Sunday, May 15, 2011

10 Things I Love About "10 Things I Hate About You"

So, today's my birthday.  And in the spirit of doing absolutely nothing but the things you enjoy on such self-celebrating anniversaries, I have decided to watch my absolute favorite late-90s teen comedy: 10 Things I Hate About You.  Watching it now in my 20s, I must admit that I still unabashedly love this movie.  So without further ado, I present: 10 Things I Love About 10 Things I Hate About You.

X. Shakespeare!
It's based on The Taming of the Shrew!  They sneak in little Shakespearean lines, like when Cameron quotes, "I burn!  I pine!  I perish!"  Basically, this movie takes a rather erudite reference for a teen movie and crafts it into something that entertains and yet doesn't bastardize the original inspiration.  Petruchio becomes Patrick, Katherine becomes Katarina - Kat's last name (Stratford) comes from Shakespeare's birthplace, Patrick's (Verona) derives from the setting of Romeo and Juliet as well as the titular city in, well, The Gentlemen of Verona.  The high school is called Padua, the fictional town where Shrew takes place, and Kat's best friend is "involved" (a bit kooky, but sure!) with Mr. Shakespeare himself.  For a nerd like me, all of this adds up to one thing: delightful!  (We'll just ignore the fact that the tagline of "How do I loathe thee?" is actually a riff on Emily Barrett Browning and not Shakespeare, okay?  Okay!)

 IX. Allison Janney as Ms. Perky 
I cannot speak of this movie without mentioning Allison Janney's miniscule-but-memorable performance as the guidance counselor who scripts romance novels (or maybe just porn) at work.  Cameron, Patrick, and Kat all have brief sessions with Ms. Perky, but in each she's actively snarking and trying to come up with as many ways to describe a man's penis.  Never change, Ms. Perky.  Never change.

VIII. Kat and Bianca's dad 
Mr. Stratford is, in a word, divine.  His mama didn't raise no foo'.  Without him, we have no premise: he enforces strict dating rules on his daughters because he's up to his arms in placenta all day and knows all about those damn Dawson's River kids sleeping in each other's beds.  His dialogue is superb, his antics hilariously exaggerated ("I want you to wear the belly!") and yet, his relationship with his daughters is actually rather touching.  The writers gave him a sneaky back story in the idea that his wife left the family, and perhaps that's why he's controlling of Kat and Bianca's lives.  But at the end of the day, he only wants what's best for them, and is willing to shelve his overbearing nature to let Kat head to Sarah Lawrence for college.  Not only that, but that piece of information is cushioned in the most lovely scene where he reveals that he's proud of Kat's behavior, and just wishes he could be more a part of her life.  Aww. 

VII. the backstories
Speaking of back stories - both Patrick and Kat get lovely little back stories that help inform characters that run deeper than their (bad) reputations.  Patrick, it turns out, took care of his grandmother while she was sick in Australia, and simply doesn't fit in in American high school.  Kat, bless her, actually used to be fairly popular, even sleeping with Bad Boy Joey right after her mom left - only to regret it and start subscribing to the rule of meeting individual expectations instead of external ones.  Pretty good, right?  These histories help flesh out the characters and let them be real, instead of stock Teen Movie Tropes - the Frigid Girl who's "tamed" by the Seemingly-Bad-But-Actually-Good-Boy - and let's face it, no one likes a Teen Movie Trope.  Except for the people who make Not Another Teen Movie.

VI. Kat and Bianca's relationship
These sisters bitch and fight for a solid 80% of this movie.  They are technically very different.  But it's clear they love each other, especially by the third act.  Kat struggled with wanting to protect her baby sister but also let her make her own mistakes, and Bianca kneed an asshole in the crotch because he acted like a dick to Kat three years previous.  Kat caved when Bianca sincerely pleaded with her to go to Bogey Lowenstein's party because she knew how important it was to Bianca.  And oh, how much do I love that Bianca follows Kat out of prom and shares a look with Patrick, and checks up on Kat before going sailing with Cameron?  The movie does not forget that while these two are often at odds, they are still, first and foremost, sisters.

V. the couples
Rarely do I rhapsodize about a fictional couple - let alone two in the same movie!  But Patrick and Kat, and Cameron and Bianca make me squeal with emotion.  Patrick and Kat are clearly the older, more mature couple, and Cameron and Bianca are cutesy and innocent, but both are with their merits.  How much do I love that Pat and Kat (can I call them that?) squabble without being unlikeable, yet still have conversations that make them relatable and vulnerable?  They understand one another.  Swoon!  And oh!  When they slow dance to Letters to Cleo at prom!  They slow dance to a fast song, and I don't think you understand how much that makes me love them, because indeed, I am a crazy person. 

