“I’m surprised that you’ve never been told before that you’re lovely and you’re perfect and that somebody wants you.”
As someone who claims or pretends to have a reasonable grasp of film history, style and cool, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but my all time favorite movie is 1999’s Ten Things I Hate About You. Maybe I even need to be counseled or investigated because I have an unbelievable obsession with teen romances. Hell, I know how that sounds. It certainly doesn’t seem to fit with the pictures of John Coltrane, Muhammud Ali, Spike Lee, Michael Jordan and Eddie Cochran I have up on my wall. I thought I would grow out of it. The first date I ever really went out on was to go see Pretty in Pink, which is a great example of how most guys treat these types of affairs – as a sacrifice one has to make in order to appear sensitive and deep (I once told a girl in high school that I liked Hall and Oates and I’ve never completely forgiven myself for it), but I had already seen it for the first time three weeks before by myself. Then ten years go by and still all I really care about is that Mr. Walsh give poor Dylan and Brenda a break on Beverly Hills 90210. American Pie wants you to think it’s a teen romance but the reason everyone saw it was because it was in all reality the much more respectable guilty pleasure, the teen sex romp …. and of course because Jason Biggs puts his dick in a pie. 10 Things I Hate About You has the much hotter women but it’s one of those movies where a single kiss is treated as a much bigger deal than all Pie’s prom night sexual activity combined.
Adult romantic comedies amuse me too. While Harry Met Sally works for me, I even like You’ve Got Mail more than I’d like to admit, but whereas I might check out the next Tom Hanks Meg Ryan pairing I’d still probably rather stay home with someone I want to dazzle and watch The Sure Thing or Say Anything, and you better believe I’m going to be in line to see Save the Last Dance. I don’t like them all – you can burn Footloose, Grease, and all the movies where someone gets dramatically pregnant except Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Although, you have to admit watching Tarantino ultra heavyweight Christopher Penn dancing around in Footloose is pretty damn amusing now in retrospect.
I think Grace Kelly was probably the most beautiful presence ever on a big screen, and Marilyn Monroe almost melts the celluloid in Some Like it Hot, but who am I really hung up on? Mary Stuart Masterson in Some Kind Of Wonderful, Samantha Mathis in Pump Up the Volume, and for some odd reason Martha Plimpton in Samantha. I think part of the reason Larry Clark’s Kids repulsed and disturbed me so much is because it is essentially the equivalent of violently raping every teen romance I’ve ever been warmed and amused by. Who really has time in this short life for such reality?
OK, I know you have half of the phone number to the Juvenile Sex Offender Unit dialed but stick with me. Rock and Roll has always been all about high school. Chuck Berry after all was about as old as me when he was doing his best to simply appeal to the high school kids with School Days, Sweet Little Sixteen, and Almost Grown. Due to their early deaths Eddie Cochran and James Dean never really got to be anything but teens, and The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were all about making the young girls scream and cry. Jim Morrison used to be in teen pin up magazines how scary is that? High School and College is when you decide who you are and who you are going to be. At least it always felt that way. It was the time when you first fell in love with music and were willing to argue all night about it’s relative merits. When I fall in love I always want it to be in the teen romance way. Perfectly innocent and mind numbingly convinced that you would never for a second be any happier than to be with the one you love never imagining for a second that your life would ever be forced into a moment of compromise and bitterness. John Lennon was all about finding that perfect teen love that saves your life and inspires you to live it better. So much so that when he found it he almost never stopped congratulating himself on it. Listen to the way he sings the “Why can’t she see/how blind can she be” bridge of To Know Her is to Love Her on the Beatles BBC recordings as committed and desperate as someone about to declare war hastily on a much stronger rival. To me 10 Things I Hate About You is the She Loves You of cinema, pure frenzied unbridled joy.
There’s nothing particularly original about 10 Things I Hate About You. It was made after Clueless and the Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Dane’s version of Romeo and Juliet made adapting literary classics into high school settings cool. The guy dates girl for money or to win a bet but really falls in love with her angle is so old and hackneyed that it was even done by Elvis Presley and Juliet Prowse in of all things GI Blues, and Taming of the Shrew had even been done by Moonlighting on one of those weeks they needed desperately to get a script together. It has no eloquent Lenny Bruce inspired rants of youthful rebellion like Pump Up the Volume. It’s not brilliant satire like Heathers. It’s just pure of heart and perfectly executed.
