10 Things I Hate About You (originally reviewed for the Australian Jewish News, June 25, 1999)
Directed by Gil Junger
Written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith
Starring Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, Larry Miller and Andrew Keegan
When Clueless came out a few years ago, we were treated to the sight of a remade Jane Austen story in the form of a Jewish highschooler in Beverley Hills. Classical remakes are all the vogue, and now comes another remade Shakespeare aimed squarely at the teen audience: 10 Things I Hate About You, based on – wait for this – The Taming of the Shrew, and again featuring key Jewish characters.
10 Things I Hate About You has travelled north to Seattle, Washington and is set in the fictional “Padua High School”, a castle-like structure with sweeping views of a harbour. It’s a comedy, it’s a romance, it’s genuinely funny in many parts, and the actors are attractive but human. It’s bound to be a hit with its target audience, but will also appeal to those who fondly remember their own teen dating rituals.
The story revolves around the Stratford (get it?) sisters: year 10 Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) and year 12 Kat (Julia Stiles, due to appear soon in a new Hamlet film as well as other Shakespeare plays). Neither sister has ever had a date, because their father (Larry Miller) – a grumpy obstetrician – “knows too well how young ladies get pregnant”. Under pressure from the more socially adroit Bianca, he agrees that she can go out if the older Kat does. But Kat is truly not interested; she’s intellectually advanced (to the open-mouthed awe of her classmates) and looking forward to attending an all-women’s university “back east”.
But Bianca has many admirers, including Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan), a full-of-himself rich teen model, and new-boy-in-school Cameron James (an implicitly Jewish character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Solomon in TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun). So Michael Eckman (an obviously Jewish character played by David Krumholtz of The Slums of Beverly Hills) hatches a scheme to have Kat asked out by the seemingly scary Patrick Verona (the late hunky Australian actor Heath Ledger, who subsequently went on to extraordinary roles), one of the few people in school not scared of Kat. Got all of that?
The plot is contorted, reasonably thin and stripped of most subtext. But that’s not the purpose of “10 Things …”. We are watching these very appealing characters find love, honesty and themselves (although possibly not in that order), through a series of frequently hilarious scenes. Screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith have a deft hand in capturing and parodying modern teen school life. The adult characters are all figures of ridicule: guidance counsellor Ms. Perky mostly ignores the students and is writing a sexy romance novel; the African-American English teacher quotes Shakespeare with black rap tempo; the physical education teacher gets shot with an arrow and plays the fool. Adults may be appalled at the stereotypes, but teenagers will love it. The film is polished, includes some good music, and leaves the viewer feeling good at the end – all’s well that ends well.