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10 Things I Hate About You     

Posted by Katherine Putnam on January 13th, 2012

“Who needs affection when I have blind hatred?”

Up first on my “review every movie we own” resolution is director Gil Junger’s 1999 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You, starring Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

“Hello, Katarina, made anyone cry today?”
“Sadly, no. But it’s only four-thirty.”

“I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever be just whelmed?”
“I think you can in Europe.”

Believe me when I say that I’ve watched 10 Things I Hate About You dozens of times. It’s one of my go to movies when I just want to sit back and enjoy a comedy. It’s clever, it’s quotable, and–despite its flaws–it withstands both the test of time and criticism better than most of the other teenage romantic comedies of that era. (Go back and watch She’s All That and just try and tell me that you don’t cringe over the memory of actually liking that movie. Just. Try.)

As stated above, 10 Things is a modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Let me just say that I like 10 Things more than I like The Shrew. Why? Taming of the Shrew is, in my experience, a tricky play to read in a post-feminist-movement setting. The play is about two sisters: the shrew, Katherina, and her younger sister, Bianca. Their father has set forth that Bianca, who has many suitors, may not marry before Kate does. This is a problem for Bianca (and the suitor we’re rooting for, Lucentio) as the wild-tempered and wicked-tongued Kate has no intentions of marriage. A solution comes in the form of the equally untamed Petruchio, who manages–seemingly still against her will–to marry the violent Katherina. He then proceeds to “tame” her by, among other tactics, denying her food and sleep. By the end of the play Lucentio and Bianca have also married. When the two men (along with former-Bianca-suitor Hortensio) enter a wager to see whose wife will best obey her husband’s summons it is, to everyone’s amazement, Petruchio who wins when Kate enters swiftly while the other women refuse to comply. Kate then lectures the other wives on their wifely duties…and the play ends.

Obviously I’ve skipped over many details and nuances of the play, but the uncomfortable gist is that Kate is viewed and treated as a wild animal to be sold (Petruchio married her for her wealth) and tamed. One could interpret these troubling events to be, in the end, for Kate’s own good. Her unwillingness to conform to society’s expectations only serves to make her miserable, while learning to accept her position holds the chance of delivering her to a happier life. However, it is far easier to interpret that Kate is tamed in the interests of furthering everyone’s happiness but her own. Her father rids himself of a troublesome daughter, Bianca and Lucentio are free to marry, and Petruchio teaches his bride to submit to his absolute authority. Kate conforms: society is pleased.

Yet, as a modern reader, I question why Kate has to conform. Not everyone desires to be married; if she does not wish to be a wife, why should she (potentially) make two people miserable by forcing herself into a role that she does not fit? Now, I understand that this was not the popular mindset of Shakespeare’s times. Daughters grew up to become wives and, aside from joining a convent, there were no career options at hand. Unfortunately, knowing the cultural mindset of the time does not make the situation any easier on a modern mental palate.

10 Things I Hate About You, by changing the setting to a modern day high school, rids itself of some of the troublesome aspects of its source material. The basic plot remains the same: Bianca (Bianca) Stratford–pretty, popular, and spoiled–is not allowed to date until her elder sister Kat (Katherina/Kate)–aggressively feminist and a fan of both Sylvia Plath and the Riot Grrrl movement–does. Two of Bianca’s suitors, Cameron (Lucentio) and Joey (Hortensio, perhaps?), scheme to get resident bad boy Patrick Verona (Pertruchio) to woo Kat. Ninety minutes of comedy, romance, and high school drama ensue, ending with Kat and Bianca happily dating Patrick and Cameron.

Although the basic plot remains the same, the movie’s approach to Kat’s stand against societal expectations is quite different from the play’s, due in part to the film’s decision to give Kat clearer motivation for her behavior. In one of the film’s more poignant moments, Kat admits to Bianca that she stopped caring about society’s expectations after her first sexual experience. As a freshman in high school (she is a senior at the time of the movie), Kat briefly dated the self-absorbed jock Joey. A month into their relationship, she felt pressured by high school social standards to sleep with him. After doing so, she decides she is not really ready for a sexual relationship, and Joey dumps her for refusing to put out. Kat resolves to, from that point on, make her own decisions instead of letting society dictate her behavior. Or, in Kat’s own words, “Why should I live up to other people’s expectations instead of my own?” Thus the film still gives us a mindset similar to Katherina’s “I see a woman may be made a fool if she had not a spirit to resist” (3.2.219-220) while simultaneously making the attitude more modern and more developed.

