DIRECTOR: Gil Junger
KEY ACTORS: Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik
IMDB SCORE: 7.3
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 66%
SEX SCORE: 4/5
✔️ First off, this film is incredibly rewatchable. And it seems to be on the TV all the time. Yay!
✔️ And it is sex positive. I particularly liked how sex was accurately discussed as something teenagers do, rather than being shocking in itself. Bianca’s surprise that Kat had had sex with Joey sprung from her shock at not being told, rather than the act itself, and Kat’s regret was based on how Joey acted afterwards. She had consented to having sex but changed her mind about doing it again; for once, it wasn’t assault as a plot point.
✔️ It does pass the Bechdel Test, although it did take some thought to remember conversations that weren’t about dating!
✔️ And I definitely, definitely want to fuck the cast. It’s Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles!
❌ But it didn’t inspire fantasies. It’s not really that kind of movie and I didn’t want to have their ‘outsiders together’ relationship.
As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…
STREAMING: Amazon Prime (buy £9.99), YouTube (from £2.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com
There is a formula for teen dramas that has been repeated too many times: hot guy earns a reward for dating plain girl, then really falls in love with her before she discovers it was a bet or he got paid or whatever the reward was and is furious. She declares her hatred, he makes an emotional public stand; they live happily ever after. It’s the plot of She’s All That; it’s the plot of Cruel Intentions; and it’s the plot of 10 Things I Hate About You.
Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know how much I love Cruel Intentions but it’s such a sexually charged film that I don’t think of it in the same category as more stereotypical teen movies. For a movie that really feeds into my nostalgia for being a teenager, however limited that may be, I will always watch 10 Things!
10 Things I Hate About You tells the story of Kat Stratford (Stiles), the angry and somewhat aggressive elder sister of beautiful Bianca (Oleynik). Bianca wants to go out to parties and date but their father has made a rule that Bianca can’t go out unless Kat does too – a rule that works very well as Kat has no intention of socialising! Cameron (Gordon-Levitt) falls for Bianca and concocts a plot to allow him to date her. He arranges for dumb-but-pretty-and-rich Joey to pay hot outcast Patrick Verona (Ledger) to date Kat, which he does. And, of course, he falls in love with her and, of course, she finds out that he was paid and is furious but, of course, they work it out in the end!
It’s a movie inspired by Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew but the inspiration is really quite loose. Just as in the movie, Bianca in Shakespeare’s play is not allowed to marry until her elder sister Katherina is also married but, luckily, it otherwise doesn’t follow the same misogynistic plot as Shakespeare’s original. Wikipedia may claim that ‘question of whether the play is misogynistic has become the subject of considerable controversy’ but I don’t think there can be much doubt. The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy involving many typically Shakespearian mistaken identities but is essentially about Petruchio abusing and gaslighting his assertive wife until her spirit is broken and she obeys him without question. Not such a good message for a modern movie…
Instead, 10 Things is a movie with an absolutely kickass feminist hero in Kat! I think she’s why this movie has stayed so important to me and so relevant even though it is now over 20 years old. As a teenager, I loved the romance and crushed hard on Heath Ledger; in my twenties, I was nostalgic for the 90s and for the relative simplicity of being a teenager; and now in my thirties, I have fallen head over heels for Kat, ‘a ’90s feminist who’s ready to personally combat all the injustices women have been battling for centuries.’
But, despite how I feel now, I didn’t really like Kat when I first saw the film and sympathised instead with Bianca. Kat was angry and uncooperative, and I didn’t appreciate her feminism as I hadn’t yet discovered mine.
Although I have always advocated for equality, I have only really felt comfortable labelling myself as a feminist for the past 10 years and I have only been angry for the last 5 of those. I hate to say it but I wasn’t ready to be a feminist when I was Kat’s age because I didn’t want to be like her and I didn’t know you could be a feminist any other way. Kat was serious and angry and, frankly, unpopular – the main plot of the movie revolves around how no one wants to take her to the prom after all! I didn’t see 10 Things when it first came out as I was 14 and had pretentiously decided that teen movies were stupid and, when I did see it at 16, I was struggling too much with popularity and trying to get boys to notice me to want to make such a powerful but isolating statement.
But that power is what makes Kat so absolutely incredible and is why I still love and value the film now. Even if I couldn’t see at the time how extraordinary it was for Kat to be so self-assured and defiant, she was an inspiration to many people and I have certainly grown to appreciate her as I have grown into my own feminism: ‘nothing prepared me…for how electrifying I found Julia Stiles’s Kat viciously asserting her right to be a bitch in a world that was prepared to demonize her no matter what. That she was still just a teenager made it even more radical to me at the time that she was both so fully conscious of the social rules she operated within and so fully prepared to reject them.’
Because Kat takes absolutely no shit from anyone! She isn’t dating because she doesn’t want to; she doesn’t comply to the cliques within high school because she doesn’t want to change to fit social expectations; and she doesn’t hide her anger because SHE’S A FUCKING HERO! And what I have only recently come to accept is that ‘Kat is correct to be angry. Her world is gross and misogynistic.’
Take Cameron getting angry at Bianca because she won’t date him even though he claims he did everything right: ‘Just ’cause you’re beautiful, that doesn’t mean that you can treat people like they don’t matter.’ I think we’re supposed to feel sorry for Cameron, to think of Bianca as a bitch for leading him on, but it’s more than a bit incel-y of Cameron to think Bianca owed him anything just because his intentions weren’t honourable. And I hate to say anything bad about him because I love him, but Patrick accepting money to date someone thought to be unwilling is a pretty shitty thing to do. As it turns out, Kat is so wonderfully independent that I doubt she’d do anything she didn’t want to do and I like to think that Patrick knew that when he took more money from Joey later, but at the beginning when he didn’t know her? Not cool.
But that’s the only mark against Patrick because, otherwise, he is the perfect gentleman – perhaps not what was expected of him when he was first introduced as this bad boy with a hyperbolic reputation. Like Kat, he doesn’t take any shit from anyone and also isn’t going to change to fit expectations. It’s why they work so well as a couple: ‘Making both Kat and Patrick outsiders allows their relationship to feel like one between equals who bring out the best in each other as they let down their loner guards and engage in some actual vulnerability for once.’ And they’re freaking adorable – Roger Ebert may think that their paintballing date is tedious but it looks like so much fun and their kiss in the hay is smoking hot!
Patrick just feels much more grown up and mature than the other characters in 10 Things, particularly the men. Where others are neurotic and self-doubting, Patrick is confident and assured without being an arsehole. Unlike, say, Joey whose arrogance is palpable but who also needs constant affirmation, Patrick knows who he is and doesn’t give a damn about his reputation (side note: the soundtrack for this movie is so good!); the people who know him know the truth and that’s enough for him. I also love his advice to Cameron when he was feeling particularly heartsick: ‘don’t let anyone ever make you feel like you don’t deserve what you want. Go for it.’ That is certainly something that I wish I’d been told when I was floundering in one unrequited love affair after another!
It’s also important to acknowledge that Patrick demonstrates exactly the nuances of consent that so many people claim teenaged boys don’t understand: ‘she’s drunk, he’s not, and so he doesn’t kiss her.’ It really is that simple! There, in the midst of this faintly ridiculous film, is exactly the kind of guy that Mr Stratford should feel safe letting his daughter date. Obviously, they’re going to have sex but I can’t imagine Patrick pressurising her or persuading her to do anything she didn’t want to do – both because he acts like the kind of man who doesn’t have time for anything less than joyful consent and because Kat has made that mistake before and has learned to put herself first.
And while I’m gushing about how wonderful Patrick is, I have to talk about his glorious dance sequence, correctly described by Empire as ‘possibly the best musical sequence in a teen movie since Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:’
I love this. I love this! He somehow manages to walk that very delicate line between sacrificing himself on the ‘altar of dignity’ and remaining very, very cool. He may be singing one of the cheesiest love songs ever but he still finishes up on the run from the campus police. I also loved the perspective that the AV Club provided, pointing out that although he is making an incredibly public apology to Kat, it’s ‘one that doesn’t put her on the spot, but that does let her know the ball is in her court if she wants it.’ Although I’m sure that the fact that the two angry outcasts of the school were dating spread around the school like wildfire, Patrick never mentioned Kat or asked her for a response at the time. He made his statement and he left. What a gentleman!
It is interesting that 10 Things is considered to be such a classic teen movie because it turns one of the oldest tropes completely on its head – neither Kat or Patrick undergo any kind of transformation by the end. She’s still an angry feminist and he’s still an outsider; 10 Things ‘doesn’t demand that either of them change to earn their happy endings,’ which feels so much more realistic and relatable. Whatever you think of She’s All That, one of 1999’s many other teen movies, Laney’s transformation from no one to hotty by simply taking off her glasses and dressing better has been mocked for decades for a reason. In comparison, it is refreshing that no one doubts that Kat and Patrick are hot; it’s their attitudes that have been holding them back and they don’t need to change because the movie makes it quite clear that it is only the bizarre world of high school that makes them outsiders, not inherent personality flaws.
The cliched prom ending, necessary in every teen movie since John Hughes, is also given a new purpose in this movie – Kat isn’t going to the prom because of Patrick or even because she now wants to; she’s going for Bianca. The exploration of the relationship between the two sisters is yet another aspect of this film that I love. They learn to appreciate each other and learn to value each other. Bianca realises that Kat is angry for a reason and Kat realises that Bianca is worth confiding in, worth opening up to let her behind her barriers.
Now I can’t write a review of this movie without at least mentioning the fabulous Alison Janney. How I wish I could recruit her for the EuphOff, my annual ridiculous euphemistic sex writing competition (returning for 2020 in March!) – there are not enough bratwursts in erotica!
So there you have it. 10 Things I Hate About You is my pick for greatest teen movie and I could easily watch it every day! An update from Shakespeare where ‘the “shrew” doesn’t need to be tamed at all. She just needs to find someone who appreciates her the way she is—bare faced, dressed down, and righteously angry’ and which shows the full range of teenage behaviour, from idiots to intellectuals, and values them all! It’s sex positive; it’s feminist; it’s perfect.
And it finishes with a sonnet that makes me cry every single time I hear it. It’s one of a very short list of moments in TV and film that can make me well up just to think of them (I can only imagine Bobby’s ‘Daddy, Daddy, it’s my Daddy’ in Railway Children is going to destroy me now I have a daughter of my own, and inexplicably I’ve always sobbed at a clip from the Royle Family despite never watching the show) and I don’t know why it’s so powerful. It shouldn’t work. It’s not a great poem and it’s such a simple way to bring the movie to an emotional close, but I don’t hate it.
Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.
Next week: A Streetcar Named Desire