There are some movies that are so wonderful, so iconic that they set the standards for every movie that comes after it. For me, 10 Things I Hate About You is that movie. Every time I watch another teen movie, I compare it to this. If it disappoints, I think “why couldn’t you have been cute and clever like 10 Things?” If it’s good I think “you exist because of 10 Things.” Maybe that’s unfair. But probably not.
Science sure hasn’t done me much good lately. I mean, when was the last time science cured cancer or invented me some kind of teleportation? But today I’m going to use SCIENCE* to prove the chemical awesomeness of 10 Things. To show why it’s a paragon of the teen comedy genre. Why it rises to the frothy surface of excellence and infamy while other movies sick to the bottom of disappointment and obscurity.
*I’ve been told I don’t quite understand what that word means.
The So-Called Plot:
Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik) are sisters living with their overbearing gynecologist father. Kat is a senior and an opinionated/angry lesbian feminist, who sits around reading The Bell Jar and applying to tiny east coast liberal arts colleges. Bianca is a ditsy, popular sophomore who tends to wax poetic about her Sketchers and Prada backpack. Since their father is kept “up to his elbows in placenta” from teen pregnancies, the house rule is that neither girl can date until they are in college. Since Kat actively states her dislike of high school boys, Daddy Stratford updates his rule so that Bianca can date as long as Kat can. New kid Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) arrives at their high school and instantly falls for Bianca, without needing to talk to her or know her. When the revised rule is imposed, Cameron and his friend Michael devise a plan to get resident douchecanoe Joey (Andrew Keegan) to pay for Australian bad boy (Heath Ledger) to take Kat out on dates. Against her better judgment, Kat begins to fall for Patrick. And Patrick begins to fall for her but can’t really let her know about the whole ‘being paid to date her’ thing. Drama ensues, but everyone ends up with the right person in the end, huzzah.
Heath Ledger as Patrick
We can pretty much thank this movie for turning Heath Ledger into one of the guys many of us plastered our walls with magazine cut outs of during our formative years. This movie made his career while simultaneously dooming him to awful heartthroby roles like those in The Patriot or A Knight’s Tale. Which you know your friends made you see in theaters. Or you were that friend. Either way, we wouldn’t let him he a serious actor until he made out with Jake Gyllenhaal. RIP Heath.
Julia Stiles as Kat
You know how in books and movies, when dealing with magic, people talk about there being a give and take? Like, how you can’t create something without destroying something? A reaction for every action? I feel like that’s the only way to explain the existence of Julia Stiles. Basically this movie brought us the beautiful magic of Heath. And therefore a sacrifice had to be made. And that sacrifice was that Julia came into being. And showed up in all of our teen movies. And continued to be one of the least likable actresses, ever. Uh.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cameron
This movie is when many of us realized that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a total cutie and that we loved him, forever and ever. We know it long before you did, Christopher Nolan! I feel like there are two types of girls in the world: Heath (bad boy) girls and JGL (dorky guy) girls. I was a JGL girl and can you blame me?
Larisa Oleynik as Bianca
I love Larisa LastnameIcantpronounce! She’s just so cute! And she was Alex Mack! And wikipedia just told me that she went to Sarah Lawrence. Looks like maybe she played the wrong sister?
Andrew Keegan as Joey
You know, I could have sworn Andrew Keegan was in every teen movie during this time. But apparently I was wrong? Maybe I was mistaking him for Chris Kline? They are both extremely attractive in that way that does absolutely nothing for me except give me an urge to punch. Andrew Keegan DID try and have sex with Randy Quaid’s adopted daughter in Independence Day. I mean, you don’t want to die a virgin, do you? DO YOU?
Did you think that was it? Because you were wrong! This movie is filled to the brim with awesome people. David “I have a dick on my face” Krumholtz plays the quintessential sage nerd role. Gabrielle Union is Bianca’s bitchy best friend. Susan May Pratt is Kat’s creepy Shakespeare obsessed bestie. Allison Janney plays the unconventional romance novel-writing guidance counsellor. And of course, Larry Miller and Kat and Bianca’s hilarious/insane father.
A- for Patrick/Kat
B for Cameron/Bianca
Heath is more of less pulling most of the weight for that A-. He’s just so BAD and MYSTERIOUS and DREAMY. He could kiss David Krumholtz and I would still be all over that (in fact, that gives me a great idea for some 10 Things fanfic. Wait, does 10 Things fanfic EXIST? I hope so.) The make out scene all covered in paint in a hay pile? Whew, is it getting hot in here? Cameron and Bianca don’t quite bring as much heat, but they are crazy adorable.
Cliche Count: 14
This movie is basically a Voltron of teen movie cliches. But this movie was always funny enough time rise above its cliches instead of getting bogged down by them. Below are a mere fraction, because I had to stop somewhere.
Crazy guidance counsellor: 1
Social group break down: 1
Slow-mo love at first sight: 1
Uptight feminist who just needs to find love: 1
Overbearing father: 1
Bad boy with a heart of gold: 1
Pay to date: 1
Straight person in a gay bar/club: 1
Raging kegger: 1
Drink the pain away: 1
Overly dramatic gestures of love: 1
Best friend back stabbing: 1
Share your feelings with a poem: 1
This is one of those movies that is jam-packed with (literally) LOL-worthy lines. And while there are a lot of choice, quotable lines, my “best line” award goes to Daddy Stratford and his prom rant:
What’s normal? Those damn… Dawson’s river kids sleeping in each other’s beds and what not? I’ve got news for you. I’m down, I’ve got the 411, and you are not going out and getting jiggy with some boy, I don’t care how dope his ride is. Mamma didn’t raise no fool.
Soundtrack: I Want This Soundtrack To Want Me
Did you own this soundtrack? I bet you did! This movie actually had quite a bit of decent music, though I’m not sure what they were thinking when they made the final picks for the soundtrack. Still, a few decent songs of the late 90s alt-rock/pop variety. Letters To Cleo was the band of choice here and they even made a couple of appearances in the movie.
And this. You knew it was coming. Because of this scene “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” was on every Valentine’s Day/Romantic mix anyone you ever knew made, for years. Years.
Slumber Party Potential: Ultimate Trump Movie
This movie has a near infinite level of rewatchability and seems almost tailor made to be enjoyed slumber party style. In fact, there are few teen movies I consider more perfect for a slumber party. In a battle royale of teen movies picks, I think 10 Things could take down most other challengers.
One time when I was in high school, I was getting ready to go up to my cabin with my dad. I asked my dad if there were any movies I should bring. He told me 10 Things. Now, my dad used to love 10 Things. And since none of you know my dad, let me describe him to you. He’s a bit of a herp derp, the kind of dad who wears Canadian tuxedos (as in denim jeans with a denim jacket). He likes Harleys and boats. And he also really, really likes 10 Things. So we’re all set to watch it that weekend. I go to pull the tape out of its case (yes, VHS) and I find out that the wrong movie has been placed inside the 10 Things box. It was Billy Madison. And my dad…was mad. Like, legitimately mad. Kind of unreasonably mad. He thought he was going to get to watch 10 Things and I failed him. Quite possibly, he’s never forgiven me.
But I tell that story to illustrate that 10 Things is the great equalizer. It warms the hearts of 13 year old girls and 60 year old men alike. I believe wars could be ended if we could only just get both sides in the same room, have a slumber party and bask together in the glory that is 10 Things.