If "Clueless" -- Amy Heckerling's witty, entertaining and endearing revamp of Jane Austen's classic novel "Emma" -- had a Shakespearean cousin, so to speak, it would be "10 Things I Hate About You," the contemporary, high-school-based "Taming of the Shrew" that offers more to love than hate.
Director Gil Junger, who makes the most of his sitcom-directing experience, immediately establishes a hyper-realistic tone for the hijinks at Padua High, which is regally perched atop a hill. The libidinous guidance counselor writes pornographic novels on her laptop as she counsels students, and an African-American English teacher curses profusely at his students. Of course it's all preposterous, but it quickly sets up the quirky and campy tone.
The Shakespeare classic saw lusty, young Bianca unable to wed until her older sister, Katherine, was married off. "10 Things" finds flirtatious sophomore Bianca (Larisa Olyenik) unable to date until her senior sister, Kat (Julia Stiles), does so first. The problem is that the intelligent and feisty Kat is an extreme nonconformist who doesn't date simply because it's expected of her.
Taking on the roles of Bianca's suitors are wholesome Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who's new to the school, and hunky Joey (Andrew Keegan), a conceited tube-sock model (really). Aware of Bianca's restriction, they bribe Patrick (Heath Ledger) to seduce Kat. Patrick's an equally sullen outsider, whose reputation includes setting fire to a state trooper and selling his own liver on the black market to buy stereo speakers. He seems like the perfect guy to tame the girl who's referred to by the majority of the student population as "a heinous bitch."
Ledger and Stiles develop a strong chemistry, whether they're sparring or swapping kisses. Australian actor Ledger, who starred in the failed TV series "Roar," nicely launches his film career. Stiles also is an extremely confident actor, playing Kat's bitchiness as a mask for her own insecurities and hurt.
Keegan, as the jock/model out to bed Bianca, delivers a hilarious performance, richly parodying the swaggering, macho high-school stud.
As in most teen-targeted films, the adults are buffoons. Kat and Bianca's father (expertly played by Larry Miller) is a manic defender of his daughters' chastity. But the film nicely captures the heart and true meaning behind the single father's overprotective nature.
"10 Things" is not without flaws. Some of the situations appear way too contrived and other situations seem to arise out of nowhere. But the overall punch of this witty and inventive adaptation shrewdly entertains audiences young and old.
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