I wasn’t a big fan of his, but still I was stunned to learn of Heath Ledger’s death at the young age of 28 years. His last completed role was that of the Joker in “The Dark Knight”–yet another Batman movie–currently in post-production. Even if the movie tanks, it’ll have a lasting legacy as Heath’s final film. The Oscar-nominated role as the taciturn cowboy Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain” will probably be his character legacy in filmdom and the one most remembered.
Heath got his start in Australian television then moved up to films, one of the first being the lead in “10 Things I Hate About You”, an energetic teen flick that shows more intelligence than most and I’d pick it over “American Pie” (or one of its sequels) any day. It’s loosely (and I mean loosely) based on Shakespeare’s classic (but misogynistic) play “The Taming of the Shrew”. In other words, if you have to read the play for school, don’t watch this movie. Besides the loose plotline, “10 Things” nod to the bard is in name – Patrick Verona, Katarina and Bianca Stratford, Padua High. Occasionally characters quote a bit of Shakespeare too.
The story is this: Katarina/Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) are the daughters of a paranoid single father, played with dry humour by Larry Miller. Mr. Stratford is also Dr. Stratford and he’s delivered far too many teenage mothers, as he likes to remind his daughters, to the extent of making Bianca wear a fake pregnancy belly before a party. He doesn’t have to worry so much about Kat, the shrew of the piece, who’s the kind of strident feminist that gives feminism a bad name. But Bianca, who’s as vapid as she is pretty and popular, wants to date. New guy Cameron and self-absorbed male model Joey are both vying for her attention. The good doctor solves his dilemma by saying younger sister can date when older sister dates. Uh-huh. Better chance of the devil skating around a frozen Hades than a guy asking Kat out. This Kat has claws. Not a boy in school can be bribed to date her except one: scary new guy Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger). Patrick’s an alleged jailbird who bites off animal heads a la Ozzie Osbourne and sold his liver on the black market for speakers.
In Shakespeare’s play, the shrew is tamed by love after a forced marriage. In this movie, the shrew is softened but not tamed (it’s the 20th century, not the 16th century after all). Some of her bitterness stems from an all-too-common incident when she was younger. But her mother’s leaving the family, which sounds like it should be a more important subplot than what it is, isn’t fully explored. I also think the musical sequence ending is weak. It's as if the scriptwriter couldn’t figure out what to write next (hmm, how to wind this thing up, hey, let’s end with Kat and her band playing on a rooftop at university. Why drag the instruments up there? And where’s Patrick now? Who knows?).
This is a teen oriented romantic comedy. Besides attractive clear-skinned characters, there’s some obligatory crudeness and crassness, a drunken house party, a high school prom. Adults, though secondary, aren’t total idiots though. One of the funniest characters is the high school counselor played by Allison Janney, who’s so intent on writing an trashy bodice ripper, her counseling sessions are more in and out than her novel’s characters. And the English teacher raps Shakespeare (that would be a cool way to learn the sonnets).
Dialogue is snappy, the soundtrack is bouncy and the leads play off each other nicely, with a real chemistry. Watch for the scene where Patrick serenades Kat with the help of the high school marching band while leaping around the bleachers. Now that’s romance for you.
Heath Andrew Ledger