Directed by Gil Junger
Written by Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith, based on the play The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
Starring Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, Larry Miller
My Advice: Wait and Rent It.
Cameron (Gordon-Levitt) is a new student at Padua High, and while being given the guided tour by his trusted lackey Michael (David Krumholtz) he runs into Bianca (Oleynik). Hopelessly smitten, he vies for her affection only to learn that according to her father (Miller), Bianca can’t date until her sister, Kat (Stiles), does. The problem is that Kat is known around school for her, to put it mildly, caustic personality. They work a deal to get Kat’s opposite and fellow mutant, Patrick (Ledger), to take her out so that Cameron can get his chance.
[ad#longpost]Sound familiar? Well, it should. It’s another update of Shakespeare for the MTV generation (whoever the hell they are) and although not as stylized and brilliant as its predecessor, Romeo + Juliet, it still manages to succeed with a charming sense of clumsy cuteness. The film actually gets points for casting people who look like they could actually be in high school. This isn’t like the old days of John Hughes where thirty-five-year-olds were playing freshmen and stuff. But regardless.
Where the film excels is in the fact that it’s actually funny, albeit in a sophomoric kind of way. But surprisingly, the film is at its funniest when focusing on the adult characters. For example, the guidance counselor is more interested in writing her erotic novel on the side than actually counseling kids. The English teacher raps Shakespearean sonnets and gives his students hell every other line. Bianca and Kat’s father, played by Larry Miller, is a walking neurosis disguised as an obstetrician. His paranoid delusions regarding his daughters getting pregnant are accentuated every time at work he finds himself up to his “elbows in placenta.” These truly are the funniest characters in the film, although Krumholtz’ endearing and fawning Michael is rather amusing as well.
The leads do reasonably well, with Ledger and Stiles spewing venom whenever they can–they make a good on-screen couple. Gordon-Levitt is decent as the obligatory nice guy who just wants to date the vapid Bianca. And give Oleynik points for vapidity–she’s got it down pat, though unfortunately that makes her role completely colorless in the face of the others. In fact, whenever she and Stiles are in a scene alone together, you can feel your skin crawling as the dialogue goes straight down the slippery slope to Bad Teen Movie Hell. That’s basically the problem with the film in general–when it’s being its goofy funny self, it scores. When it tries to do the serious family bit with the obligatory “you don’t understand me” and “why won’t you let me grow up” stuff then it falls short. It’s worth seeing just for its backhanded Top Gun homage if for nothing else, though it won’t lose anything on the small screen.