Wednesday March 31, 1999
Given the current popularity of Shakespeare on the screen and the dominance of young moviegoers at the box office, you'd expect that at least one of his plays would wind up as a high school comedy. But writer Karen McCullah Lutz's refreshingly free adaptation of "The Taming of the Shrew" and Gil Junger's on-the-money direction result in the witty, bristling "10 Things I Hate About You." As satirical as it is romantic, this is one teen film that is wise enough to span generations in its appeal.
Julia Stiles stars as Katarina Stratford, a Seattle high school senior of such surpassing superiority she has outgrown any interest in mere popularity. She says exactly what she thinks and cares not what others, teachers and fellow students alike, think of her in return. She can't wait to get to Sarah Lawrence, confident that her father, Walter (Larry Miller, that master in making frustration and outrage hilarious), will in the end let her go farther away from home than he would like.
Walter, a single parent and a doctor obsessed with teen pregnancies, has decreed that neither Kat nor her younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) will date until they've graduated from high school.
Maddeningly for Bianca, Kat couldn't care less, since she's decided nobody's good enough for her in the first place. But there's a new kid in school, the self-effacing but determined Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is so transfixed by the lovely Bianca he's just got to find a way to take her out. When the miserable Bianca persuades her father to agree that she can date whenever Kat decides to date, the complicated plot of "10 Things" is set in motion. The best that poor Cameron's shrewd operator pal Michael (David Krumholtz) can come up with is to get an affluent rival for Bianca's affections--a narcissistic novice model, Joey (Andrew Keegan)--to pay someone to take Katarina out.
There's only one possibility, Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger). He's a freewheeling loner, tall and handsome, smart and imaginative. He is sufficiently cool and self-confident to allow Katarina to discover for herself his worthiness. But even if Patrick could be persuaded to go along with the plan, and even if it just might work, Cameron still has to compete with Joey for Bianca. The filmmakers have built an anything-can-happen situation that's lots of fun to watch play itself out.
To be sure, along the way we get a better understanding of why Kat behaves the way she does. The great thing about Katarina, in the way she's conceived and expertly played by Stiles, is that she's not about to apologize for her sarcastic directness. She is capable of giving credit on those rare occasions she believes it is due, and she has, underneath her hard veneer, a capacity to be made as vulnerable by love as anyone else.
Lutz's dialogue is consistently sharp and snappy, and the large cast forms a sparkling ensemble under Junger's adept direction. Among adults, Allison Janney stands out as a high school counselor who divides her attention, without missing a beat, between her students and the porn novel she's writing on school time. Likewise, literature teacher Daryl (Chill) Mitchell manages to stay a step ahead of Katarina and not let her get away with anything.
"10 Things I Hate About You" is slick and brisk, but why do the filmmakers try to pass off Tacoma as Seattle when its key setting is Tacoma's landmark Stadium High School, a vast, magnificent turn-of-the-century brick castle originally intended as a resort hotel, overlooking the Cascade Mountains on a cliff high above Commencement Bay? It is so unique and perfect and dramatic a period setting for a film inspired by a Shakespearean comedy that Tacoma deserves to be identified in the film itself, not just in the end credits.
10 Things I Hate About You, 1999. PG-13, for crude sex-related humor and dialogue, alcohol and drug-related scenes, all involving teens. A Buena Vista Pictures release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation. Director Gil Junger. Producer Andrew Lazar. Executive producers Jeffrey Chernov, Seth Jaret. Screenplay by Karen McCullah Lutz. Cinematographer Mark Irwin. Editor O. Nicholas Brown. Music Richard Gibbs. Costumes Kimberly A. Tillman. Production designer Carol Winstead Wood. Art director Gilbert Wong. Set decorator Charles M. Graffeo. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Julia Stiles as Kat Stratford. Heath Ledger as Patrick Verona. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cameron Jones. Larisa Oleynik as Bianca.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times