It’s rare to find a teen comedy that’s not only fun but smart. Most squander any potential they have by embracing every dopey cliche and incorporating every overused gag. “10 Things I Hate About You” is an interesting case. It definitely has its fair share of cliches and many of the character types have been used several times over. But at the same time the film is clever and infectiously charming. It’s such a likable movie and even after recently revisiting it after a few years I found myself once again having a great time with it.
Gil Junger directed this modern twist on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”. Junger never directed much other than sitcoms and that’s a little surprising. He manages this film well and keeps things moving at a nice pace. He was also blessed with a talented young cast. “10 Things I Hate About You” was the launching pad for the careers of Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. These three drive the main story which is sometimes a bit formulaic but it never ceases to be entertaining.
Stiles plays the antisocial feminist outcast Kat. She’s constantly at odds with her popular sophomore socialite younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik). Levitt plays Cameron, a new student in their school who is smitten with Bianca at first sight. Ledger plays another outcast who pretty much operates by his own rules. We also get a pompous jerk of a jock, a geek without a clue, and an overprotective but well-meaning father. Most of these are characters that we’ve seen in many other movies. You can’t help but notice it. Yet even with that and a few plot points that will feel very familiar, “10 Things” quickly attaches you to these characters and its hard not to care for them.
The movie has its fun moments and there are some interesting relationships at work. But it also deals truthfully with several real teen issues that I still respond too. The script dances through all of these things and rarely does a disservice to any of them. There are times where things just get silly and a bit absurd. A particular school detention scene and another one taking place in Kat’s literature class instantly comes to mind. These feel lame and fabricated and in some ways clash with the movie’s better moments. But these weaker lazy moments don’t define the film as a whole.
And getting back to the performances, it doesn’t take you long to notice that Heath Ledger was a special actor. He was always known to bring an authenticity to every role and we definitely see it here. Even in the few occasions where the script trips up, Ledger never lets the scene go to waste. It is such a spirited and strong performance. I also liked Stiles here, an actress who I have always felt was generally underrated. Her character is a bit obvious but she has such a good chemistry with Ledger. And Gordon-Levitt is also a lot of fun. At first I thought I knew exactly what type of stereotypical character he was going to portray but he turned out considerably different.
“10 Things I Hate About You” is what’s called a teen comedy and that title alone deservedly gives you reason to pause. But while it may appear to be the traditional nonsense that we often get, it is actually a lot more. The characters, their personalities, and their situations are convincing and interesting. And even though we get occasional breezes of routine storylines, the film manages to do things a bit different and it never feels conventional. That’s why the movie always works for me regardless of how many times I have seen it.