As for Cameron and Bianca, they're just damn cute.  Their French study sessions!  The fact that she genuinely does kind of fall for him!  His earnestness!  His chivalry!  He asks about her sister!  He calls her out on her princess bullshit!  She doesn't want him to see her room, or her underwear drawer!  And the way she kisses him... in the car!  It's all very, very darling.

IV. the dialogue
I could quote this entire movie.  That's how good the dialogue is.  And it's smart dialogue.  Characters are proven to be dumb/unlikeable or smart/likeable through the way that they speak.  Michael and Cameron are poetic and verbose, Kat is armed with a vicious vocabulary, and even Bianca spouts off triple-score words in an adorably intricate diction.  Only Patrick benefits from being taciturn and honestly-phrased, for the other characters who can't keep up are left to be villains or idiots.  Seriously, Joey Donner doesn't know the difference between "pensive" and "thoughtful" (or rather, that there is none, or at least, very little - wordsy people who want to dissect nuance!) and he is therefore unfit to be a Good Guy in this movie.  And the snob in me delights in that construct.

III. Kat Stratford, herself
Ladies and gentlemen, Katarina Stratford is my Queen.  She's such a lovely feminist character, in that she spouts bitter invectives about consumerism and the patriarchal society, and yet when it counts, she still has a heart.  She still goes to Bogey Lowenstein's party because her sister begs her in earnest, she still lets a guy serenade on the football field (if he must), she still flashes a teacher to get a friend out of detention, and she still gets up in front of the whole class and cries while she reads a poem.  Madam, you are lovely.  You eyeroll with the best of them, and while you snark with the vinegar of the briniest of bitches, you are still human, with strengths and flaws, and a beating heart.  Kat Stratford is a damn beautiful fictional creation.

II. Bianca Stratford
But let's not forget her little sister Bianca.  What I love about Bianca is that she changes.  The Bianca we see at the beginning of the movie, so in love with her Prada backpack and the sweet ride of a cute boy, is different from the Bianca at the end.  She doesn't make the same mistake that Kat did, she doesn't sleep with Joey Donner, and instead realizes that yes, indeed, he is massive tool.  And she does have feelings for Cameron!  Praise be!  The writing for Bianca is so stellar because, while in comparison to Kat, yes, she is a bit vapid and shallow and obsessed with popularity - but she is not stupid.  She still uses big words, grows exasperated by Joey's insistence on modeling in her presence, and even gets frustrated by Cameron's lack of asking her to prom.  And it's she, not Patrick or Cameron, who finally punches out Joey Donner, and in doing so, she seals her arc as a character who is no longer fooled by pretty faces and sweet words.  In all, she is just as much of a feminist character as Kat.  How lovely is that?  Bianca Stratford, you're the best.

I.  Kat's final speech

Is there a real need to explain this one?  There's not, but I will.  The thing that makes 10 Things I Hate About You so great is that it manages to be genuine, despite the scheming and the joking and the high school character tropes.  And no moment is more exemplary of this than Kat's poem (does it meet the requirements of a sonnet?  I'm too lazy to go and count up fourteen lines with the A-B what-nots...).  What's lovely is that the poem is a complete manifestation of the fact that while Kat pretends to hate a lot of things (in this case, Patrick) she actually does not.  And so it becomes a manifestation of not only her feelings for Patrick, but also a general character piece as well - perhaps why I can get on board with this coupling; Kat never loses her sense of self for this guy.  And it's cleverly communicated (words!) through a simple structure of intelligent irony mixed with late 90s teen mentality.  Julia Stiles' performance is spectacular, in the way that her voice cracks, and she kind of stumbles and reads the wrong line at first.  It's Katarina Stratford at her most vulnerable, more vulnerable than when she was drunk in the car, or dancing at prom, or talking about how she slept with the wrong boy at 14.

In short: it's pretty perfect.  As is this movie.  I think I could ramble on and on about a million more things I love (namely all the tall tales about Patrick's past - "Should you be drinking that when you don't have a liver?") but I shall refrain.  I still have an hour left of my birthday, and I'm a little whelmed.



    This post makes my heart engorged--no, swollen--no, turgid--nay, TUMESCENT.

  2. I concur!
    This movie was so good and sweet.. And now I want to watch it again.. So thank you for explaining so fully how awesome this movie really is.

  3. I discovered your blog about 20 hours ago and have enjoyed reading through it. I was excited when I came to this post because 1) I enjoy "10 Things I Hate About You" and 2) Because I'm 1 day and 1 year younger than you! So Happy Late Birthday to you and Rock On!


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