Judge Gordon Sullivan found eight things to like, and two he's indifferent about.
How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.
The year 1999 was a good one for teen-oriented comedies. American Pie blew up the box office, in many way ushering in a new wave of sex comedies, largely buried since their heyday in the 1980s. Several months prior, another film resurrected a long-dormant genre: the misfit-ensemble film. Indeed, 10 Things I Hate About You harkened back to the eminently quotable work of the master John Hughes himself, offering star-crossed lovers, wicked dialogue, and an infectious soundtrack. Ten years later the film comes back to DVD after a lackluster original release and offers improved visuals and some new extras to add some perspective to this sometimes neglected teen classic.
Facts of the Case
The Stratford sisters couldn't be more different: young Bianca (Larisa Oleynik, The Secret World of Alex Mack) is a rising high school star who hopes to parley her good looks into a normal teenage life, while her older sister Kat (Julia Stiles, Save the Last Dance) is a social outcast who spends her time rebelling and listening to punk rock. Bianca wants to date, but the sisters' overprotective father says that Bianca can't date until Kat does. A well-meaning suitor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brick) pays a local tough guy (Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight) to date Kat so he has a shot with Bianca. More than ten things go wrong when tough guy Patrick begins to fall for Kat.
Like most teen comedies, 10 Things I Hate About You stands on the strength of its dialogue and its stars. When I first saw the film in the theater back in '99, pretty much all the faces were fresh to me. I was totally convinced that Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles were going to take over the world. Ledger perfectly nails the James Dean-esque tender tough-guy role by being alternately charming and intimidating, while Stiles nimbly combines an imperious look with a vulnerability that's hard to resist. Ten years on its hard to believe that Ledger is dead and Stiles hasn't had a lead role in a big film in years. Another real shocker is the career of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He's amiable enough as the lovelorn Cameron here, but nothing in his performance predicted his brilliant turns in indie films like Brick. Similarly I didn't expect David Krumholtz to be the lead in a TV series by now, despite his performance as Michael. Beyond telling me that Hollywood is just plain weird for acting careers, my horrible predictions show that there's a lot of talent on screen in this film, even if I didn't notice it at first.
Rewatching the film, I was struck by how many perfect moments 10 Things has to offer, where dialogue and situation come together perfectly to create laughter for the audience. Like when doting father Walter asks his daughter if she's made anyone cry today. She answers in the negative, which should relieve him, until she follows that up with "But it's only 4:30." It's a simple gag, but it manages to both provoke a laugh while revealing character, and that's something that many comedies forget to do. Although the film avoids Diablo Cody territory, the situations and dialogue are just heightened enough to make them engaging and outlandishly humorous.
The major improvement this 10th Anniversary Edition makes over its predecessor is the inclusion of a new, anamorphic transfer. Although the film isn't the most visually rich comedy out there, it has a bright, colorful look that is well served by the anamorphic enhancement. There's some grain in certain scenes (check out the sky in the film's opening shots), but it generally looks natural and not noisy or smudged away. I doubt the 5.1 audio track is any different from the film's previous DVD, but there's nothing wrong with that. We get audio that keeps the dialogue clear while also giving plenty of room to the film's frequent use of popular music.
The extras this time out are also a bit of an upgrade, with a new featurette and a commentary. The featurette is a combination of vintage cast interviews from the set with new material by the director and co-writers. The featurette also tosses in some casting footage and deleted scenes. It's a fluffy but fun little peek at the film, but the lack of recent participation by all the actors makes it a little less interesting. The DVD lists "Deleted Scenes" as a separate extra, but the only deleted stuff I could see was in the featurette, which is odd. Then, there's the commentary, with writers Karen McCullah-Lutz and Kirsten Smith along with actors Andrew Keegan, David Krumholtz, Larisa Oleynik, and Susan May Pratt. The group share a room and have obvious affection for the film making their reminisces both funny and endearing. The absences of the director, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Julia Stiles is a bit sad though. I was also expecting a little "Remembering Heath" featurette, since this was his first big film, but any real mention of his death is absent. The second disc of this edition contains a digital copy of the film for iTunes or Windows Media users.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Fans of 10 Things I Hate About You deserve better. It's great that the film has finally gotten the anamorphic treatment and had a few fun extras attached, but this stuff is the same caliber we expect of simple film releases today, never mind anything that aspires to the label of "Special Edition." Plus, it's not like anyone is lacking for things to talk about with this film with the whole Shakespeare angle and the subsequent careers of the actors.
10 Things I Hate About You is a great teen comedy that has only gotten better over the last ten years. Led by a fantastic ensemble cast bolstered by a memorable script the film has both laughs and sentiment to spare. Although I'm all for the anamorphic enhancement, it's hard to recommend an upgrade based on that and two extras. For casual fans the disc is worth a rental for the extras, and anyone who appreciates teen comedies but hasn't seen 10 Things should do so immediately.
Even though this release won't please everybody, there's nothing to hate about 10 Things I Hate About You.
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