Ten Things I Hate About You
Context and Background:
Released in 1999, filmed in Seattle Washington, this comedy/romance is a classic teen chick flick loosely based on or inspired by Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. With the tagline, How do I loathe thee, you, let me count the ways (a parody of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How do I love you...”) the film is another coming of age genre exploring issues of belonging, independence, feminism, sibling, parental, and teacher - student relationships.
Cameron James (Joseph Gordon –Levitt):
A new student (army brat) comes to a new school, Padua High, Tacoma, and is immediately smitten by a sophomore (yr.10), Bianca. Together with Michael, his side kick, he concocts a wild scheme to date her even though she is not allowed to date until his older sister, Katrina (the shrew) is allowed to date.
Bianca Stratford (Larisa Olegnik)
Beautiful but subjugated by her demanding, domineering and overprotective father Bianca has never had a date. She strives to gain autonomy and independence to “experience her mistakes for herself”.
Katrina Stratford (Julia Stiles)
Bianca’s older sister disillusioned with teen age popularity who claims “I’m not hostile, just annoyed”. She has deep anger caused by sharp pain likely as a result of her Mother’s abandonment and the fact that younger versions of herself are now the centre of attention. Her most notable comments are: “I don’t only want to be an object to be adored”, I don’t want to live up to other people’s expectations” and “Do something for your own reasons – not anything else”. She is outspoken in class and espouses strong feminist views from Betty Freidan, Simone de Bauvier, and Sylvia Plath.
Patrick Verona (Australia’s Heath Ledger) another new student who tries to live up to an archetypal tough guy, criminal reputation of violent unpredictable behaviour. He is rumoured to have; set alight a state trooper, sold his liver, eaten a live duck….
Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan) Egotistical model who is the main rival for Cameron. Rich, indulged and arrogant, Joey is used by Cameron and Michael to get Patrick and Kat together.
Teachers: Ms Perky – Councillor, Mr Morgan – English Teacher, Mr Chapin – Coach and detention teacher.
Style and Language
As a teen flick, the messages are couched in a wide range of:
Bianca of Kat: “she’s a mutant”,
Joey to Pat: “trailer park”,
Kat to Pat: “screw boy” ,
Ms Perky: “Scoot”
Modern buzz - Quick repartee:
Michael to Cameron “Put it in your Spam bank”
Joey to Michael: “cool by association”
Cameron on Bianca’s dress coordination: “Mixing Genres”
Cameron to Patrick “ Extreme dating”.
vulgate, mainly by the teachers:
Ms Perky: “Same little asswipe shit for brains everywhere”,
Mr Morgan: “You’re pissing me off”
Kat: “Remove head from sphincter, then drive!”
Expressive, articulate formal language: Both Katrina and Patrick have a sophisticated vocabulary though Katrina’s is often formulaic, full of ideological rhetoric or slogans:
“Romantic? Hemingway ? He was an abusive, alcoholic misogynist who squandered half of his life hanging around Picasso trying to nail his leftovers.”
Parties where students,
“Distracting themselves from the pathetic emptiness of meaningless consumer driven minds”.
Issues, Concerns, Themes, Values
1) Personal development towards autonomy, independence and integrity. This is best illustrated by the sisters Kat and Bianca who are under the domination of a strict, controlling and authoritarian father. An interchange that demonstrates this is where the father says;
“I thought we decided…
and Kat cuts him off with, “you decided”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to stop making my decisions for me, I want you to trust me to make my own choices.”
Bianca also expresses this view to Kat when she says,
“Let me experience my own mistakes by myself”
All of us are born with original sin and a tendency towards self –serving evil. The film, Clockwork Orange, also raises the question of how do we socialise people away from selfish narcissistic drives to more noble, altruistic and collective motives? To be fully human, we need to be able to choose between good and evil. If we impose regulation, denying the natural freedom of moral choice through social conditioning, people do not own their behaviour and lose their free will.
2) Belonging: A corresponding issue it that of individuation and integrity. In a school full of tribal cliques, each with their own sub-cultures with conformist behavioural codes and dress, it is difficult to be a loner or assert your individuality. Kat is isolated for this. This issue is reinforced by the subliminal messages on posters around the classroom which exhort students to:
“The first and worst fraud is to cheat oneself” and
“What is popular is not always right”.
3) A further issue is to follow your dream as Patrick advises Cameron.
If you really want something you have to pursue it insistently.
Cameron spits the dummy with this spray to Bianca,
“ Just because you’re beautiful doesn’t mean you can treat people as if they don’t matter”.
4) Feminism is a strong feature in the film, as girls do assert themselves best illustrated by the fact that it is Bianca who rescues Cameron from Joey by punching Joey in the face
“That’s for making my date bleed”, that’s for my sister! And that’s for me” (knees him in the crotch).
Realism: The situation is a normal high school all teenagers could identify with: The chaotic playgrounds and canteen, the semi-formal classrooms and the realistic dialogue.
Humour: some tongue-in cheek, others slap-stick.
Adults are shown in an unflattering light with the teachers the butt of many incidents:
1) Guidance councillor Ms Perky - sex starved
2) Bloopers: Teachers hit by a) golf ball, b) Bianca’s arrow.
3) Mr Morgan can’t handle Katrina’s opinions in class.
4) Dr Stratford easily alarmed and muddled;
“Don’t change the drove/who drove you home?”
mesmerised by Hair Replacement Spray Ad.
5) Vaudeville act of Patrick serenading Katrina on the football field with “You’re Just too Good to be true”. Not terribly realistic.
Symbols: Swings used twice – to illustrate the pendulums of life?
1. Establishment shots – Pan (panoramic shots of Water views, affluent suburbs of Seattle and backdrop shots of the city scape.
2. Stately Sandstone Architecture of School representing solid social traditions contrasts with the chaotic and apparent disrespect of modern students.
3. Stills or Freeze frames - used effectively to show shock and paralysis of various boys when asked to date Katrina.
4. Trick shots - Father shot upside down to indicate his reaction to Kat.
5. Framing and focus shots. Bianca when Cameron first spots her. Cameron at the party feels upstaged by Joey and dumped by Bianca, while considering his options his image is focussed hers in the background is blurred.
The sound track is full of popular and rock music appealing to young audiences with songs such as; Sunshine makes me Happy, You got to be cool to be kind, Saturday night, Sexy Boy, Just be good to me, Can’t get enough of you babe, Wings of a Dove, The weakness in me, Even Angels Fall, I want you to want me…….
Purporting to be an update of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, it has merely appropriated some of the characteristics of Kate, little of the plot and some of the themes. It is a fairly successful teen lit chick flick but rather predictable. It is rescued by realistic scenes, some good lines and credible casting.
If it encourages students to read Shakespeare it will have fulfilled a laudatory function.
Further information at: www.imdb.com/title/tt0147800/
An essay on the film Ten Things I Hate About You
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