*. I’m not a big fan of high school rom-coms, in part because I find the humour dates very quickly and perhaps more because I hated high school with a passion. There was nothing romantic or funny about the experience, as far as I was concerned.
*. Nevertheless, such movies have proven durable. Not only because they appeal to the chief demographic of what remains of the moviegoing public, but also because a handful of titles have kept their charm. 10 Things I Hate About You being one such film. It was fun in 1999, and is still enjoyable today.
*. I don’t think that’s because Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which the story is based on, is such a timeless tale. It isn’t, and when you get down to it, this updating of Shakespeare only maintains a superficial connection to the original (Padua High School, some of the character names, etc.). The whole business of Kat’s “taming” is disposed with completely, and Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) is just out to win her love the old-fashioned way.
*. This was Heath Ledger’s star-making turn, and I don’t think he was twenty yet (though he still seems too old to be in high school). It’s just one example of the film’s knowingness when he asks Cameron “Are you telling me I’m not a pretty guy?” Let’s face it, he’s a dream.
*. At the same time, in hindsight it’s easy to see the Joker peeking out from behind the preternaturally wide rubber smile and the long curly locks. Add some garish make-up and some grease in the hair and he’s right there.
*. Julia Stiles was in a couple of other high-profile Shakespeare adaptations around the same time — as Ophelia in an art-house Hamlet in 2000 and as “Desi” in a high-school based Othello (whose release was delayed until 2001) — but she never went on to become a big star. In my notes on the remake of The Omen I wondered what else she’d been doing. She’s probably best known today, outside of this film, for playing in the Bourne franchise. I wonder if she projects as too intellectual. It makes her a convincing Kat, but Kat is a special kind of part.
*. All the world’s a stage. and it’s also a high school, which is another reason for the appeal of these films. High school is a dramatic microcosm of the real world, with all of humanity organized into different tribes (cowboys, white Rastas, nerds, future MBAs, jocks, etc.). It can contain Jane Austen (Clueless was on their mind here), it can contain Shakespeare. And when your high school looks like this — palatial Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington — then it really does seem a world unto itself.
*. I’ve already mentioned the script’s knowingness and this is something worth emphasizing. Though conventional and predictable (does anyone doubt how all this is going to end?), it’s a script that doesn’t let the characters get away with anything (not even a make-up kiss, Patrick is going to have to do better than that). The way Kat’s feminist rant in English class is shot down as white, middle-class privilege by her teacher is a great initial example.
*. The production itself seems pretty rough around the edges. On several occasions (I counted at least three) lines are muffed or stumbled over. I can see why they wouldn’t shoot re-takes though, as the slips give it that extra sense of a student production.
*. Speaking of which, how common was it in 1999 to roll a blooper reel with the end credits? This movie wasn’t the first to do it — I think it might have started with The Cannonball Run — but I think it only became really popular later.
*. It’s not a laugh-out-loud funny movie, but like all the best rom-coms it has charm to burn. It really is impossible not to like, and it knows it.