Review: The Love of Acceptance in 10 Things I Hate About You (Moonlight Cinema)27 January 2021
Firsts are always memorable. In 1999, Gil Junger, Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith brought us a rare gem in the teen rom-com corner of Hollywood, the first modern cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, set in a high school of all places. 10 Things I Hate About You, now a cult classic, features the beloved Heath Ledger whose character, Patrick Verona, melts hearts alongside the aloof but incredibly endearing Kat Stratford, brought to us by Julia Stiles.
When I chose to review 10 Things I Hate About You, I didn’t realise how genre-defining this film was, brandishing clichés before they became cliché. I had somewhat of a vague memory of myself as a teen catching a screening on a relaxing Saturday night with family, unwinding and spending time together. And it was a blast! I enjoyed it that first time, and I enjoyed it a second time when I was a bit older and needed a pick-me-up. Unsurprisingly, I loved watching it again just recently at Moonlight Cinema, laughing at the quirky and witty dialogue while simultaneously delighting in snooping on other spectators, observing their reactions.
It’s one of those movies that struck hard at the hopeless romantic that I used to be. Well, alright, I guess I still am a little. The story is a cat-and-mouse game between the two main characters, each dancing around their feelings for each other in a pretence of apathy. The way that Verona boisterously dances and sings when confessing his love to Kat, making a scene and getting caught in the process, wouldn’t be so annoyingly cute if it weren’t for Ledger’s performance, revealing his feelings to the audience but never to Kat.
I never previously understood the true reasons behind my warm memories towards this movie: the shining examples of fearless female characters. Bianca Stratford, played by Larisa Oliynyk, is Kat’s younger sister who has her own battle against the restrictions and expectations surrounding her sexuality and autonomy. Julia Stiles as Kat set a standard for iconic female characters in the rom-com genre to come by defying gender stereotypes. Her spirit never falters throughout the movie despite the pressure from the narrative of women being ‘shrew’, needing a prince-charming to ‘tame’ them.
Why did Kat need anyone at all? The thing is, I was a teenage girl; often rude, sometimes even a “heinous bitch” (yup, sorry about that!) yet, underneath it all, I dreamt of love. Was it because of the entertainment I consumed, all those princes on their high horses thinking they were the shit? Or was it because I was a hopeless romantic? Perhaps, most often, it was because I was lonely.
And isn’t Kat too, at the end, lonely? She is a girl who lost her mother, with an overprotective yet adorably ridiculous dad (trust me, when the audience laughed, they mostly laughed at Walter), and that all-too-familiar puberty bonanza. It’s a lot to deal with for anyone let alone Kat who through it all, was also dealing with her sister refusing to speak to her in public, because Kat wasn’t considered ‘cool’ anymore. Patrick Verona is also a social outcast – the ‘wild’ ‘bad boy’, except he actually isn’t. No wonder they found each other; two lonely people in a school full of rowdy teens. And, girl, can teens be cruel – and they are to each other, yet somehow, they learn to accept each other, for who they are in that moment. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.
Before I forget – this is a comedy. At end of it all, taking this movie for what it is – not what it could have been, should have been or would be today – I was laughing, I was cringing, (and at moments tearing up), but I was never, ever ‘whelmed’.