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The Scarlet & Black

Te(e)n things I hate about “Ten Things”

When I was probably nine or 10 years old, I watched “Labyrinth” for the first time with my two older sisters, who had grown up in the 80s, and seen and adored the film when it was originally released. While for them “Labyrinth” was a cherished artifact of childhood nostalgia, as enjoyable as it had been when they were children, I cannot claim to have had the same experience, instead finding the movie pretty cheesy if not at times downright grotesque—e.g. David Bowie throwing that baby in the air over and over. Remember?

In approaching a film like “10 Things I Hate About You,” adored by seemingly every other member of my generation, my experience with “Labyrinth” serves as a useful critical framework. Does “10 Things” stand up to a post-adolescent viewing or does it fall victim to the “Labyrinth” effect, enjoyable more for its personal novelty than its cinematic worth?

The film—loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”—chronicles a chapter in the respective romantic careers of sisters Katarina (an altogether enjoyable Julia Stiles) and Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik).

The two sisters live with their overprotective father (Larry Miller), who, in a moment of intended wit towards the beginning of the film, moderates the family’s strict “No dating” policy to one in which Bianca’s ability to date is contingent upon her standoffish older sister doing so first.

Hilarity and schmaltz ensue as school bad boy Patrick Verona (a charming, if slightly wooden, Heath Ledger), is enlisted to brave Kat’s tempestuous temperament and successfully win her heart.

“10 Things” follows in the footsteps of a long line of similarly rendered teen romances that all came out in the 80s and early 90s—think Hughes, Crowe, Linklater—a fact that director Gil Junger embraces wholeheartedly. From the expository rundown of Padua High School’s numerous cliques (“beautiful people,” “cowboys” and “white Rastas,” to name a few) to the film’s inevitable school PA-hijacking courtship ritual, Junger makes sure to hit all the familiar conventions of the genre.

In this endeavor Junger is not entirely misguided. These are the elements we have grown to expect as an audience and his compliance in delivering the goods is gratifying in its formalism. A goofily heartfelt late-90s soundtrack and a number of strong supporting characters don’t hurt either.

Where the film differs from its still-classic predecessors—and, as such, ultimately fails the “Labyrinth” test—is in its inability to transcend this campy recipe, to connect, if not to some existential profundity, at least to some deeper emotional resonance for the viewer.

Junger makes occasional gestures in this direction, as when Kat reveals the genuinely heartbreaking source of her nonconformist tendencies or with the Stratford family’s subtext as a broken home. But gestures is all these are, ditched almost as quickly as the film’s fealty to Shakespeare’s original play.

“10 Things I Hate About You,” isn’t an unenjoyable film—far from it. It’s still frequently funny, occasionally sweet and unabashedly weird—just don’t expect it to be much more than this.

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