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In just three years and in three very different performances, actress Julia Stiles became America's answer to Kenneth Branagh with three ambitious, fresh and contemporary takes on The Bard.
Of course, “contemporary” is the key word, especially when you consider the Stiles filmography as the female lead in our adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew (dubbed 10 Things I Hate About You), director Michael Almereyda's Hamlet with Ethan Hawke and Tim Blake Nelson's startling reinterpretation of Othello with O.
For as we discovered in Al Pacino's hilarious documentary Looking for Richard, America has always had a little bit of an inferiority complex in regard to the most famous scribe who just so happened to hail from the country we fled on the Mayflower centuries ago.
Whether it's Hollywood or the independent film community, it's safe to say that we never would have greenlit an opus like Branagh's truly magnificent adaptation of Hamlet, considering that its length is reminiscent of a Ken Burns documentary.
Yet, perhaps with some thanks owed to the success of the teenage version of Jane Austen's Emma, which had been re-conceived for Beverly Hills by Amy Heckerling in Clueless, during the late '90s and early '00s, we finally embraced our inner-Bard. And the first film to break through the daunting iambic pentameter was director Gil Junger's unabashedly appealing 10 Things I Hate About You, which hit the multiplex in 1999.
For those unfamiliar with the play, at its heart, 10 Things is another romantic comedy involving a bet. Yet this being said, since Shrew was never my favorite Shakespeare play nor was the eventual musical version of Kiss Me Kate, Junger's film is considerably more repeat-friendly.
In this incredibly complex ensemble piece with subplots aplenty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Cameron hires the school outsider Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date the feminist "shrew" Kat (Stiles) so that her overprotective OB/GYN father (Larry Miller) will let her beautiful younger sister Bianca (Larissa Oleynik) date.
Of course, many other players are involved in the various schemes spiraling off one another as is the case in every Shakespeare work. Still much to their credit, impressively the screenwriters ensure that everything is kept straight and that all actors, especially Miller, Allison Janney and Gordon-Levitt's accomplice David Krumholtz have several opportunities to keep you laughing.
However, other than recalling Allison Janney's hilarious turn as an abysmal guidance counselor and aspiring trashy romance novelist, back in its initial release, the film didn't make much of an impression on me. This is probably because we were all transfixed by Janney's restrained portrayal as Chris Cooper's wife in Sam Mendes' Best Picture winner American Beauty, which was also released in 1999.
Luckily given the recent opportunity to view it again in Disney high quality, high definition Blu-ray, I was quickly charmed by the whip-smart screenplay by (then) first-time screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirstin Smith, who blended screwball pacing with an enviable number of Shakespearean references.
Although the film helped solidify the career of Lutz and Smith who would go on to super fame with Legally Blonde, The House Bunny and The Ugly Truth, it also launched its main cast including the then largely unknown Julia Stiles, who quickly became the new favorite She's All That “it” girl of Disney's Shakespeare in Love studio-- Miramax.
Celebrating its tenth anniversary on disc, the film was released just one week before the DVD debut of the 2009 television series spin-off from Walt Disney Home Entertainment. And speaking of TV, 10 Things is also responsible for helping 3rd Rock From the Sun actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt segue into the realm of feature film with as he noted the only teen movie script that “didn't make [him] want to vomit."
Seeing Gordon-Levitt as a smart and sensitive sophomore hopelessly in love in his first big film role ensures this Blu-ray is timelier than ever given the recent disc release of his most successful work to date in (500) Days of Summer. In fact, the similar terrain of the movies makes the two an ideal double feature to witness the decade difference from 10 Things to Summer, which incidentally starred the actress Zooey Deschanel, whom Stiles would use in her own 2007 directorial debut Raving.
Yet despite all of its other charms, 10 Things is perhaps most famous for introducing the world to Oscar winning actor Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight, Brokeback Mountain) whose fast rise to fame in his American debut along with the unpredictable hit of A Knight's Tale made him a legend before his untimely death nearly two years ago.
And thankfully, keeping his loyal fans, friends, and family in mind and as a tribute to the actor, the behind-the-scenes featurette celebrates Ledger's dedication to Shakespeare, the craft, and his willingness to completely go for it onscreen. This love of entertaining is evidenced to best effect in Ledger's awe-inspiring song and dance serenade to Stiles on cement steps that again, begs to be watched back-to-back with his cast-mate Gordon-Levitt's Hall & Oates dance routine in (500) Days of Summer.
While it's oddly missing new interviews with Stiles, Gordon-Levitt and others, the 10th anniversary edition also includes audio commentary with Lutz, Smith and actors Andrew Keegan, Krumholtz, Oleynik, and Susan May Pratt and the rare joy of deleted scenes that are good enough to have been edited back into the movie.
Overall it's well-worth another look if you can only remember one thing about 10 Things. Additionally, seeing Junger's work again today had another effect on me in my wish that perhaps Lutz and Smith will move away from the Bunny and back to the Bard perhaps by adapting Much Ado About Nothing for Julia Stiles.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.