1. The story – The movie is based on the Shakespeare comedy The Taming of the Shrew, but with a modern twist. If you say both titles out loud they even sound a little like each other. If you’ve never seen the original play the basic premise is that a younger woman cannot marry until her older sister marries first. The catch is that the older sister is a “shrew” and no man wants anything to do with her. A suitor for the younger sister convinces a rogue to try to court the older sister, so that both can eventually be married. In the movie it’s a father who’s paranoid about his daughters getting pregnant who forbids his younger daughter from dating until her older sister does. Most of the characters have names relating to Shakespeare (i.e. Kat and Bianca Stratford, Patrick Verona, Padua High, etc.) There are also a few lines from various works by Shakespeare in the film.
2. Julia Stiles – This was the first movie I had ever seen her in. She was one of the last people cast because the filmmakers couldn’t find a young actress that could convey the intelligence, the confidence, the “shrewishness”, and the eventual vulnerability that the character needed – all while not becoming unlikable. She delivers a number of witty, but also biting, lines and does it with ease. I was so impressed with the seventeen year old Stiles’ work that I went out of my way to watch the next several movies she did. For a little while she became the “Shakespeare girl” by following this movie with modern adaptations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (2000) and Othello (2001’s O). She may be best known now for appearing in the three Jason Bourne movies with Matt Damon.
3. Heath Ledger – Like Stiles, this was the first movie I ever saw Heath Ledger in. He plays the rogue character that is paid to try to get Stiles’ character to date him. He appears to be your typical juvenile delinquent, but like Stiles he brings much more to the table and creates a three dimensional character. He would, of course, go on to win the Oscar for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008). In this movie he uses his normal Australian accent, which is kind of random for the character, but at least they address it in the film. My guess is that he had not yet perfected an American accent.
4. The young supporting cast – There are a number of talented actors and actresses that played the supporting characters in the movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt had been doing the TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun and went on to such movies as Brick (2005), (500) Days of Summer (2009), and Inception (2010). He plays the character trying to date the younger sister. In a recent interview he was asked if he always picked movie roles for “art” or if he sometimes did it for money, too. He admitted straight out that there were movies he had done that were not that good. The interviewer then started naming films he thought were crappy and Gordon-Levitt commented on each one, agreeing with the interviewer until 10 Thing I Hate About You was mentioned. At that point Gordon-Levitt objected, saying he would stand up for this movie and that he was proud of it. Larisa Oleynik had done the TV show The Secret World of Alex Mack. She plays the popular younger sister and when she smiles she is as cute as a person can possibly be. David Krumholtz had done The Santa Clause (1994) and went on to do Serenity (2005) and the TV show Numb3rs. He plays the best friend of Gordon-Levitt’s character. Andrew Keegan plays a rich, self-absorbed classmate who is tricked into helping Gordon-Levitt. Also appearing in small roles are Gabrielle Union, Susan May Pratt, and Bianca Kajlich.
5. Larry Miller – He plays the father of Stiles’ and Oleynik’s characters. He is an obstetrician who sees teen mothers come in all the time and he is determined that that will not happen to his two daughters. He carries it to the point of paranoia and he may be the single funniest thing in the movie. The sheer delight he takes in telling the younger daughter she can date – only if her older sister does – is hilarious. He figures he’s come up with the perfect way to keep any boy from ever getting near her. He would reprise this role for a 2009 TV show of the same name that only lasted one season. The show did a decent job of translating the story to a TV format, but ABC Family cancelled it so they could put on more shows about pregnant and/or lying teenagers instead.
6. The adult supporting cast – Allison Janney plays the aptly named Ms. Perky and she simply steals every single scene she is in. She is a guidance counselor, but is shown always trying to write some scandalous bodice-ripper novel instead of spending much time with the kids. Janney has done a lot of terrific work, most notably in American Beauty and TV’s The West Wing, but this is my favorite performance by her. Darryl “Chill” Mitchell plays an English teacher with an attitude who’s fed up with the students around him. (This was prior to his motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed.) David Leisure plays a gym/detention teacher who seems a little befuddled by what is going on around him.
7. The setting – The filmmakers shot the movie in
. “ Tacoma, Washington Padua High School” – the literal castle in the movie that the students go to – is a real high school in . It was first built as a hotel, but after that failed it was purchased and turned into a high school. It adds to the Shakespeare vibe. I always felt it would have been cool to go to a high school that looked like that. In addition, there is a large sports field with an amphitheater around it – an almost natural stadium – that plays an important role in the next item. Tacoma
8. The musical number for no reason – I did a whole category of movies that have these (based on the great line from the 2010 movie Easy A.) You can read more about those films here. Ledger’s character has messed up and needs to try to win over Stiles’ character. He chooses a very public performance over the PA system of the stadium while Stiles’ character is in gym class down on the field. He sings and dances all over the stadium steps while security tries to catch him. It’s actually Ledger singing, too, and he does a decent job. I don’t remember him ever singing on film again, although I haven’t seen all of his performances.
9. The soundtrack – The movie has a number of good songs in it. It’s even a plot point that Stiles’ character likes certain “women’s bands” and Ledger’s character has to learn about them, too. The bands Save Ferris and Letters to Cleo both appear in the movie and perform multiple songs. There’s a great introduction given to Stiles’ character, too. The music playing on her car stereo when she appears is all the info you need to immediately see where she is coming from.
10. The poem at the end – The title of the movie comes from a poem that Stiles’ character writes about Ledger’s character for an English assignment. Stiles does a wonderful job delivering the lines. She even starts to cry while reciting it, although that was not in the script. This was the one and only take they shot of her. It was so good they didn’t even shoot another. Ledger’s reaction to her reading it is also terrific. You could see that these two were actors to be watched for in the future.
There’s really no reason to avoid this film unless you just cannot stand “teenage” movies. Even then, this is not remotely a typical movie in that genre. Basing your story on a Shakespeare play will do that, although it’s not always a given (i.e. 2006’s She’s the
) It’s witty, it’s funny, and it’s very enjoyable, right down to the outtakes in the closing credits. I highly recommend this movie. Man.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
[Note – you can see all the Movies by Numbers, as well as get some hints on what’s to come, at this link.]
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