Poor William Shakespeare. Or perhaps I should be offering him congratulations? The long dead, but still arguably the most famous author in the world, wrote some of the most famous lines ever. If you were to look up the etymology of many of the most often used clichés in the English language, you can trace many of them to the Bard’s plays and poems. His works have been translated into practically every language under the sun, have been read and performed everywhere those languages are spoken, and I would not be surprised if aliens on other planets have heard of him (if you want to believe such things). The reason I vacillated between pity and praise at the beginning is because of more recent trends with his oeuvre involve giving them modern spins. I am unsure as to how Shakespeare would feel about these updates. On the one hand, it continues to keep his name on peoples’ lips and minds. Such cultural immortality is the stuff that most creators dream of when they start out with their particular craft. On the other, and I am sure Shakespeare would be like any other artist if he were alive today, people can be picky about others twisting and turning their productions. His words are incredible because they are timeless, which lends itself to being understood by anyone at any time. Still, would he approve of them being applied to a silly, modern-day high school drama? That is the subject of the contemporary version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew called 10 Things I Hate About You (1999).
Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) brings us into the world of 10 Things I Hate About You as the new kid at Padua High School. He is shown around by one of its geekier denizens, Michael Eckman (David Krumholtz). It becomes apparent that, like most cinematic high schools, Padua has its requisite cliques. Regardless, the one person who catches his eye is Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik). She is part of the popular group, though, and is seemingly out of reach. Aloof from any particular set are Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) and Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger). They are aware of each other’s existence, but keep to themselves. For Kat, it is all about being smarter and more mature than her peers, and thus has little use for most of the antics around her. Patrick is more of the bad boy, social outcast, a product of him often moving. Who does want to be a part of the typical high school happenings is Bianca, who is Kat’s younger sister. When they return home from school later, Kat tells their father, Walter (Larry Miller), that Bianca got a ride from her crush Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan). Walter is one of those hyper-protective parents, made even more so by the fact that he is a single parent after mom left some time ago. Thus, this bit of news portends sure teenage pregnancy to him, and he forbids Bianca to go out with anyone unless Kat starts dating. As Kat professes to hating most people, Bianca’s prospects look dim. What sets a change in motion is Cameron. While tutoring Bianca, the only way he can get close to her, she complains about this situation to him. Thinking this might be his in, he and Michael devise a plan to get the more financially well-off Joey to pay Patrick to ask out Kat. Patrick seems like the only likely candidate, especially given the fact that, unlike everyone else, he is not scared of Kat. Still, Kat remains difficult to pin down. After some relentless persuading, she agrees to go to a party. At the soiree, Cameron discovers that Bianca used him to get to date Joey. Two things begin to change her mind. The first is when she sees the disappointment on his face at the news that he is being played. Secondly, Joey is more interested in himself and his modeling career on the side than anything about her as a person. Kat also begins to soften on Patrick when he takes her home after she had had too much to drink, though it is soured when he refuses her drunken attempt at kissing him. The next day at school, he makes it up to her by singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” in front of a large portion of the school. As such, we have the beginnings of two budding romances that continued until the prom. There, Joey is not happy with the fact that it is Cameron’s arm that Bianca is on instead of his. In revenge, he reveals the whole financial arrangement to Kat, who storms off. Patrick attempts to tell her that he truly cares for her, that the money meant nothing, but she is still hurt. Yet, she cannot deny her feelings for him, and ends up writing a Shakespearean sonnet to him that she reads in front of their class. The film ends with them kissing and making up.
My version of 10 Things I Hate About You’s plot makes it sound much tamer than what it is, in some parts. Interestingly, if you want to watch it for yourself, you can find it on Disney +. Their company is not known for producing movies where underage drinking and sex are commonplace. Then again, it is a film produced by 20th Century Fox before it was bought by the Mouse, so that slightly explains why you can find it on this streaming service. Despite the sometimes questionable content, I have to admire Kat’s character. As her relationship with Patrick develops, the reason for her aggressively stand-offish nature is revealed. As a younger teenager, she had been committed to being popular, and had even slept with Joey. When she told him that a sexual relationship was not something she was ready for, she ended their dalliance. When he turned against her, she chose to eschew normal socialization with her peers. Not that Kat seems to have any problem with sex afterwards exactly, but there is an integrity to her and a determination to stick to her principles. This is something many Catholics struggle with, particularly on the topic of sex. The allure of sharing your body with somebody else can be overpowering, and the casualness with which the subject is treated in culture today is appalling. The movie is no different in this respect. At the same time, I wish there could be more Catholic versions of Kat, virgin or otherwise. The Church teaches that sex is good, but should be saved for marriage. Unfortunately, so many Catholics feel like once they do it, they are ruined. This comes from a false image (one could call it an idol) of a judgmental God that will not accept a truly contrite person. The other side of the equation are those who, once they have sex and have not experienced some kind of temporal punishment (another false image of God), that somehow everything they had been brought up to believe is not true, or, at least, it is a slippery slope towards that conclusion. The Catholic version of Kat would be sorry for giving in to peer pressure (which she sort of is), and would remember that God loves her regardless of such actions. The cinematic Kat loves herself, which is the source of her respectability. Faith would complete the process.
There are a lot of people who like 10 Things I Hate About You. I thought it was okay. I am not sure what separates it from any other high school movie, despite the connection to William Shakespeare. At the same time, it was nice to see Heath Ledger in one of his earliest roles, even if their method of explaining away his Australian accent was a little silly. The questionable content I mentioned earlier is toned down, somewhat. I do not understand why, in any context, it would be appropriate to have a high school girl flash her teacher to get her boyfriend out of detention, but luckily there is no nudity. Anyway, I suppose I give it a half-hearted recommendation, with the full understanding that it would also make sense to skip it.