed (from hard experience) with saving his daughters from the squalor of the unwanted pregnancy that he sees every day. His timing is perfect; his waltz among self-righteousness and self-pity and self-parody, delicious. Then David Krumholtz plays Michael, Cameron's friend and co-conspirator, with just the right ooze of oleaginous self-promotion, while Andrew Keegan, as the pretty boy Joey Donner, who never saw a mirror he didn't adore, has enough radiant self-love to power a nuclear frigate. Finally Daryl "Chill" Mitchell and Allison Janney play educators with little interest in education but great interest in comic self-indulgence.

5. High school. The movie, though exaggerated, has a drop-dead accurate sense of the cliques, claques and kooks that populate American high school and find their own little niches to avoid being crushed by the crowd. In a brilliant introduction, we meet whites playing blacks, suburban kids playing cowboys, and poor kids playing rich ones. Everyone's the star of his own interior drama.

6. Gil Junger's direction. This is his first feature, but he's no boy genius. A TV executive with 22 years of experience ("Dharma & Greg," "Ellen" and others), he's not just a TV director. In fact, he's got a flair for the throwaway visual joke that the small screen could never accommodate, and a grace and elegance to his compositions that gives the movie a quiet, airy beauty entirely appropriate to the spirit of the original imaginary Italian wonderland in which "The Taming of the Shrew" was set.

7. Valley talk, the Esperanto of youth. Maybe you have to have a taste for it, but when they talk in that highly stylized, codified, smashed morph-language ("You are like, so two weeks ago!") with their whole faces a part of the punctuation of the vocabulary, so that each comma is driven forward by an eyebrow twist, each semicolon advanced by a downward thrust of the mouth and each exclamation point by a dizzying reduction of the pupils – I like it.

8. A larger image of American teenagers as people, with personalities, passions, commitments and ambitions, not walking glands with fat purses for the plucking by hucksters of merchandising.

9. A sense that love still matters.


10. A movie that looks outward, that leads you elsewhere, out of the self, toward literature and life. Someone, somewhere, will read "The Taming of the Shrew" because of it, and at least three other people will look up "Shakespeare" in the encyclopedia or in "Master Plots" and at least three dozen B-papers will be written by students who would otherwise have gotten C's. That's a kind of miracle.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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