Monday, September 27, 2010

10 Things I Hate About You: But I Love You, Shakespeare

There have been so many different interpretations and adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays over the many, many years since Shakespeare was alive. Being a theater geek at heart, I personally love to see how people try to adapt his plays into new stories or time periods. And I have never enjoyed it more than the 1999 adaptation of “Taming of the Shrew” into “10 Things I Hate About You.”

Starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger, “10 Things” takes Shakespeare’s comedy and puts it in an all-American high school. Stiles is Katarina “Kat” Stratford, a strong, opinionated, non-dating Senior who wants nothing to do with all her shallow high school peeps and longs to get as far away as possible. When her younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), who’s not allowed to date at all, suddenly has two guys vying for her attention, their father makes the new rule that Bianca can date…when Kat does. Desperate to go out with Bianca, suitor #1 Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gets suitor #2 Joey (Andrew Keegan) to pay Patrick Verona (Ledger) to go out with Kat. He agrees for the money but falls for her along the way.

It’s a sweet, smart romantic comedy for the often brainless teenage film genre. There are many clever Shakespearean repartees and inside jokes throughout. Take the last names of the main characters. Katarina and Bianca are the same character names in the play, but their last name – Stratford – comes from Shakespeare’s birth place and hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. Ledger’s character’s subsequent Shakespearean counterpart is named Petruchio, a name not easily brought into the 20th century. So instead his name becomes Patrick, but his last name becomes Verona, the hometown of Petruchio (and many other Shakespearean characters, such as Romeo and Juliet). And even the locations pay homage. The high school in “10 Things” (a beautiful old railway station hotel that was turned into Stadium High School after a fire in Tacoma, Washington) is named Padua High. “Taming of the Shrew” takes place in the town of Padua.

This film was a breakout success for both its stars. Up to that point, Julia Stiles mainly had done theater work in New York and had only a few films to her name, small parts in “The Devil’s Own” (1997) and “Wide Awake” (1998) and one lead role in “Wicked” (1998). For playing Kat in “10 Things,” she received the MTV Movie Award for Breakthrough Female Performance and the Chicago Critics awarded her with the Most Promising New Actress of the Year. “10 Things” was Heath Ledger’s first American film. He had been in a number of television shows and a few films back home in Australia before coming to the US to build his career even more. His performance in “10 Things” led to starring roles opposite Mel Gibson in “The Patriot” and Billy Bob Thornton in “Monster’s Ball” the following year. Ledger’s career continued to build, leading to his Oscar nominated performance in 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain,” but as you probably remember, was sadly cut short in January 2008 before he was able to enjoy his greatest performance ever as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” (for which he won a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor).

Don’t forget about the great supporting cast in “10 Things I Hate About You” though. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is currently enjoying a career serge from his performance in “Inception,” portrays a wonderfully sweet match for Oleynik’s Bianca, right in the middle of his stint playing one of the aliens in the show “3rd Rock from the Sun.” The funny character actor Larry Miller plays Kat and Bianca’s hilariously over-protective father, a role he went on to play again in the television show “10 Things I Hate About You” 10 years later. You may recognize the nerdy Michael too – David Krumholtz from the show “Numb3rs” and from the first two “Santa Clause” films. And be sure to catch the always-fabulous Allison Janney as the school counselor (who secretly writes dirty romance novels while at work), Daryl Mitchell as the take-no-bull English teacher, and David Leisure as the girls athletics coach.

So go back to those high school days this week with the clever “10 Things I Hate About You.” If you really truly enjoy Shakespeare, you’ll love this modern retelling. Have a wonderful week, everyone!

(Post-tidbit: Julia Stiles originally auditioned for the role of Bianca before the casting directors hired her for Kat instead. And Heath Ledger beat out both Josh Hartnett and Ashton Kutcher for the role of Patrick.)

1 comment:

  1. And check out a few funny Julia Stiles short films at =)