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10 Things I Hate About You

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: 10 Things I Hate About You

Starring: Julia Stiles, Larisa Oleynik
Director: Gill Junger
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 94 Minutes
Release Date: March 1999
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Krumholtz, Andrew Keegan, Larry Miller, Allison Janney

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Suddenly Shakespeare rocks. After generations of suffering students have been forced to pore over the texts of a language that looks to American teens about a comprehensible as Tagalog would appear to a Malaysian, Hollywood has found a way to excite a large demographic group to the glories of the Bard. This year alone will see six adaptations from the great Renaissance writer, including a version of Othello that takes place on a modern basketball court.

"The Taming of the Shrew" is an excellent choice of a 16th century work to modernize since even in its own day it was one of Shakespeare's most popular. Filled with brilliant language and witty wordplay, "Shrew" has a well-crafted, easy-to-follow plot displaying the writer in one of his most antic moods. As his readers know, "taming" is not the best word to describe what happens to Shakespeare's title character, Katharina: "educating" would be the appropriate term. Kate is the spirited elder daughter of Baptista, a well- to-do gentleman of Padua, who storms at her father and her mild young sister Bianca, and rages against marriage--until she finds that submission to her husband leads to more happiness than she had dreamed possible. The rationale for "taming" her was a Renaissance belief in balance: life is best when a woman follows the lead of a man. When Kate acts the shrew, she throws the universe out of balance. A strong man--Petruchio--was needed to bring the cosmos back to order.

This is not to imply that today's America is altogether different. Many men and a considerable number of women, ignoring claims that the female gender is oppressed, actually look forward to the day that the ideas of Betty Friedan are reversed and, indeed, current post-feminism has gone a ways toward bringing the pendulum back to the center. This brings us to "10 Things I Hate About You," a title so awkward that I asked the nice young woman at the box office simply for a pair of tickets to "10 Things"--to which she responded, "10 Things I Hate About You?" Duh.

Despite what you may have heard from critics who either dismissed the movie as "an insult to teenagers everywhere" at one extreme and "a film with some jokes that work and some that don't" as a mainstream version of criticism, "10 Things" is one of the best high-school comedies in years--far exceeding the so-called wit of "Jawbreaker" and more involving, even more credible than the campy "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and its sequel. Padua High School, which serves as the story's location (actually filmed in Seattle and Tacoma) houses richniks who are more plausible than the spoiled brats of "Clueless." What's more its central characters, Heath Ledger in the role of the tamer, Patrick Verona, and Julia Stiles as the eponymous shrew, Kat, are easy to look at. Joseph-Gordon Levitt as the lovesick Cameron James and Larisa Oleynik as Bianca Stratford as the shrew's young, nicer sister Bianca, are drop-dead cuties.

There's nothing terribly original about the plot (we've already established that Shakespeare dealt with the theme and he was known to plagiarize from ancient myths and fables himself). "10 Things" centers on the worn idea of a young man's asking a coed to the annual prom only because of either a bet or an offer of money. Obviously the boy gets to like the girl anyway, but when the girl finds out the financial details, she's turned off.

In this case Kat is a stuck-up 18-year-old with a misguided view of feminism. She refuses the advances of all boys. She is determined to live her life by her own rules, not by those of her father or of any other man. Her father, a gynecologist (played by Larry Miller), knows from pregnancy and refuses to allow Kat's sister to date, or, at any rate, he permits her to date only when Kat goes out with a man (which he assumes will be never). Younger sister Bianca wants to go out with the school's conceited heartthrob, Joey, though she is shyly pursued by Cameron. Bianca must convince her older sister to go to the prom and places her confidence in the handsome, self-assured Patrick.

A tired formula like this one need not bog a movie down. What brings "10 Things" to life is a series of comic scenes, including a satiric portrait of the school guidance counselor (Allison Janney) who writes sizzling novels with her laptop computer on school time and the young English teacher, (Daryl "Chill" Mitchell) who raps the lyrics of Shakespeare.

Any young woman with sense in the movie audience would drool over Heath Ledger, a princely dude with a provocative Australian accent and root for him to win the affection of haughty Katarina. A climactic scene of Patrick's singing with the accompaniment of the school band "I love you baby" to the woman of his dreams who is out on the football field works splendidly. Larry Miller is terrifically amusing as the understanding but overprotective father while David Krumholtz serves well as Michael, who is Cameron's guide-- and our own--to the culture of this affluent school. "10 Things I Hate About You" easily transcends its hackneyed plot through vivacious acting, crackling dialogue, and sympathetic characters.

Copyright 1999 Harvey Karten

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