10 Things I hate About You Retrospective: a Genre Defining Rehash of a Genre Defining Classic

Everyone has a “chick flick” they like. Everyone, you’re not immune. Let’s face it, amongst some utter tosh there are some genuine gems – and the king of all these halcyon-dream happily ever afters is the 1999 classic 10 Things I Hate About You.

The teen movie famously based on Shakespeare’s classic comedy (or tragedy depending on how you look at it) The Taming of the Shrew, was released 20 years ago as of the 29th of March this year (the more nerdy of you out there may recognise this date as being the same date as The Matrix was released in cinemas. Kudos). As a celebration of such an important anniversary, this retrospective should make you all gooey and nostalgic, so grab your Heath Ledger posters and your copy of The Feminine Mystique as we revisit 10 Things I Hate About You.

Let’s start with that cast. One of the most easily commendable decisions in the planning of 10 Things I Hate About You is its line-up. After 139 episodes on Third Rock from the Sun (some of which he shared with Larisa Oleynik who plays Bianca and Larry Miller who plays her father), Joseph Gordon-Levitt had proved he could do comedy. Heath all-round was a bit of a gamble: he had only performed in one film prior and it was Australian. Not only that, but he was cast after filming had started, which David Krumholtz (who played Michael) claimed worried him as to whether or not Heath would fit in with the cast’s already formed chemistry. However these fears were assuaged almost immediately according to Krumholtz when he was introduced to the cast. Not to mention they were all real-life teenagers! None of this “please believe these 30 year old are really 15”, real life 17 year olds playing 17 year olds! When the cast was all together, sparks of genuine chemistry flew between them with the mutual agreement that this was the best summer of their lives, and this genuine comradery shines throughout the film and is very possibly one of the reasons it is so well loved.

As is the case with many truly great films, some of the most iconic moments were totally ad-libbed. Remember the line Mrs Perkins delivers to solidify her as a truly patronising weirdo? That moment that she looks at her mug, looks at Kat and says “Kat, Cat. Meow”, hand gestures and all? Entirely Allison Janney’s creation. And Kat’s tearful rendition of her sonnet to Patrick? That was supposed to be done totally dry-eyed. Maybe this last minute change on Julia Styles’s behest is what caused Joseph Gordon-Levitt to pronounce her “one of the top 8 greatest actresses in history”. Begs us to ask “why not top 5”, but we’re not picky.

I know I’ve already talked about Heath Ledger, but I have to bring him up again, how amazing was that man? In 10 Things and in general. He was so cool. Back to the article.

Just kidding, more Heath Ledger! This time in regards to – in my opinion – the most romantic sequence of any film, teen or otherwise, in all of film history: Patrick’s sacrifice on the altar of dignity to even the score. Not only is the song he chooses so perfect, but the comedically over-the-top-ness of the fact he payed off the marching band and how he ran away from the security guards all lend themselves to the creation of one of the greatest sequences in rom com history.

One of the great things about this film is its pure absurdity and how that in turn lends itself to pure comedy. Everything in the film realistic and recognisable, but every so often there is something just a little bit… weird. I’m not explicitly saying that 10 Things I Hate About You is in fact the perfect filmic exploration of magical realism. I’m not explicitly saying it. Letters to Cleo turning up at your prom and on your school roof for the hell of it isn’t super common. Learning French incredibly fast in order to spite your French tutor that hasn’t asked you out yet is also not an every day occurrence. The pure weirdness of Bogey Lowenstein and his whole deal (“that must be Nigel with the brie” is a line that kills me every time). Not to mention cliques (while a staple in teen fiction films) don’t always feature: actual real life cowboys, white Rastafarians that speak exclusively in a Jamaican accent, and people whose entire identity is defined by the fact they are addicted to coffee . Oh yes and your principal writes porn. All this slight absurdity is part of the reason 10 Things is and was so popular.

So happy 20th birthday to the film that Joseph Gordon-Levitt himself described as “better than Citizen Kane”. Long may it reign.