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10 Things I Hate About You  

 Most teen movies suffer from the fact that they are movies made for teenagers, a notoriously conformist and self-conscious group. These people, including those a few years before and after the ages of 13-19, usually have pretty limited tastes, not because they are stupid, but because they don`t want to look weird in front of their peers. Why make a fool out of yourself if you say that your favourite song is from Bobby Darin, or someone as equally unhip, when you ought to like Eminem like everybody else. With movies, the motive for seeing them is usually just the fact that, well, the movies are new and are in the multiplex so we might as well see them. Since teenagers seem to be so passive about this, I thought that, if I were some evil projectionist, I`d replace the advertised movie with an Ingmar Bergman movie, and see what they would say. I have a feeling they would watch the whole thing, but claim to their friends that it was the worst thing they ever saw and that they didn`t know why they bothered going.

  Buy 10 Things I Hate About You on Video (UK)
Buy 10 Things I Hate About You on DVD (UK)

If teens are seen as conformist, then movies aimed specifically at them will present the demographic in typical ways. Such is the case with 10 Things I Hate About You. This is a teen movie which, obviously, is not a classic of any sort. Of course, it will appeal to teenagers, and it shows their habits, style of speech and dress, as well as a bunch of hot young things guaranteed to keep the prospective audience in enough of a swoon that they might forget about the cliched storyline. But beneath that, there is some actual humour, occasional bouts of clever writing, and a few good actors in interesting parts.

Basically, the story is pretty simple. A new student arrives to a local high school, and on his very first day finds love at first sight with a pretty, popular girl. He, of course, will do anything to date this pretty young thing, so he becomes her study partner in French class, in hopes of getting closer to her. But no matter how well the two may get along in study hall, he will never be able to date her, because her father has forbidden her to date at all, at least until graduation, of course! Crimping the popular girl`s pining for a real social life is the fact that her sister, played by Julia Stiles, is an opinionated sort who deliberately rejects the conventions of teenage society, which of course makes her a social outcast, and utterly dateless, and the father soon hits on the inspiration that, yes, you are allowed to date ..... whenever your sister does. The new kid, and his friend, decide that they must get Stiles a date, so they go after what they believe is the most likely candidate - a seemingly nasty fellow, who has a reputation for being so twisted and anti-social that one of the endless rumours about him is that he once ate a live duck. In a sense, he sounds like a caricature of Judd Nelson`s Bender character in The Breakfast Club; someone who rejects society by being revolting and rude to the point of oppression to everyone around him. There is much more to the plot, including the introduction of a sleazy and narcissistic pretty boy who becomes an obstacle in the new kid`s romantic hopes, but let`s just say that things turn out as expected, and that the rude boy who is picked as a pawn in this dating game ends up truly falling in love with Stiles. And of course there is a prom.

Even with all of these typical teen trappings, there were a few good things in this movie. Julia Stiles` character is impressive, because she does not find herself forced to sacrifice her integrity or personality in order to gain love. I was, in fact, dreading the moment where she would go for a make over, physical and psychologically, the message being that she was indeed like everybody else if only she would stop and realize how worthy she was, which, in translation, means to stop being an opinionated young woman and start dating, drinking and smoking up like the rest of us. But I didn`t have to dread the moment, because it never arrived. Even at the end of the film, Stiles is still her usual self, except now she has a love who understands her.

I`m reminded of Ally Sheedy`s character in The Breakfast Club, because Sheedy was the negative connation of the outcast. She is depicted as twitchy, an obnoxious liar, and just plain weird, and the message at the end is very clear: she needs to conform (and wear lots of make-up and look pretty, just like Molly Ringwald!!) to understand her worth, and, as a teenage girl, such conformity is crucial. Only then will she receive happiness and love, which happened all too quickly in the impossible and ridiculous ending to an otherwise fine film. She is not an appealing person to be with, which is of course the point: she is not just different, but totally contrary to the everyday social relations of teenagers. And it is not because she feels superior, but because she, deep down, feels inferior, and she projects that inferiority to the public.

Stiles also depicts a character who stands outside "typical" adolescence, yet she is not a freak, not in the slightest. She is opinionated, intelligent, and while she perhaps a bit too hostile, it is understandable considering the unimaginative people she has to deal with. In fact, her attitude while contrasted with the other characters made me dislike much of the other character`s empty-headedness. I wasn`t laughing when a few characters, including her own sister, called her "bitch" behind her back, although I wouldn`t doubt that many (if not most) of the adolescents watching this film thought very much the same thing about Stiles as those characters did. And there is no message of conformity, even though her sister harps on her about how for once she ought to live a normal life like the rest of us. Stiles is still the same at the end of the film, and it would be awful if she were otherwise. While movies may have entered a downward spiral in the 1990`s, at least the depiction of unique teenage women has changed for the better.

The priceless Larry Miller plays the sisters` father, and, while he is a stereotypical restrictive dad, has some impressive scenes, and, for me, at least, made such a stereotype disturbingly understandable. He is a doctor, and has witnessed numerous births by teenage girls, and does not want to see his daughter, who pines so much to live a wild and active social life, end up like these pitiable girls. And there is a brilliantly satirical scene, when the girl is finally able to go out to a social gathering, when the father commands her to walk around the house before she leaves with "the belly" - a garment meant to teach the wearer what it feels like to be pregnant. The father is trying to tell her that this is where she may end up, now that she has a social life.

There are a few pointless excursions, and much of that, oddly enough, is because the script confuses us into who the main focus really is, or maybe it was as a result of editing. We think that it will be the new kid and his hope to go out with the popular sister, but the movie does not really deal with them a lot. The greatest impact is by far Stiles and the social outcast who becomes her love. The guy turns out to not be such a freak after all, and, after a few minutes, he suddenly becomes quite the charmer. This fact makes his earlier scenes feel very much tacked on, and completely impossible, which would be annoying if the guy who plays this character were not any good, but, fortunately, he is. And, of course, the plot is fairly predictable. But that`s what you expect from a teen movie, so considering those facts, this film is not so bad after all.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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