10 Things I Hate About You

In honor of Friday, something frivolous for all of us:

Today I have been pondering the mystery of why, out of all my favorite movies, I can’t seem to get enough of 10 Things I Hate About You. No matter how much I love a movie, I usually hit some kind of limit for how often I’m willing to see it. Not so with 10 Things. I once watched it 3 times in one weekend, which is unheard of for me. Even the soundtrack is addictive. But why?

Yes, it’s got the lovely Julia Stiles, who I generally adore, and the even more lovely Heath Ledger, who really needs no further explanation. There’s even the cute guy from 3rd Rock from the Sun, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Allison Janney, in a hilarious departure from her more staid West Wing role. Fine recommendations, all, but there must be more to it.

The movie is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, and I believe we have the bard to thank for much of the film’s repeat attraction. Despite my geek-worthy interest in all things Shakespeare, I have yet to actually read or see Taming of the Shrew, so I can’t say how faithful 10 Things is to the original plot or script. However, the movie is a brilliant blend of the modern and the Shakespearean, and while some of the dialogue has a distinctly iambic pentameter, Elizabethan ring to it, it never gets too stilted or hard to follow (except when Bianca is berating Cameron in French, but there’s subtitles for that).

There is plenty of the kind of slapstick, ribald comedy Shakespeare reveled in, along with more serious (though still within the bounds of Shakespearean comedy conventions) ruminations on the meaning of love and relationships. Shakespeare’s original ideas find themselves being played out in the lives of modern American teenagers with all of the high school drama, underage drinking and loud music that entails. The detail with which this blend is executed is one of the crowning achievements of this film.

The high school in question looks like a medieval castle, complete with turrets – very Shakespearean. Although the setting is supposedly Seattle, the sun is always shining – very Italian, a favorite setting for Shakespearean comedies. Prom is coming up, a convenient stand-in for whatever ball or court appearance is part of the original. Instead of a prince or duke, we have a vain jock model-wannabe, complete with loyal followers.

Just as a stage play would establish characterization through subtle details of lighting, music, and costume, the movie uses small details to draw contrasts among the characters. The popular girls listen to cute bouncy pop music in their convertible. Our heroine Kat (the shrew in need of taming) listens to angry girl bands in something vintage with fins. The independent feminist connection is further drawn with visits to a feminist bookstore and her delight at being accepted at Sarah Lawrence College.

My favorite contrast is drawn between the reputedly dangerous Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) and the good guy Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) when they bring their respective love interests home from the party at Bogie’s. It is already clear how different they are from Patrick’s long hair, smoking, and all-black-wearing and Cameron’s clean cut innocence and naivety. But this scene adds another element to the distinction when Patrick drives off in a huff in his monster truck, just as Cameron pulls up in his Volvo station wagon. (Could you get more safe?) Hilarious!

Lest the connection to Shakespeare be lost in all the modernity, Shakespeare is explicitly referenced numerous times throughout the film. They’re studying Shakespeare’s sonnets in English class, and Kat’s best friend is obsessed with Shakespeare. This obsession provides the perfect opportunity to introduce some traditional Elizabethan costumes into the mix when Michael asks her to the prom as the bard himself and sends her a green velvet dress. He appears in a red doublet, and a somewhat subdued lace collar.

Delightful as these kinds of details are for a Shakespeare geek like me, I think it is the fact that 10 Things is so firmly grounded in Shakespearean tone and rhythm that makes it so enjoyable to see again and again and again. Just as with Shakespeare’s comedic masterpieces such as Much Ado Without Nothing, no matter how many times I see 10 Things I Hate About You, I laugh over and over at the same jokes. They’re still as funny on the 10th or 20th viewing as they were on the first, sometimes even more so as I catch new nuances in the same words and gestures, and every time I see it I find myself feeling inexplicably happy for hours afterwards. Just thinking about the damn movie makes me want to smile.

If you haven’t seen 10 Things I Hate About You, I recommend it, even if you aren’t a fan of Shakespeare or teen movies. I guarantee you’ll laugh.

–Posted by akdmyers/Ann

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3 Responses to 10 Things I Hate About You

  1. Dana says:

    I’m so glad I’m not the only person to like this movie so much. When Heath Ledger died, it was the first thing I thought of.

    I’d say that the direct parallels between the movie and the play aren’t that huge, beyond basic plot, given all the necessary time and culture differences, but I will say that of all the Shakespeare plays I studied in high school, I liked Taming the best.

  2. Mike says:

    Don’t forget the placentas.

    Placentae?

  3. akdmyers says:

    I think the phrase you’re looking for is “up to my elbows in placenta.” Ick.

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