Movie of the Week 6/16/14: 10 Things I Hate About You

10_things_i_hate_about_you_final_poster10 Things I Hate About You is considered to be one of the quintessential teen movies, and I’m glad to say that it’s good enough to earn that distinction on something other than nostalgia. It’s sharply written (aside from the few needless and out-of-place Shakespeare quotes) and very well acted from a cast whose collective stature has grown considerably since this. It’s funny, engaging and even a little bit emotional, and I hope people remember that, much like Jaws and Star Wars, this is a film that’s leaps and bounds better than the derivative junk that is commercially engineered to emulate it.

The movie builds on the general structure and themes of Shakespeare while also having the sense to ditch his language (which is beautiful obviously but also an impediment to the average audience), which is an ideal combination, because where else does Shakespeare’s crazy plotting make more sense than in high school. Despite losing his prose, the movie is still a smart and effective story, as one would expect from the Bard, and is also able to establish its own voice on the familiar structure. And unlike many other teen movies that try so hard to recreate modern slang that they end up creating their own, 10 Things actually presents something akin to natural teenage verbiage, giving the whole thing a (slightly) more grounded vibe.

More than anything though, 10 Things is really made on the performances, which are for the most part surprisingly human and relatable, which keeps the heightened story logic from going off the rails. While the whole cast is fun- Ledger is moody without being a caricature, JGL and David Krumholtz have a great chemistry, Larisa Oleynik brings depth to what appears to be a vapid role- the standout here is definitely Julia Stiles. She covers the anger, vulnerability and hidden sweetness of her character (and really, most teenage girls) very deftly; in particular, the way she breaks into tears reading her eponymous sonnet is very touching. I mean, seriously, where are the top-tier roles she should’ve gotten after this? She should’ve at least had a Ledger-esque revival after all her other teen-centric stuff, but it never happened, which is a shame. (Also a quick shout out to Alison Janney in her small and funny role as the sex-novel-writing principal)

While certainly being a performance-driven movie, director Gil Junger (another career disappearing act) brings a solid sensibility to the camera, letting it move and roam in a way you wouldn’t normally expect from a movie like this, giving it an additional level of energy beyond the charismatic cast and sharp dialogue (courtesy of writers Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith). And speaking of the writers, kudos to them for reworking the Shakespeare plot into the appropriate 3-act structure necessary for the film to have the proper pacing, and for giving the female characters more agency and depth rather than just being controlled by the men. Overall, 10 Things is a fun and heartfelt movie, one worth seeing whether you’re a ‘90s teen or not.

As for Shiran’s take on her old favorite:

I was slightly worried about showing this to Brendan, because the idea of a Shakespeare adaptation set in a 90s high school feels so stale at this point, and it’s not as though the movie tries at all to pretend it’s not a 90s teen flick. But upon re-watch, that’s actually one of the major things I love about it — it dives happily into the world of an (improbably grandiose!) high school and never tries to overreach past it’s characters for some loftier meaning. In other hands Kat’s dialogue would be improbably precocious and philosophical, but there is nothing she says in this script that hasn’t been said by any 17-year-old alt-90s feminist just discovering Sylvia Plath. The screenplay treats her with respect and empathy all the same. Similarly, Bianca initially comes across as vapid and materialistic (that Prada backpack line is the stuff of legend) but the film fills her character out in other ways, so she becomes far more likeable without betraying those flaws we first see, The relationship between the sisters is touching without feeling overly precious, and I always admire the restraint with which the writers bring in the plot detail that their mother abandoned them a few years ago. It’s a detail that’s only mentioned maybe four times, and while it’s there often enough to suggest that Kat has had to become a mother to her sister, that their father is a control freak because of it, and that all three family members now have major trust issues to overcome, it’s never an explanation that’s gift wrapped and handed to the audience as the only cause for all of these problems. It’s just there along with any other details that fills you in on this family’s life. But most of all, there’s a romanticism in this movie that is completely unapologetic, and I think that’s what marks it as probably the best 90s teen movie that isn’t Clueless. Patrick serenading Kat with a marching band, Bianca and Cameron’s first kiss, Kat’s poem — all of these scenes are extremely romantic and emotional in a way only teenagers are allowed to be, and the movie’s full faith that these moments will land without a cynical or satirical tether is what makes them so moving even 15 years after the movie came out.

Next week I’ll be bringing the big dramatic guns with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, heavier than our more recent fare but something I’m sure Shiran will still love.

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