This Friday for Beauty in the movies, I ask you to take a trip with me, way back, long ago to a far off time called 1999. It was a simpler time; kids had beepers and girls wore back-packs shaped like fluffy animals. If you were a bubbly, bright, teenager, you wore Paul Frank baby tees and platform sneakers, if you were angsty and full of bratty middle-class rage, you wore combat boots and ball chain necklaces. Whether you were a nerd, a goth, or a cheerleader, if you were in high school during the 90s you probably watched the film 10 Things I Hate About You at some point.
I haven’t been able to watch this film since the death of Heath Ledger in 2008. Suddenly this silly, sweet, nostalgic film just felt sad, because Heath is positively brimming with charm and potential in this late 90s classic. I’m glad the mourning period is finally over and I was able to appreciate this movie once again, because like other teen movies before it, this film carries an easy, carefree nostalgia. It might not be the most brilliant film, but it’s satisfying, and unlike other teen movies of the 90’s (ahem, She’s All That, cough, cough) the female characters are well-developed and relate to each other in a realistic way. Not to mention it’s a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, one of the most beloved (and funniest) of Shakespeare’s plays.
I was going to give a brief summary of The Taming of the Shrew, but it’s Shakespeare, so it’s impossible to keep it brief, instead here is a link to the Wikipedia page if you’re interested. I will however give you a brief description of 10 Things (the title is too long so I’m abbreviating because I’m just that lazy, OK?).
We open with two sisters, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), who is popular, cute, a bit dim, but oh-so-perfectly late 90’s and adorable. Then there is her older sister Kat (Julia Stiles), who is bitter, aggressive, and angry at her consumerist peers not to mention everyone else. Kat drives an awesome car and loves indie feminist rock, oh and she reads The Bell Jar a lot. After Bianca complains to their overprotective OBGYN father (Larry Miller) when he won’t let her go out with stud-muffin Joey (Andrew Keegan—’member him?) their dad instills a new rule; Bianca can start dating once Kat does. So when new kid in town Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls hard for Bianca and is informed of her dating situation, he and his AV squad buddy Michael (David Krumholtz) hatch a plan to get Kat in the dating game. When the two spot Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) the mysterious, duck eating, bad-ass Aussie of their school, they know they’ve found their man. Once they convince pretty boy Joey into paying Patrick to take out Kat in order to free Bianca, their plan falls perfectly into place. You know the rest, and If you don’t put it on your Netflix queue—it’s pure teenage silliness. I happen to have a fondness for teen Shakespearean re-tellings, I might be the only person I know who both saw and enjoyed the Amanda Bynes classic She’s The Man, so maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but have a fondness for this film.
Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger have great chemistry, she is however one of those actresses who grates on my nerves most of the time, I don’t know why, it’s not her fault, but even in this film she has moments that make me squirm with her awkwardness. Ledger plays his role with such easy charm you get the feeling he’s barely trying, but in a good way. The rest of the cast plays their parts well as turn-of-the-millennium teenagers, Gordon-Levitt still has a squeaky voice which is just darling, and it seems like they all genuinely had a good time while filming. If you’re a big Allison Janney fan like myself (shout out to West Wing!) you will especially enjoy her brief portrayal of the kooky guidance counselor Ms. Perky.
The misogyny explicit in The Taming of the Shrew is a constant cause of controversy, but there is reason to believe that the play was meant as farce, and based on Shakespeare’s other plays involving strong female characters, it seems that it can most certainly be taken as at least tongue-in-cheek. I also don’t believe that Kat is “tamed” as much as it’s that she meets her match, an idea which is certainly a major theme in 10 Things I Hate About You.
More than any other teen film I can think of, this one represents the angry feminist teen girls of the 1990’s. It was the age of Lilith Fair, Riot grrrls, and female singers who didn’t function solely on sex appeal and catchy lyrics—Sarah McLachlan, Fiona Apple, Liz Phair, things seemed different for a while, and then Britney Spears came along and the whole thing went to shit. I was more of a JNCO jeans, baby clips, punky teen, but I always admired the older girls who were really into Ani DiFranco and The Feminist Mystique, I still think they’re pretty awesome. Of all the sub groups of teenagers throughout the years—twi-hards, preps, goth-girls, I think the young Riot grrls, or third wave feminists, or whatever you want to call them, were a lot more interesting than other breeds of teen. I know that sometimes they were really annoying and would throw Gloria Steinem in your face like you never watched A Bunny’s Tale with your mom on a Sunday afternoon, but I find myself nostalgic for that age, because it seemed like the world was changing for the better and we were a part of it, now I’m not so sure, and that’s a bummer.
Everyone would like to go back to their teen years for a while, I certainly wouldn’t want to stay there very long, but it’s nice to take a visit. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that this movie is eleven years old, but when you watch it, it’s interesting to see the way the world has changed. If you were in high school in the 90s you’re the last generation that went through school without iphones, BlackBerries, smart boards, and all the oodles of technology that kids today are bombarded with, and I like to think we were lucky. Sure, some people had cell phones, and by the end of high school so did I, but the culture was different. I used my cell phone to call my mom for a ride home, not to text every five seconds with my friends—although obviously if I could have I would have, I was a teen after all!
There will be more teen movies, the kids starting high school now are sure to have theirs, and the kids that start 30 years after them too. The reason these films seem to stick around—the John Hughes canon, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Can’t Hardly Wait, Mean Girls, is that they capture the excitement of a generation. These films reflect who you were at a specific time when you related to them personally, you may not have realized it as you watched them, whispering in the dark with your friends years ago, but they will always be there, caught in time, waiting for you when you need them.
R.I.P. Heath, it was really sad to lose you, you were so much better than so many of your acting peers, but just too good to be true. 😦
Once again I’ll shamelessly ask you to pass this blog along to any friends, family, or acquaintances you may have who you think might enjoy it—you will have my eternal devotion!
I hope you all have a fabulous weekend, and if you’re on the north-eastern coast of the states, I hope you have a good AC or a very high tolerance for the heat!
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