Please find below ten things I hate about 10 Things I Hate about You.
One: the hype. Quite why 10 Things I Hate about You is regarded as a teen classic escapes me, but I would’ve been happy to ignore the fluffy romantic comedy if not for some of its admirers who, like Tarantino enthusiasts, cannot rest until they prove their cultural superiority. You see, the marketers have claimed the film an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, which apparently earns diehard fans a PhD in English literature.
Two: the illiteracy. In fact, the movie borrows a single element from Shakespeare’s play or rather its Cliffs Notes: boy-crazy Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) can’t date until her unpleasant sister Kat (Julia Stiles) gets a man. You’d figure writers would know the Bard of Avon was better known for his use of language than his plots, but perhaps Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith were too busy filling the rest of their screenplay with scenes from other teen flicks.
Three: the clichés. I may have reached my limit of keg-carrying party crashers and fast-talking adolescents giving extended tours of their high school cliques. On a related note, 10 Things I Hate about You combines two rom-com formulas, each more tired than the other. In Kat’s storyline, a hunky bad boy agrees to manipulate the heroine but ends up falling in love with her; cue the power of forgiveness. In Bianca’s, the heroine manipulates a scrawny nice boy but ends up falling in love with him; cue the power of, uh, acknowledging your door mat?
Four: the message. Seriously, what grand lesson are we to take from this? One subplot preaches that nice girls should reward scumbag behaviour if it comes from a hot guy; the other, that nice boys should suffer scumbag behaviour if it comes from a hot girl. I suppose one could argue the movie reminds us to keep our hearts open, but given the benefit consists of hooking up with a scumbag, I’m not sure the point is made all that convincingly.
Five: the affront to Women’s Lib. It doesn’t help that both leads let the male sex define their attitudes and aspirations. For all her posturing, Kat is merely having an extended temper tantrum over what some guy did once upon a time. By the same token, Bianca’s only accomplishment by the time the credits roll consists of picking one mate over another. These girls pride themselves on using men or treating them like garbage (uh, why?), yet neither gets her comeuppance.
Six: the affront to manhood. Mind you, the boys don’t fare any better. Forget Joey (Andrew Keegan), whose antics can be dismissed as deliberately villainous even though they perpetuate the image of adolescent males as rapists in the making. The love interests could do with a little self-respect. Patrick (Heath Ledger) is, for all intents and purposes, a gigolo, accepting bribes to show Kat a good time. Meanwhile, Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) prattles on and on about true love, never once asking himself what he likes about Bianca aside from her looks.
Seven: the wasted talent. As if to compound my frustration, time has proven both Ledger and Levitt gifted thespians. They’d steal every scene they’re in if the supporting cast didn’t also include the likes of Larry Miller, Gabrielle Union, David Krumholtz, and Daryl Mitchell. Unfortunately, these fine actors aren’t given characters so much as John Hughes archetypes like the eccentric but caring dad and the business-minded geek.
Eight: the lead. Still, I wish I could say Stiles gives an equal performance. Like the writers, she seems to have taken the wrong source material, drawing instead from The Taming of the Mopy. Mind you, the actress was miscast to begin with. Dark clothes and an entitled pout do not a rebel make. Take, for contrast, Lindsey Shaw, who reprises the role in the television series. Now there’s a girl who can convey abrasiveness in a way that feels oddly sympathetic. Also, she doesn’t look like she might snap like a twig if you so much as sneeze in her general direction.
Nine: the missed opportunity. I suspect true fans of 10 Things I Hate about You, by which I mean those who can claim their affection for it without mentioning Shakespeare, look past the iffy execution and embrace the story’s undeniable potential. After all, the short-lived TV adaptation is a delight, though the writers have wisely shifted the focus from romantic clichés to notions of identity. They also discuss sexuality in a more honest manner, which is surprising for an ABC Family production. Really, my only quibble with the show stems from its connection to the movie, which leads to my next point.
Ten: the title. It reads like a Cosmo article commissioned by a group of snotty cheerleaders, doesn’t it? Who is this “you” the film is addressing? Why does it stop at ten? What interest would I find in a comedy that promises to insult me or someone I don’t know? In fairness, 10 Things I Hate about You answers at least one of these questions, shoehorning the titular phrase in its final act. If you must know, it comes from a poem Kat reads in front of the class. Too bad she lists fourteen items.