10 Things translates Shakespeare into fun teen comedy

There’s a romantic teen comedy in theaters – 10 Things I Hate About You – that surprise, surprise, is not bad! It doesn’t star any of those “Dawson River kids,” to quote the father in 10 Things. Actually the only recognizable faces are Joseph Gordon-Levitt of television’s 3rd Rock From The Sun and Larisa Oletynik of Nickelodeon’s The Secret World of Alex Mack. The movie is the first directed by Gil Junger, who has done a great deal of work for TV, including Ellen’s “coming out” episode.

Audiences will probably recognize the plot. There’s a younger sister, Bianca Stratford (Oletynik) the object of every boy’s affection, including the popular Joey and the new transfer student Cameron (Gordon-Levitt). Her father (Larry Miller), however, will not let her date until her older sister Kat (Julia Stiles) does. Bianca convinces the love-stricken Cameron to find a boyfriend for Kat.

He decides Patrick Verona, the local mysterious rebel (Heath Ledger), would be the best candidate for the job. In the process he tricks Joey into paying for Patrick’s services. Pretty soon Patrick falls in love with Kat for real and Bianca realizes Joey is not as cool a guy as she thought.

Sound familiar? That’s because it’s an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.”

The obvious reaction to this is “Ack, teenie bopper trash. I’ll dump it in the pile with N-Sync and Britney Spears.” But wait! This is actually a pretty clever movie. Clever?, you may ask. Well, allow me to explain.

This film could have glossed over the characters and concentrated on the easy sex jokes and pretty faces. 10 Things doesn’t do this, though. It actually develops these characters. Kat isn’t just a bitter man-hating feminist. Bianca isn’t just a pretty face; Cameron isn’t just a love stricken puppy dog; and Patrick is actually not a hoodlum. Even though the movie ends up being wrapped up in a nice, predictable bow, the characters actually show some growth that does not feel forced upon them. They’re not perfect people; they’re still teenagers. The best example is Patrick, the supposed juvenile delinquent who is really a tender sweetheart.

The Shakespearean allusions were also well done, thanks to the screenplay written by Karen McCullah Lutz. For example, at random moments Cameron would break into Shakespearean poetry when describing Bianca. Besides demonstrating that Cameron was well read, it was humorous to see the other’s reaction to such ridiculousness.

There are a few other interesting characters worth mentioning as well. One of them is Ms. Perky (Allison Janney), a guidance counselor who treats her students like dirt and is in the process of writing a trashy sex novel. Another one is Mr. Chapin (David Leisure), an aggressive English teacher who constantly wishes harm to come to Joey and kicks Kat out of class on a regular basis. Also, look out for the hilarious rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” sung by Patrick.

I’ll admit, I went into this movie expecting teeny-bopper trash. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was wrong. The story is good enough to be really enjoyable (it’s Shakespearean, after all), and the film is funny without resorting to easy cliche jokes. Junger has done a superb job in his first movie outing, making a teen flick that is accessible and appealing to a wider audience.