Check out Julia Stiles as Kat. She’s fiercely independent, she drives a cool vintage car, she loves Fender guitars, she listens to quality music, she’s way hot and she has a brain. I wouldn’t trade her drunkenly angry table dance at Bogie Lowenstein’s party for the entire career of Mikhail Baryshnikov. What more could any sane man want?
10 Things has a killer soundtrack that centers on Letters to Cleo’s prefect re-imagining of Nick Lowe’s Cruel To Be Kind and Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me as the ideal vehicles for riot girl euphoria, and give the guy or girl who knew that Lowe’s tune was nicked from Shakespeare itself a nod and some extra credit on the cleverness scale.
The best thing that can be said of Heath Ledger is that his Patrick Verona not only wins Style’s love and melts the fire of her hard core feminist rage, but is cool and decent enough to convince me that he deserves her. Sure he’s a pretty boy, but he and Kat make this great outsider couple with hardcore reps. He’s so cool that his supposed exploits fill the hallway chatter with Bunyon-esque tales of his legend. He smokes openly on campus, hangs out in biker bars, and would rather drill a hole in your French Book than talk to you. Sure he turns out to be the greatest guy in the world, who thinks it inappropriate to even kiss a girl who’s had too much to drink, but it’s some nice coloring. Singing Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You could have been an outright disaster, but Ledger pulls it off with genuine elan accompanied by the school’s marching band, and I’m even pretty sure that the film makers top off their show stopper with a visual reference to Jim Morrison being hauled offstage by the cops the night he got maced in Massachusetts. How knowing and cool is that? Millions of wordy balcony scenes pale in comparison to it’s joyful statement of desire and affection. It builds up so much good will that I’m even willing to go along with the “we’re falling in love” paint ball musical montage accompanied by the frenzied fun of Semisonic’s ode to feminine wiles “Fascinating New Thing.”
10 Things I Hate About You doesn’t try to whack you over the head with it’s comedy. It just has perfect details like the fact that the French book Joseph Gordon Levitt uses to tutor Lorisa Oleynik’s Bianca, the very definition of the perfect and vapid young beauty, still has the huge hole Ledger drilled in it when it reappears later in the movie. It’s something you barely notice, but rejoice in if you do.
Most movies would just slide on the charisma of their stars but 10 Things I Hate About You is filled with all kinds of interesting sorts. Larry Miller, a great underrated stand up comedian, is one of my favorite film fathers. He’s not Paul Dooley in his twin tour de forces Breaking Away and Sixteen Candles, but he’s pretty damn funny as the overprotective gynecologist who lectures his daughters neurotically about the dangers of teen pregnancy. He makes Oleynik wear a pregnancy vest while complaining about being up to his elbows in teen placenta, and pulls off the sweetest act of letting go on film when he tells Stiles that he has sent a check to Sarah Laurence for her.
Daryl Mitchell takes the cliched cool rapping black English teacher and turns him into a young ethnic version of Ray Walston’s Mr. Hand. He swears in class, bemoans the lack of Black writers in his curriculum and kicks even the smarter kids out of his room for no reason whenever the mood strikes him. He tells Andrew Keegan’s smug rich underwear model that one day he is going to enjoy the hell out of it when he finally gets himself bitch slapped and for good measure he does when it happens. See if you aren’t doubled over when he looks at the white teen Rastas in his class and says “Don’t even get me started on you!”
If you aren’t crying along with Style’s tearfully angry “I love you anyway” concluding sonnet, then I don’t want to hang with you. Admittedly though, I even teared up at Billy Crystal’s “I ran here because I couldn’t spend another second without you” speech in When Harry Met Sally. Like Maynard G Krebs used to say, “Aww Dobe I’m getting all misty, man.”
It took me a while but I’ve even warmed to David Krumholtz, who often seems to be channeling Milton Berle as a teen dork here. His idea of a good pickup line is “I’ve been thinking of buying a Toyota Torcell.” Of course, he winds up winning Kat’s beautiful best friend. Why? Because smart teen love flicks are always written by us frustrated intellectual high school losers and we want them to end that way. That’s why.