It's written by no one you've ever heard of, directed by an unknown and features a large cast of kids you'll probably have missed when they made their brief TV appearances. Yet 10 Things I Hate About You still emerges as the Ferris Bueller's Day Off for the Scream generation. It's a surprisingly sharp, joyously entertaining jolt of good ideas, great acting and funny one-liners that'll make you emerge from the cinema with a big dopey grin on your face and a feeling that, somehow, everything will turn out just fine.
Yet, coming from the newly spawned Teen Remake Of Existing Story genre, it has no real right to be any good at all. Just say the name fast enough to reveal the Shakespearean origin ("10 Things I Hate About Yooo/Taming Of The Shrooo") and then breathe a sigh of relief that it has far more in common with Baz Luhrmann's funky Romeo&Juliet than distinctly so-so Dangerous Liaisons remake Cruel Intentions.
In the time most movies take to run their credits, 10 Things unfolds the plot and delivers the jokes with breathtaking speed. We see perky, popular, fresh-faced sister Bianca (Oleynik) with her beautiful friends and fashion accessories. We meet her withdrawn, argumentative older sister Kat (Stiles) as she drives round in her beat-up auto listening to jangly, angry Grrrl bands. Then crash, bang, thud - there's Cameron (Levitt, the kid from 3rd Rock From The Sun) falling for Bianca, and Patrick (Ledger) smoking to establish his badness. And we're still only a few minutes in.
Shakespeare's original has the blackguard Verona marrying shrewish Kat and breaking her spirit so that she becomes a proper little wifey. In this respect, the story is clearly due for a spot of updating, so although 10 Things follows the set-up closely, it spirals off into a world of prom nights, paintball games, parties and other more '90s pursuits. The only Bardish elements are the occasional gratuitous quote and a sub-plot which involves Kat's Shakespeare-obsessed best friend and Cameron's nervous, nerdy buddy Michael (Krumholtz).
Purists may piss and moan about this tinkering, and no, it'll never make it into English Lit classrooms as a study aid - but so what? As an enjoyable summer film it's virtually perfect, with boy/girl leads Ledger and Stiles putting in sexy, sarcastic performances as the utterly believable mismatched couple and boy/girl second-strings Levitt and Oleynik being about as perky, fresh-faced and 16 as it's possible to be. Laughs, romance, some great digs at the rigid protocol of the high-school movie and a boy with a dick felt-tipped on the side of his face - what's not to like about this?
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Re-establishing the respectability of teen comedy, 10 Things I Hate About You is lovably lightweight without being clichéd or patronising. Star Wars haters dreading the Summer Of The Sith take note. The alternative is here - and it's a beautiful thing.