It’s been nearly two decades since “10 Things I Hate About You” was released on the big screen, but it’s still the best-ever romantic comedy after all this time. The film combines a great cast, a spirited musical soundtrack and a timeless story of unrequited love of literally Shakespearean dimensions (the film itself was a modernized production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”).
Let’s take a closer look at what has made the film such a timeless rom-com hit…
#1: The amazing ensemble cast
Looking back at those glorious days at the end of the twentieth century, it may not have been obvious, but we were having a good look in this film at some of the most famous actors of a generation: Heath Ledger (as Patrick Verona), Julia Stiles (as Kat Stratford), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as Cameron James) and Larisa Oleynik (as Bianca Stratford). Heath Ledger grew up to become a cult Hollywood hero before his untimely death, Julia Stiles has been delighting us in all the recent Jason Bourne movies, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been in films like “Inception” and “The Dark Knight.”
Is it possible to think of two people we’d rather fall in love with than Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles? Despite being the unpopular outsiders in the film, they were ultimately the type of people we’d fall in love with if we could back in high school.
#2: The story of teenage angst and high school rebellion
The core of any great teen movie is rebellion against the system. In this case, we have the rebellious characters of Kat (who seems to hate all boys and isn’t adapting well to teenage life) and Patrick (who’s the classic “bad boy”). We also have the rebellious character of Bianca, who desperately wants to date boys, but can’t because her father (played by Larry Miller) has set a family rule that she can’t date until her older sister has a suitor. On top of that, you have all the classic elements of teenage angst. This show was set in a high school, of course, and so you have all the hidden cliques and social games that go on with young adolescents.
#3: The elements of classic Shakespeare
There are so many subtle nods to Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” Let’s start with the names of the characters – there’s Patrick Verona (a nod to the Italian town of Verona, where the play takes place); the Stratford family name (a nod to Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-on-Avon) and the name of the high school – Padua High School (a nod to the Italian town of Padua). The characters of Kat (Shakespeare’s “Katherina”) and Bianca are directly named for characters from the play.
There’s also a classic line from the film – “I burn, I pine, I perish” – that’s a direct quote from Shakespeare’s classic play. In “10 Things I Hate About You,” it’s the line spoken by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, as he alludes to the deeply burning love that’s consuming him.
Finally, there’s the name of the movie itself – it’s essentially a parody of the famous sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” (You can think of the parody as “How do I loathe thee?”) In the movie, it’s a line adapted by Julia Stiles, who’s reciting a poem that she’s made about Heath Ledger. She ends up breaking into tears as she reads the poem: “But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you, not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.”
#4: The great soundtrack
It’s impossible to think about the film without thinking about the final scene of the movie, where the band is playing Cheap Trick’s classic song, “I Want You to Want Me” on the roof of the school. And it wasn’t just that one song – there’s also the great Nick Lowe song “Cruel To Be Kind.” Both songs are crucial to driving forward the narrative of the story, and both are so great because they feel like they’ve been crafted specifically for this one romantic comedy. Back in 1999, reviewers specifically pointed out the soundtrack to the film, with many songs performed by Letters to Cleo. This is just great music for a rom-com.
#5: Classic teen fare that’s pure of heart
“10 Things I Hate About You” was light teen fare that, 17 years later, is fun to watch for adults. It’s not the sickly sweet romantic comedy we see in cinemas today, and it’s not the teen gross-out movie that we’ve come to expect. It featured great acting and makes us nostalgic for the 1990s.
This film still feels like it’s safe enough to take your teens to without cringing in your seat. Remember Larry Miller, who played the father of Kat and Bianca? He had some of the best lines of movie. (Except, of course, for perhaps the best line ever – “Kat. Meow.”)
#6: Unrequited love in all its forms
But mostly, the real reason why “10 Things I Hate About You” is such a great romantic comedy is because it’s all about the story of unrequited love. Actually, it’s two stories of unrequited love – there’s the story of Patrick and Kat, and there’s also the story of Bianca and Cameron. We can’t wait to see how Patrick will win over Kat, and how Cameron will use every trick in the book to woo Bianca. It’s never straightforward, but always fun, even when we know the ending.
For all these reasons, it’s clear that “10 Things I Hate About You” is still the best rom-com. It was romantic and funny before we even thought of combining the two of them into a single category. It’s a modernized Shakespeare production that made us feel grown up and smart for loving “The Taming of the Shrew,” but not so bookish that we couldn’t wait to see the teenage couples make out behind the school. And the stellar music soundtrack is just the best way of enjoying a romantic comedy – the songs are from the heart, pure and fun, and not at all contrived. There’s nothing to hate about this film, and everything to love.