In this modernized take on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Kat Stratford is a pretty, but anti-social senior who has no time for the typical high school fare. Her younger sister Bianca is desperate to start dating, especially when Joey, the school’s handsome, but arrogant jock starts to notice her. Unfortunately, their father is so paranoid about teen pregnancy that he refuses to let Bianca date until Kat does. Easier said than done, because Kat has zero interest in dating.
In an effort to manipulate the situation, Bianca gets new kid Cameron, who also has a crush on her, to find a guy for Kat to date. Cameron and his friend Michael decide on Patrick Verona, the resident bad boy whose reputation is surrounded by outlandish rumors – he sold his liver for a new pair of speakers, and he allegedly ate a live duck once. But Cameron and Michael don’t have much luck with Patrick on their own, so Michael convinces Joey to pay Patrick to take out Kat, the reward being that he can date Bianca himself.
During a year when teen comedies saturated the market, 10 Things I Hate About You really rose above the rest. For one, most of the teens in this movie were played by actual teenagers. But it was also a clever take on the Bard, maintaining the humor of the original source without delving into wacky, juvenile shenanigans that seemed to be front and center in so many other teen comedies that year.
It’s strange to watch this movie now and realize that both Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles were relatively unknown at the time. Ledger embodied the persona of the bad boy with a heart of gold, and Patrick’s rendition of Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You, backed by the high school band, became an iconic moment not only in teen comedies, but in rom-coms in general. Cue the swoon!
Kat’s sister thinks she’s a freak, the boys think she’s a bitch, and even her English teacher is annoyed by her frequent voicing of opinion. Nobody in this movie knows what to do with Kat, which is a pointed look on how the world in general perceives strong women. Stiles plays Kat with a fierce, unapologetic independence, never needing to change who she is in order to capture the heart of Patrick. Honestly, it’s refreshing to see a female lead simply grow throughout a movie like this and not going through some physical transformation to make her more appealing. Kat is who she is, and she stays true to herself, even when she finally allows her more vulnerable side to show.
Her chemistry with Ledger is what makes this movie really work. Both Patrick and Kat are outsiders, surrounded by people who don’t know or understand them, and while both seem not to care, when they come together it’s clear they’ve both been perhaps searching for that one person who does understand.
Larisa Oleynik has the more typical story arc as Bianca, where she discovers dating the hot guy and being popular isn’t really as wonderful as she believed it would be. Wannabe model Joey (Andrew Keegan) is self-absorbed and dumb, but thankfully he’s amusing enough for it not to be too obnoxious to tolerate. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cameron is as sweet as can be, instantly smitten with Bianca and willing to go the extra mile to win her heart. The supporting players all add their own special brand of humor, notably David Krumholtz and Susan May Pratt.
There are aspects of the movie that probably wouldn’t fly by today’s standards, but considering this movie was released twenty one years ago, it’s still surprisingly solid for a teen comedy. It still feels fresh and inventive, even two decades later. With a talented ensemble, a wonderfully 90’s soundtrack, and a really witty script, this is one of the few teen rom-coms from the era that I think we can safely say is a classic.