10 Things to Love about 10 Things I Hate About You
At the turn of the millennium, American comedies typically consisted of male ensemble casts and narratives revolving around sex (American Pie, Road Trip, Not Another Teen Movie). However, director Gil Junger and writers Karen McCullah, Kirsten Smith produced a film with real heart in their 1999 romantic teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You, starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger. Read on to find out why I consider it a loveable classic...
1. It slowly breaks down binary representations of young women
In the opening scene of 10 Things I Hate About You, we meet the Stratford sisters: Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) first appears in a convertible filled with other girls bopping along to Barenaked Ladies' seminal hit 'One Week', while Kat rolls up next to them in a retro Dodge Dart blasting Joan Jett's unapologetic 'Bad Reputation'. Without either character saying a word, the audience is immediately aware of the disparity between them. We get it! They're different sorts of girls - at least to begin with. The writers play with this expectation that only two types of girl exist in teen rom coms: the 'girly girl' and the non-conforming rebel, and blend the two to communicate that young women don't exist in binary form. There is far much more complexity on display, and the gradual softening of these often harshly drawn lines is very welcome.
2. Literature references galore
Although 10TIHAY is a teen film steeped in popular culture and American rites of passage like prom, applying for college and drinking from red cups at house parties, it's also littered with references to novels and poetry. Just some of the literary works referenced are Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 43.
There is also a greater link to The Bard himself in that the film is a modern adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. The main characters have the same name (give or take), and Kat is even referred to as 'the shrew' when she nearly hits Michael with her car. Apart from that, all other Shakespearean nods are relatively subtle if you didn't know to look for them: Padua High is named after the setting of the play; the sisters' surname is Stratford (Shakespeare's birthplace), and Patrick's surname is Verona.
Kat Stratford and her best friend Mandella may have also kickstarted a trend for female lead characters who love to read and discuss books and authors critically. Prior to her we had Belle from Beauty and the Beast, but subsequently Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls, Suzy in Moonrise Kingdom and Amy and Molly in Booksmart have all declared their love for literature.
3. Heath Ledger and Julia Styles Paintballing
Because nothing says romance like pelting your date in the chest. In all seriousness, this scene is a so much fun to watch and the chemistry between the leads is undeniable, no matter how much Kat tries to resist. Paintballing was just a guise for a more competitive version of kiss chase and it's the perfect way for Patrick to bring out the playful side in Kat. For the audience, it feels like a real turning point and it is satisfying to see her letting her guard down as they fall for each other.
4. Allison Janney
Though Allison Janney's screen time is criminally short in the film, when she is present, every second is a treat. Leaning into the role of Ms Perky with Janney's typical zaniness, she plays a hilarious guidance counsellor who writes erotica in between (and sometimes during) seeing students.
5. We are always in on the scheme
One of the elements of the story is that the audience are always in on the scheme set up by Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Michael (David Krumholtz) to enable Bianca to date. Her dad's rule is that she can only do this when Kat does as her older sister. The fraudulent start to the relationship makes the plot that bit more thrilling because we know at some point the truth is going to come out. At the same time, we also recognise that although Patrick and Kat are being set up together under false pretences, it looks increasingly likely that what they have is genuine. The thrill of the double-crossing gives the film an edge over other teen rom coms, even if there is an element of predicability!
It would be easy to get so carried away with Heath Ledger's charm and Julia Styles' dry wit that you could overlook the cinematography of the film, which is often stunning and at times, daring. The staircase scene (shown above) with its mesmerising qualities as leaflets are distributed to students is an unexpected gem of a shot, while the aerial shots of the band (Letters to Cleo) playing on the roof is an exhilarating end to the film (and an expensive one at that: apparently one take from the helicopter cost $50,000). Finally, the shots of Heath and Stiles in a peddle boat on Lake Union with the Seattle skyline behind them are gorgeous. There is lots of variety in the camerawork which might go unnoticed, but it is these things that make 10TIHAY a film that holds up both narratively and visually.
7. The Grandest Gesture
This is quite possibly the best scene from the film: Heath Ledger serenading Julia Stiles with a rendition of 'Can’t Take My Eyes Off You'. What makes it even better is knowing that he sang it himself - all while running up and down the steps and being chased by security.
8. Julia Stiles' Table Top Dancing
No teen film is complete without a party scene, but they just don't do them like this anymore! Julia Stiles was reportedly offered her role in Save the Last Dance (another film I obsessed over as a teen) as a result of her dancing at Bogey Lowenstein's party. It was completely out of character for her, and showed everyone (viewers included) another side of her. Watch till the end!
9. Kat's character perfectly demonstrates the art of self-compromise
There is an element of letting go in 10TIHAY that is incredibly freeing. Kat has some trust issues and a history of hurt, which explains her general disdain for most other characters in the film. However, the realisation that the tight principles she lives by are too restrictive lead to a reflection of her boundaries and the ability to step out of them when she's ready. It makes the moments she opens herself up to love all the more joyful to watch.
Watch until the very end to see a series of bloopers during the credits. The cast look like they had such a blast filming and it shows in the end result.
I could list more, but 10 seemed like the best number to explain why I am (still) completely smitten with this classic. It might not correlate exactly with our own experiences of being a teenager (UK schools are VERY different to those in America, at least on screen), but it's full of joy, originality, and a cast full of stars. We can revel in the sweetness, humour and love story thanks to its timeless charm, as well as enjoying plenty of subsequent films in the genre which undoubtedly look to Junger's direction for inspiration.