As you know, there are a great many clichés in the world of film. Probably one of the greatest clichés is the teenager movie. We always seem to get the same exaggerated stereotype characters who are too smart, too dumb, too nice, too cruel, etc. These characters never seem to be the people that you or I went to high school with. Luckily for us, the newly released "10 Things I Hate About You" offers a somewhat unique look at high-school life, while also updating one of The Bard’s classics.
"10 Things I Hate About You" is a modern re-telling of William Shakespeare’s "The Taming of the Shrew." Meet the Stratford sisters, Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik). They have the same last name and both go to Padua High, but that’s where the similariities end. Bianca is preppy, pretty, popular, and well-liked. Kat shuns the in-crowd and does whatever she can to make people mad. Even the guidance counselor calls her a "heinous bitch." Their father (played by Larry Miller) is very strict and has a house rule that neither girl can date until after she graduates. After much pleading by Bianca, he amends that rule -- Biance can date, when Kat dates. But, who will go out with Kat?
Enter Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt of "3rd Rock from the Sun"), the new kid at Padua, who immediately falls for Bianca. Cameron learns of the dating rule that the Stratford sisters must live by. He then learns that the conceited and rich Joey (Andrew Keegan) also likes Bianca. Cameron, along with his friend David (Micheal Krumholtz), devise a plan where Joey will pay someone to go out with Kat so that Bianca will be free to date. Once again, who will go out with Kat, even for money? Well, there’s always Patrick (Heath Ledger, who will share the screen with fellow Aussie Mel Gibson in "The Patriot"), the school scourge who is rumored to have set a state trooper on fire and eaten a live duck (except for the bill and feet!). Once the plan is set into motion, it is up to the likable Cameron to win Bianca away from Joey.
Anyone who’s read "The Taming of the Shrew" will know where the story is going. And granted, most of the plot is very predictable, especially the ending. However, it’s the characters and situations that really drive "10 Things I Hate About You." The characters in this film are believable, and not the stereotypes that we’ve come to know. The only exception to this is the Patrick character. Has anyone really gone to high school with the tough guy who really has a heart of gold? I only knew the tough guys who had brains of lead. Otherwise, the characters are fresh and more than one-dimensional. Throughout the course of the film, each character shows at least two sides to themselves, bringing more realism.
While the characters seem realistic, some of the situations in the film don’t, and are played for much humor. The highlight here is English teacher Mr. Morgan (Daryl Mitchell), who says whatever is on his mind. In real life, he would have lost his job long ago, but in this movie, he’s hilarious. Of course, he doesn’t hold a candle to the oversexed guidance counselor who’s always looking for more adjectives. Also, funny are the exaggerations of the social cliques, especially the cowboy-wannabes. Be sure to watch the background to see some of the strange things the cowboys do. Larry Miller’s controlled rage as the overbearing father is very funny and the speeches he gives his daughters (full of inaccurate lingo) are hysterical. Of course, the most unrealistic thing in the film is the huge, gothic building that serves as Padua High, but according to the credits, it’s a real school in Tacoma, Washington.
The clever script by newcomers Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith incorporate many references to Shakespeare. Startford is where Shakespeare was born. Patrick’s last name is Verona, from "Romeo & Juliet." And Padua is the name of the town where "The Taming of the Shrew" is set. The film also has a very nice look and is well-shot. This is the feature film directorial debut for Gil Junger. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s been involved with many of TVs most successful shows, including "Ellen" and "Blossom." Junger wisely uses his color palette and decorates the film with many different hues. There is a great crane shot (at the beginning of chapter 7), that goes past many houses to reveal Kat reading by her window.
Part of the film’s charm comes from its cast, who all seem to be having a great time. Oleynik is perfect as the young Bianca, who is torn between doing what is popular and doing what is right. Stiles is great as the bitchy Kat. She has a cold look that she puts to use throughout the film, and yet, we buy it when she warms up. Levitt is very good as Cameron. The role is very low-key and he plays it just right, portraying the proper amount of shyness and forthrightness. Ledger is good as Patrick and is able to display many of his talents in the role.
A note to parents or guardians - something that is surprising about the film is its PG-13 rating. The film really pushes the boundaries of PG-13 with its language and situations, although I don’t recall anyone using the "F" word. For more on the difficulty achieving a PG-13 and to further understand my surprise, check out the audio commentary on "Can’t Hardly Wait", and then form your own conspiracy theory on how ratings are given. The Touchstone Home Video DVD shows the average amount of effort from Buena Vista. The movie is letterboxed at 1.85:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. The picture is very clear, especially during the exterior scenes and shows no signs of artifacting. There are no obvious defects in the source material and no overt graininess is evident. As mentioned earlier, the film is very colorful, showing many pastels and other bright colors, and the clarity of the picture only helps to enhance these colors.
The audio on "10 Things I Hate About You" is Dolby Digital 5.1. The surround sound is used sparingly throughout the film. However, the film has a rocking soundtrack and the music sounds very good. I’ve noticed in the past, that on some DVDs, non-score music can have a tinny quality, but here the music is rich, robust, and rockin’! (Man, do I miss grunge.)
The only extra on the disc is the theatrical trailer. It offers a clever list of the "10 Things I Hate About You," that has nothing to do with the film at all, but is funny, nonetheless.
Also, make sure that you watch all of the closing credits, where you will find some of the funniest things in the film.
In a world where teen soaps like "Dawson’s Creek" present a woefully unrealistic view of teenage life (yeah, Katie Holmes climbs in my window every night), "10 Things I Hate About You" offers a somewhat more realistic approach. The film has taken the chance of taking some teenage characters that go beyond the clichés and placing them in some unique situations. The story itself isn’t so new, but the way that it’s told is. The DVD looks good and sounds good and offers the best way to view this movie. I can’t say that the movie tamed my shrew, but I definitely enjoyed it.