A decade has passed since 10 Things I Hate About You first hit theaters, and Disney has released a 10th anniversary DVD to commemorate the occasion. Such teen comedies as She’s All That, Never Been Kissed, and American Pie all grossed more at the box office in 1999, but 10 Things has developed the more prestigious legacy over time (particularly after the descent of the American Pie franchise into direct-to-DVD mediocrity). The film lives and dies on the shoulders of its teen cast, including notable turns by fresh faces Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Julia Stiles, and Larisa Oleynik. More after the jump.
The careers of contemporaries Freddie Prinze Jr., Rachael Leigh Cook, Leelee Sobieski, Jason Biggs, and Tara Reid all fizzled after the aforementioned teen comedies, while some like Paul Walker and Jessica Alba fared a bit better (thanks to The Fast and the Furious franchise and tabloid pictures, respectively). But of its four core teens, 10 Things had a 75% success rate: Ledger is the obvious mention as an eventual Oscar winner, Gordon-Levitt’s career has been a slow burn that is ready to ignite with Inception, and Stiles found continued relevance through the Bourne movies, while would-be star Oleynik was not destined for such paychecks.
10 Things is a loose adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, and suitably modernizes the farcical plot of the play. Sisters Kat (Stiles) and Bianca (Oleynik) are polar opposites: Kat is a caustic, misanthropic feminist and Bianca is a superficial teenager focused on her popularity. Their overprotective father (Larry Miller) devises a scheme to keep his beloved Bianca from the pitfalls of teen sex: Bianca is forbidden from dating until Kat does. This contrivance leads Cameron (Gordon-Levitt), a naïve optimist and secret admirer of Bianca, to convince Aussie bad boy Patrick Verona (Ledger) to court Kat. From there, we see relationships blossom between Bianca and Cameron as well as Kat and Patrick, though dubious intentions create conflict each step of the way.
Gordon-Levitt invigorates the role of Cameron with his patented youthful energy, although he’s still a bit rough around the edges in the midst of his transition from child star to his adult actor. Oleynik owns the role of Bianca with adorable aplomb, and it’s really too bad that she failed to find a sustainable niche in Hollywood. Stiles is assigned some of the more leaden dialogue (e.g. “Remove head from sphincter, then drive.”), but is competent enough to pull most of it off. Likewise, she nails the out-of-character moments that define Kat’s growth, from the elegantly drunken tabletop dance at Bogie Lowenstein’s party to the climactic emotional reading of the titular poem. Larry Miller and David Krumholtz both find a number of laughs in their respective supporting roles, and Allison Janney deserves special mention for her portrayal of vulgar guidance counselor Ms. Perky before going on to win four Emmys on The West Wing.
The true standout, though, is Ledger. He is radiant as the film’s rakish heartthrob in what was his first studio movie. His song-and-dance serenade on the stadium steps, ostensibly the most iconic scene in 10 Things, embodies Ledger’s effortless, yet idiosyncratic charms. In the audio commentary, cast members David Krumholtz and Andrew Keegan address Ledger’s passing in a way that is articulate, heartfelt, and surprisingly relevant to their experiences on the set over ten years ago. The cast members were as drawn to his enigmatic international cool as you’d expect, and Ledger was reportedly proud of 10 Things as his introduction to American audiences.
Although the film is not as incisively satirical as Clueless, the comparison is apt. The film has all the sheen and slapstick that repels critics as it attracts teens, but like Clueless, 10 Things wields a bite that suggests the filmmakers are in on the joke. I’m not exactly sure where the bite originated, though, based on the resumes of the creators. Director Gil Junger took a break from directing sitcoms for 10 Things, and mostly returned to television afterward with no attraction to quality particularly evident. Writing team Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith found mixed success when working with capable actresses in Legally Blonde (Reese Witherspoon) and The House Bunny (Anna Faris), but nothing came together quite as uniformly as when Ledger, Gordon-Levitt, Stiles, and Oleynik were the mouthpieces for their winking dialogue.
And so it comes back to the cast, as it probably should. I enjoy spending time with these characters when I glimpse one of the film’s countless cable airings; such rewatchability is always a good sign. 10 Things doesn’t dig much further than skin-deep, but it scratches all sorts of itches on that surface level. Shakespeare need not roll over in his grave.
Special Features: The 10th anniversary edition includes a half-hour retrospective with older footage of the cast and brand new interviews with the writers and directors. It’s more gushing than revelatory, but it was interesting to hear that there was once talk of making a sequel with the unfortunate title of 11 Things I Hate About You. The disc also features an audio commentary with cast members Larisa Oleynik, Andrew Keegan, David Krumholtz, Susan May Pratt and screenwriters Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz, highlighted by Krumholtz’s breezy self-deprecation. In addition, the package includes deleted scenes and a digital copy.