Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU ** 3/4  (1999)

Directed by Gil Junger; written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith. Photography, Mark Irwin. Editing, O.Nicholas Brown. Production design, Carol Winstead Wood. Music, Richard Gibbs. Produced by Andrew Lazar. Cast:  Heath Ledger (Patrick Verona), Julia Stiles (Katarina Stratford), Joseph-Gordon Levitt (Cameron James), Larisa Oleynik (Bianca Stratford), David Krumholtz (Michael Eckman), Andrew Keegan (Joey Donner), Susan May Pratt (Mandella), Gabrielle Union (Chastity), Larry Miller (Walter Stratford), Daryl (Chill) Mitchell ( Morgan) and Allison Janney (Ms. Perky). A Touchstone (Disney) release. Pictures. 93 minutes. PG-13.

The lack of Cold War movies has left a gap --but the teen genres never die, Shakespeare is up, classic English novels are up, and the old repertories of American directors and writers have given way to a bewildering number of new names, both in mainstream and independent film-making.

It was fated that at some point literature and high school would finally meet. They did in 10 Things, but whoa! You don't really expect a high school flick with students studying and learning, do you? No such thing in the Land of the Free.

The way the Bard and the kids get together, as directed by a an experiences TV person inhis first featurem and as written by first-timers, is to take The Taming of the Shrew and deviously transport it to an institution of middle non-education. Well, it's Shakespeare and not Shakespeare, in about the proportions of a mouse to an elephant. But it's a big mouse. Still, those who call this movie an updating or modernizing of the play should have their Bard examined.I wonder why the credits don't say "Based on an idea by Bill Shakespeare"?

There's a general concept of the father and the daughters. Here Padua's Signor Baptista becomes Walter Stratford, his senior daughter Katharina ("Kiss Me Kate") is Kat, and the younger one, Bianca, remains Bianca.

The Stratford girls (get the joke?) go to Padua (sic) High School that ought to get acting credit here. Played by that huge, superbly kitschy Stadium High School in Tacoma, it looks like a cross between some of the palaces the oil-barons built some 100 years ago, the Chateau Frontenac of Quebec City, and other massively wild follies.

Bianca, who's vague and vaguely sweet, is popular. Period. There's nothing vague about Kat. She's clearly a brilliant. But also a young Dragon Lady, though unladylike as she goes around spreading haughtily her misanthropy, militant feminism, disrespect (to put it mildly) of the entire staff and student body whom she insults perpetually for their conformism, stupidity, you name it. Her tongue is caustic and tart, and I don't mean like a Tarte Tatin. Her manners are to match. She even backs up on purpose into the car of Joey Donner, the school's pretty boy (and a professional model) who is full of money and you-know-what. (Well, he had it coming).

The kids, with some exceptions (for audiences who keep up with TV) are not played by familiar faces. They look generic, including Bianca and Kat, no beauties, but then the latter, Julia Stiles, does a beaut of a job with her role. If I ever wanted to cast Ilse Koch ("The Bitch of Buchenwald") I'd go to Julia. In uniform, with boots, a couple of German shephers dogs and a thicker waist, she'd be perfect.

Daddy is played with restrained humor by Larry Miller in a secondary but original role. A single parent, an MD . A  gynecologist I believe, but then the movie has the habit of leaving matters vague and with loose ends. He's seen too many awful pregnancies, births, abortions and such. While interestingly chummy with his girls he's firm about their keeping their virginity. No dates, no fooling around, he has decreed. This may be OK with Kat, whom he knows well. After school he casually asks her "Did you make anybody cry today?"  "Sadly, no" she replies "But it's only 4:30."  That's what's known as a felicitous repartee.

Bianca is another story. She's itching to go on a date, especially with local Lothario Joey who has her in his sights. Eventually, smart Daddy comes up with a pronunciamento. "You can date if Kat does" which he is positive will never happen. And thereby hangs the essence of the story.

To liberate Bianca, Joey tries to set up Kat with someone. No piece of cake, this. The only possible candidate is tough-looking, Australian-born (like the actor who plays him) Patrick Verona (Get the references to Two Gentlemen of Verona?)  But Patrick is no gentleman, or so it would seem. "What! He's a CRIMINAL! " exclaims one of the boys who is assisting Joey so that some other pal who's sweet on Bianca can have a chance.  He recites a litany of the would-be suitor's horrible record which includes a break from San Quentin (or something of the sort) and facts such as "He sold his own liver for a new pair of speakers!" "He ate a live duck!"  Unfazed, Joey bribes Patrick to date Kat, even though the boy from Down Under keeps upping the ante. And that's where the courtship, the taming, the rigueur misunderstandings begin.

It's an odd thing. Up to this approximate point the movie was clever and very entertaining nonsense and way out funny details. But as we reach what should be the core of the story, things go limp. Sure, there were cliches before this, but freshly and imaginatively cooked, along with some original bits.

Now the totally predictable is upon us, with unnecessary diversions, sub-plots and asides that distract, add dead weight, put the breaks on what was until now a fast-moving car. Kat is delighted to get accepted by Sarah Lawrence College (back East) but Daddy is unhappy that she'll be so far. So? Patrick visits a rather dismal femme-club. This adds little to the developments.  I expected Maenads to attack this sole male customer, but no.

Pat is too quickly,too obviously transformed, via hairdo and makeup, from the "criminal," sullen type to a nice, neat fellow. Luxury student cars abound. They limit the human interest as they set the film among the Children of the Rich. (At least either Kat or Bianca leaven this later by asking Dad "What's a hotrod?")

Irrelevancies and inconsistencies gather. At a party (deja vu all over again), Kat gets drunk, which is what reveals her true (i.e.nice but hidden) self. Is this promoting liquor among the under-aged as a catalyst of truth? By party-time the film has lost its impetus, has become aimless. It puts in too much padding--which means that there's too little for the movie proper.  The inevitable prom, the Golden Fleece of high school movies, doesn't help either.

No question about it, there are nuggets even among the pebbles of Part II : Kat's brazen, sexy invasion of a detention schoolroom; recurring quotations from Shakespeare's other works, aimed, no doubt, at the literati. Even better, in both parts are several scenes with two supporting characters who steal the show again and again. Mr. Morgan is a most likable and non-cliched teacher of English (or writing) who raps deliciously the lines of the Bard and whose familiar give-and-take with his students is sheer pleasure. Equally appealing is Mrs. Perky, the guidance counselor whose own rapport with the kids is a howl, especially as she never stops writing a porno novel on her laptop computer. Hilarious. And she casually asks both the students and her secretary for synonyms, as for an enlarged male member. Fast-reacting Kat comes up with a winner: "tumescent."

A pity that this picture starts on a strong three-star level but loses steam approximately past  the halfway mark. Perhaps one should eventually get a video and save on tape all the scenes with Dr. Stratford, Mr. Morgan and Mrs. Perky.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel