Touchstone Pictures // 1999 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // October 6th, 2000
How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.
I did most of my growing up in the 1980s. From the angst-ridden coming of age films of John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) to the madcap surrealism of Savage Steve Holland (Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer) that decade produced some of the finest teen comedies ever made. Gil Junger's feature film debut 10 Things I Hate About You is the first movie in a long time to recapture even a small portion of that magic.
In a plot very loosely cribbed from the Bard himself, sisters Bianca (Larisa Oleynik, Third Rock from the Sun, The Baby Sitters Club, The Secret World of Alex Mack) and Katarina (Julia Stiles, Wide Awake, Wicked, The Devil's Own) are forbidden by their father to date until they graduate. Walter Stratford (Larry Miller, For Richer or Poorer) is an obstetrician, and his frequent encounters with teen pregnancy have made him very protective of his daughters. This is no problem for Kat, as she thinks guys are shallow and a waste of time. For Bianca, on the other hand, it is a big problem, as she has no intention of rejecting guys and romance as her sister has.
When Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Third Rock from the Sun, Halloween H2O, The Juror) arrives at Padua High as a new transfer student, he immediately spies and falls for the lovely Bianca. His newfound friend Michael (David Krumholtz, Slums of Beverly Hills, Sidewalks of New York, The Ice Storm) tells him to forget her (well, forget dating her at any rate) because she is beautiful and stuck up, and her father is a psycho. Still he perseveres, trying all kinds of schemes to get close to her, including tutoring her in French, which he doesn't speak.
Eventually Bianca complains to her father of her plight, and he comes up with a new rule: Bianca can date when Kat does. Since Kat has no interest in guys, and all the guys value their lives too much to ask her out, Bianca's (and Cameron's) situation seems hopeless. Cameron and Michael then hit on a scheme. They will hire someone to take Kat out on just one date, and then Cameron will be free to pursue Bianca. Two problems arise with this idea. One, they have no money, and two, they have to find someone crazy enough to do it.
They find the right man for the job in Patrick Verona (Heath Legder, The Patriot, Blackrock, Two Hands). Patrick is a mystery around the school, a delinquent who according to legend has sold his liver on the black market, eaten a live duck, set a state trooper on fire, and has supposedly just returned to school after spending a year in San Quentin. He is the only one in the school who will be able to handle the "extreme dating" that Cameron has in mind. In order to pay him they recruit Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan, Dawson's Creek, Independence Day, The Contract), the school hunk who has a promising career as an underwear model. Joey also lusts after Bianca, and he is willing to pay Patrick to date Kat so that he can pursue Bianca himself.
As with so many teen comedies, all of the scheming comes to a head on prom night. Will Katarina have mercy on her little sister and go to the prom so that Bianca can go too? Will Katarina find about the sordid dealings between Joey and Patrick? Will she and Patrick fall for each other in spite of it? Will Bianca wind up with Joey or with Cameron? Will the Stratford sisters have very special moments where they learn to understand each other and their father? These are the questions that are bound to keep you on the edge of your seat. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea.
A teen comedy with a heart and a brain. Who would have thought it? Yes, this movie is theoretically based on The Taming of the Shrew, although most of the Shakespeare references come in the form of character names. Yes, most of it is assembled from off-the-shelf parts of other teen comedies. But for all that, the script does have some charm and some wit, and the components are fit together in a way we haven't quite seen before.
There are some good performances in 10 Things I Hate About You. I've gotten used to watching the chemistry between Larisa Oleynik and Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Third Rock from the Sun, and they work nicely together here as well. Gordon-Levitt has a warmth and sincerity that serve him well as the comedic but lovestricken hero. Oleynik is just fun to watch. She probably won't be winning any Oscars in the near future, but she is very likeable and just plain cute, and fills her scenes with an infectious goofy charm. Ledger has a lot of fun with his part as the "outlaw" who strikes fear into the hearts of everyone in school. Stiles also does well in her role as the hostile, ill-tempered sister.
There are some great laugh-out-loud moments in this movie. There are some sight gags with a gym teacher (David Leisure!) that make me laugh time and again. There are some great scenes with Daryl "Chill" Mitchell (Galaxy Quest) as an English teacher who verbally skewers his students and belts out Shakespeare sonnets as rap. There is a show-stopping musical number with Heath Ledger accompanied by a marching band that is one of the funniest and sweetest things I have seen in a long time. These wacky touches remind me of Savage Steve Holland's work from the 1980s.
Touchstone released this disc as a non-anamorphic transfer with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in both English and French. The sound is for the most part focused in the front channels, with the rears used mostly for music. While directional effects are used sparingly there is one scene involving Walter Stratford and a piece of runaway exercise equipment that has to qualify as the best comedic use of surround sound to date.
Extra content on the disc is limited to a theatrical trailer and a "movie recommendations" section that features six thumbnail pictures of DVD cases for other movies. The trailer is presented full-screen and is more or less unremarkable.
No one is going to mistake this for Shakespeare any time soon. The plot really is a loose assembly of worn-out clichés: the overprotective father, the brainy sister vs. the popular sister, the usual exaggerated high school caste structure. There is the wild party scene, the prom scene, and all the other usual greatest hits. In case the two romantic plots weren't enough to keep your interest there are two extraneous minor subplots involving Cameron's buddy Michael, one involving his rejection by the "Future MBA's" and the other a semi-romance with one of Kat's friends who is a Shakespeare fanatic. The only mildly interesting directorial move is a long tracking shot as Heath Ledger enters Club Skunk, where the only other male in the place is behind the bar.
This is a non-anamorphic disc brought to us by Touchstone. Lemme see, who owns Touchstone...of course, the Mouse House. That would explain the lack of an anamorphic transfer or any worthwhile extras. Not so much as a few text screens of cast and crew bios. In my mind, that qualifies this disc as even less than bare-bones. The "movie recommendations" feature is so completely useless as to be almost insulting. Note to studios: if you want to market other movies than the one we are watching, either give us trailers or forget it altogether. The picture, while giving that DVD clarity that we have all become so addicted to, shows a lot of brightening and edge enhancement. As in so many movies on DVD, bright or white areas tend to sparkle and glow. Colors levels are for the most part accurate, although there are some brighter scenes that look washed out. Halos surrounding characters abound, and the brickwork on the school buildings tends to blur and shimmer in places.
I really have only one complaint about the audio mix. The songs on the soundtrack seemed to be a lot louder than anything else that was going on. This created a "used car commercial" effect. If you are watching the movie at a comfortable volume level to hear the dialogue, you will get blasted every time a song plays.
Like Larisa Oleynik herself, this movie is so cute and full of goofy charm that it is impossible to resist. My wife and I watch it from time to time whenever we need a quick laugh, and it really is enjoyable. It's not great art, it's not even a great movie, but anything that can make me laugh out loud like this movie did can't be all bad. It's better than most of what passes for teen comedy these days, and has a few really memorable moments. If you like that sort of thing, I would certainly recommend a rental.
The movie probably should be sent to detention, but we'll let it go this time. Touchstone is convicted of giving us a non-anamorphic transfer with precious few extras.
We stand adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2000 Erick Harper; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Trailer