"It's not everyday you find a girl who'll flash someone to get you out of detention." - Patrick
10 Things I Hate About You is inspired by Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Despite its exhausted wheeze of an ancient recycled plot idea (boy takes bribe to ask girl to prom, then discovers that he really likes her--but then she finds out about the bribe and hates him). The story this time involves two Seattle sisters. Bianca Stratford (Larissa Oleynik) is popular and wears a lot of red dresses. Her shrewish older sister Katarina (Julia Stiles) is unpopular, never dates and is the class brain. (When the English teacher asks his class for reactions to a Hemingway novel, she snaps, "Hemingway was an alcoholic who hung around Picasso, hoping to nail his leftovers.'') Two guys want to take Bianca to the prom. One is shy and likable. The other is a blowhard. But Katarina's father (Larry Miller) has forbidden her to date until her older sister Kat starts going out. So they hatch a plot to persuade Patrick (Heath Ledger), the school outlaw, to ask her to the prom. He takes a $300 bribe, but then realizes that Kat is actually quite lovely and really falls in love with her.
All teenage movies have at least one boring and endless party scene, in which everyone is wildly dressed, drunk and relentlessly colorful (in "Never Been Kissed,'' some of the kids come as the Village People). These scenes inevitably involve (a) a fight, (b) barfing, and (c) a tearful romantic breakup in front of everybody. That scene was tedious, and so was a scene where the would-be lovers throw paint balloons at each other. I know there has to be a scene of carefree, colorful frolic, but as I watched them rubbing paint in each other's hair, I began to yearn for that old standby, the obligatory Tilt-a-Whirl ride.
I liked the movie's spirit, the actors and some of the scenes. The music, much of it by the band Letters to Cleo, is subtle and inventive while still cheerful. The movie almost but not quite achieves liftoff against the gravitational pull of the tired story formula. Sometimes it's a mistake to have acting this charming; the characters become so engaging and spontaneous, we notice how they're trapped in the plot.