10 Things I Hate About You

from intofilm.org

Although it’s a classic, I didn’t actually watch 10 Things I Hate About You until my junior year of high school. I’d thought the 1999 film by Gil Junger was the sort you watch on a Friday night between relationships and wonder, “Why won’t a guy do something like that for me?” But when I watched the film I discovered it was much more than your stereotypical chick flick.

Set in a Seattle high school, 10 Things I Hate About You is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Kat (Julia Stiles), modeled on Shakespeare’s Katherina, is the headstrong lead character. She frequents underground concerts, melding into the majority-female audience, unabashedly tossing her long hair and limbs. She’s the unexpected female hero. Kat’s sister, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) is the more traditional romcom protagonist — she can’t understand her older sister’s disregard for school dances, nor her infatuation with books. Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is captivated by her, and pays Patrick (Heath Ledger), the modern equivalent of Petruchio, to take Kat to prom, since the girls’ father will only let Bianca go if both sisters attend together.

Patrick, rumored to have done prison time, strikes fear in most students, but he’s also dangerously charming. Soon, Kat’s guarded exterior begins to melt. Cue the iconic scene of Ledger’s character running across the stands, singing along as the marching band plays “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” Patrick, typically calculated, displays an uncharacteristic earnestness, and Kat laughs with disbelief that somebody would do this for her.

Patrick and Kat, both unrelentingly strong-willed and singular, are refreshing romantic leads. Their relationship develops naturally, with genuine performances from the actors. I loved how Kat doesn’t relinquish her values for her fledgling relationship. When Patrick presses her to go to prom, she doesn’t forgive him quickly for attempting to force her hand. Their relationship isn’t seamless because she doesn’t let him win easily.

But Kat also allows herself to become vulnerable. After she discovers that Patrick was paid to pursue her, she recites her variation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 141, a class assignment, and cries in front of everyone, including him. The film’s biggest failure is the poem Kat’s character writes about her heartbreak: “I hate your big dumb combat boots, and the way you read my mind. I hate you so much that it makes me sick. It even makes me rhyme.” It’s juvenile writing from someone so well-read. The film wastes a moment that could have been poignant, instead rendering Kat, for the first time, unoriginal.

Aside from this moment, the film preserves its protagonist’s complexity. Unlike other chick flicks in which women compromise themselves for their love interest — think Sandy in Grease decked out in black leather for a guy who tried to force himself on her — 10 Things focuses on how Kat navigates remaining independent while simultaneously allowing herself to trust Patrick. She doesn’t become weak in love, but rather tests the strength of her convictions.

Real life isn’t biding time until you fall in love. Today, particularly at a place like Yale, the difficulty lies more in balancing your own goals and values with a romantic relationship. This Valentine’s Day, whether you’re happily in a relationship, dabbling in several, single and looking, or single and proud, if you’re in the mood for a romcom that won’t make you hate Hollywood, I’d suggest this paradoxically modern film.