Published March 1, 1999
10 Things I Hate About You, which was directed by Gil Junger and adapted from Shakespeare by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, attempts (again) to make Shakespeare hip by translating a version of the story of The Taming of the Shrew into — guess what! — a 1990s high school, this one in Seattle and cutely called Padua High. The Stratford sisters, Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), are the daughters of a prominent obstetrician, played by Larry Miller, whose wife has left him and who is neurotically worried about his daughters’ dating. Fortunately, Kat wants nothing to do with boys, preferring to be left alone with her Sylvia Plath, her feminist tracts and her female rock bands. And the house rule is that if Kat doesn’t date then neither can her younger sister, a boy-magnet. When Kat urges Bianca not to care so much what people think, the latter replies: “I happen to like being adored, thank you.” A new boy in school, Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), wants to go out with Bianca so he looks for someone willing to approach the forbidding Kat.
The only candidate is the school wild man and bad boy, Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger), who has recently come to the school from Australia and other places and about whom rumors and stories of criminal and dangerous behavior are legion. “He sold his own liver on the black market for a new set of speakers,” whispers one pupil who has presumably not got passing grades in biology. Cameron, who hasn’t got the money to subsidize Patrick’s attempts on Kat’s feminist virtue, persuades the school Lothario, Joey “Eat Me” Donner (Andrew Keegan), to do it in the belief that the fair Bianca will take advantage of her presumptive liberation to date him, Joey, rather than nice-guy Cameron. But Cameron expects to get in ahead of his rival by slyly getting a job tutoring Bianca in French, though he knows no French himself.
So far the film is really rather clever, and there are some good jokes too. Amazingly, the father is not made out to be a complete fool, and the sort of wooing the Stratford girls seem to expect, and get, stops at kissing. Of course dad is skeptical. “Let me tell you, kissing isn’t what’s keeping me up to my elbows in placentas all day long,” he says. Kat also has a secret which, when it finally comes out, suggests that she is a lot more traditionally minded than at first she might appear — and almost too easily susceptible to Patrick’s patently charming charms. Of course it would be far too much to expect that the shrew should actually be tamed, however, or give up her feminist mumbo-jumbo about “patriarchy” in order to become the obedient consort of however charming a Patrick.
In fact, it is Patrick who seems tamed by her rather than the other way round, as he has to give up smoking and listen her favorite girl band rock music. And somehow, one cannot imagine Shakespeare’s Petruccio laughing his way through a paintball battle with Shakespeare’s Katherine. But, the Shakespearean element in 10 Things swiftly degenerates into a few tags and a black teacher, Mr Morgan (Daryl “Chill” Mitchell), who does a sort of rap version of part of one of the sonnets and pronounces: “I know Shakespeare is a dead white guy, but he really knows his s***”. How grateful Shakespeare’s ghost must be to receive the imprimatur of hipness from such a source! But it is a sign of the film’s fundamental unseriousness. What it boils down to is a too-predictable high school romance that follows very closely the none-too original path blazed for it by the recent She’s All That. But there is no attempt to look more deeply into the relations between man and woman — or even boy and girl — let alone as deeply as Shakespeare does. A pity.