10 Things also makes its interpretation more palatable by changing its approach to Kat/Kate’s “taming.” True, by the end of the film Kat is a happier, more pleasant creature than she was at the start. However, this change in personality did not come about through any psychological torture on Patrick’s part; there are no taming efforts that parallel Petruchio’s aforementioned denial of rest and nourishment. Instead of changing because her spirit has been broken, Kat changes because she’s found someone to accept her for who she is, as Patrick admires her strength, wit, and independence. In fact, by the end of the film Kat has also gained better relationships with her father and sister, who both come to accept her for who she is instead of who society expects her to be. 10 Things closes the curtain on a relationship between equals, rather than a patriarchal, master/property business transaction.

Comparison between the film and its source material aside, I think the movie stands up remarkably well on its own. It is bitingly witty and endlessly quotable (if I had a nickel for every time I’ve quoted Kat’s extremely deadpan “I want you. I need you. Oh baby. Oh baby.”). The main characters (those with direct counterparts in the original play) are, for the most part, well drawn and well developed. Joey is perhaps the exception, but even he is based upon a true stereotype: the vapid, egotistical, sexist, spoiled rich kid who thinks he is God’s gift to women and has a supreme disregard for their emotions or rights. I was most impressed by the character development of the father, who goes from more of an obstacle/comic relief to a real, three dimensional character after this confession to Kat: “You know fathers don’t like to admit it when their daughters are capable of running their own lives. It means we’ve become spectators. Bianca still let’s me play a few innings – you’ve had me on the bench for years. When you go to Sarah Lawrence, I won’t even be able to watch the game.” While the film sets us up to view the father as a quasi-villain for his earlier refusal to let Kat consider going so far away to college, we’re now given the chance to see that he’s just another father dealing with the fact that his daughter has grown up and who is struggling to find a way to stay relevant in her life. For the most part teen films don’t allow for such a tender, realistic moment for a parental character, as this might undermine their general anti-parent propaganda. So, bravo 10 Things for daring to be different.

The film also does a great job of creating an original cast of supporting characters, ranging from doped up White Rastas to a jaded, fast talking English teacher (“I know how difficult it must be for you to overcome all those years of upper middle-class suburban oppression. Must be tough. But the next time you storm the PTA crusading for better… lunch meat, or whatever it is you white girls complain about, ask them WHY they can’t buy a book written by a black man!”). I’m particularly fond of the very quirky guidance counselor, Ms. Perky (excellently portrayed by Allison Janney), who rushes through her interactions with students in order to get back to penning a bodice-ripper romance novel.

This is not to say that the movie is perfect. It’s plot still has a few holes. For example, why does the movie lead us to completely ignore Bianca and Cameron’s roles in the paying-Patrick-to-take-out-Kat scheme? My hope is that this point was at least addressed in earlier drafts or a deleted scene, but the fact remains that my most recent viewing of the movie drew my attention to this oversight. True, Bianca and Cameron’s intentions weren’t (quite) as bad as Joey’s, and I don’t believe that we’re meant to think they had any direct involvement with the money exchange…but the fact remains that they helped set Kat up with no regard as to how the plan would affect her. I simply don’t think it’s fair for Joey and Patrick to get all the blame when they weren’t the only ones involved. Plot holes aside, I also have to pick at the inclusion of the Mandela character. While it was helpful to have her around in the sense that conversations between her and Kat allowed us more insight to Kat’s thoughts, overall I did not see the need for her or her creepy Shakespeare obsession. It’s a little bit amusing, but it mostly comes off as annoying and disjointed. Sure, it allows for the inclusion of a few more Shakespeare quotes but, c’mon, we get that this is an adaptation of Shakespeare. Stop trying to hit us over the head with it.

Criticism aside, at the end of the day 10 Things I Hate About You stands as one of the few teenage comedies with the wit and intelligence to withstand the test of time (and multiple viewings). It’s biting humor, refusal to take itself too seriously, and ability to balance high school stereotypes with well developed plot and characters makes it one of my favorite nostalgic movies.

(And for those who might desire content warnings: this film contains a little bit of foul language, a tablespoon or ten of crude high-school-boys humor, a dash of drugs and alcohol, and a smidgen of sexual references.)

NEXT TIME: Airplane!

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