What do you get when you put together a Heath Ledger rendition of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’, a classic 90s wardrobe and dialogue filled with scathing critiques of the patriarchy? A coming-of-age film with so much more to offer than romance. Even in 1999, the plot of 10 Things I Hate About You (boy gets paid to date a girl, genuinely falls in love with her only for the girl to discover that he took a bribe to date her) must have seemed unoriginal. Despite that, 10 Things I Hate About You has found its way into the hearts of many, defining itself as a favourite coming-of-age film.
This modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is set in an upper-middle-class high school in Seattle, and the story focuses on two sisters, Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larissa Oleynik). Bianca is sweet and well-liked at their high school, while Kat is intelligent, standoffish and unpopular. Their father (Larry Miller) has forbidden Bianca from dating until Kat does, which leads love-struck Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to find someone willing to date Kat. He decides on the infamous loner Patrick Verona (Ledger), and unsurprisingly, Kat and Patrick gradually warm up to each other.
In a genre that infamously portrays overly idealised romances and unrealistic expectations for young adults, the film offers a refreshing take on various types of relationships. The relationship between Kat and Patrick is fascinating; both of them are infamous among their high school peers, but Kat is unwavering in rejecting the labels and ideas forced upon her, while Patrick makes little effort to grapple with the reputation he has acquired.
1999 Touchstone Pictures
While the development of their relationship is admittedly fun to watch, the relationship I have always found most meaningful in the film is the one between Kat and Bianca. Both sisters have entirely different personalities and aspirations, and they often feel misunderstood by each other. Kat’s tone towards Bianca is perpetually laced with disdain, simply for ascribing to certain social conventions, unlike herself, and their interactions are often characterised by disagreements and insults. Over time, certain truths are revealed that unravel the ideas they have about each other and flaws do appear in Kat’s perceptions of women. Their relationship, with all its lies and frustrations, brings about some of the most insightful scenes in the film.
The dialogue is full of unforgettable quotes, courtesy of writers Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah, who would subsequently work on Legally Blonde and She’s the Man. The film is exciting, with spirited performances, notably from Stiles, and comedic moments with Allison Janney’s erotica-writing guidance counsellor and Miller’s paranoid father obsessed with teenage pregnancy. Stiles perfectly embodies Kat’s contempt for social high school norms, or as she calls them “the oppressive patriarchal values that dictate our education”, which makes her extremely relatable as someone navigating the woes of high school.
An awareness of Shakespeare’s play is present, but the film passionately rejects the unpleasant aspects of it. The fundamental plot that involves a woman’s humiliation at the hands of a romantic lead does appear in the film, but Kat’s loathing of patriarchal norms and her frustration with misogyny is innate to her individuality without the need for a romantic foil. From the moment Kat appears on-screen, she is already embracing her individuality in a high school that has its disapproval of her set in stone.
Watching this film now, Kat is still a captivating and admirable character, effortlessly subverting beliefs and social codes that have been prevalent since Shakespeare’s plays were written. Her distrust and frustration with high school society is a microcosm of the discomfort that many young people feel in society with all types of expectations thrust upon them other than their own. In 99 minutes, 10 Things I Hate About You feels original, offering unapologetic early 2000s feminism alongside very strong coming-of-age stories. A timeless classic that is as charming and relevant as ever, even 21 years after its release.
Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor