With “Romeo and Juliet” down, we have here the first of a series of teen adaptations of Shakespeare, modernizing “Taming of the Shrew”. Of all the teen films released this year, this one is, by far, the best. Who knew? Maybe there’s something to this Shakespeare guy after all.
Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a new arrival at Padua High School in Seattle. On a tour guide, Michæl (David Krumholtz) serves as his Virgil to instruct him on the various mutant cliques of this new hell. When they happen upon sophomore Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik), Cameron is completely love-struck. Just one problem: Bianca’s obstetrician dad (Larry Miller) doesn’t want her to date, so she’s given the rule that she can’t date before her older sister, Kat (Julia Stiles), the fiercest, angriest girl in school. With Kat a resolute man-hater, it doesn’t look like Bianca will ever date UNTIL Cameron gets the bright idea to hook Kat up with the scariest guy in school, Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger). Hilarity ensues.
Despite the origins, all the characters are still allowed to act like teenagers. Julia Stiles plays Kat as angry at the world and acts out like a 17-year-old. The writers (after Bill) Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith along with TV vet, director Gil Junger, take the normal high school dynamic and crank it waaay up, but not in a threatening sort of way. The first person Cameron meets is the bitter guidance counselor (they will occupy the circle of hell just above vice-principals) who displays more interest in the porn novel she’s writing than her students.
Teen movies usually break down into three categories: high school as hell; coming of age; or high school as absurdist comedy as it runs on a set of values that bear no relation to the real world (except for the film industry). This film is firmly in the last slot. Teen movies are usually disposable entertainment made cheaply to suck up your average teenager’s Saturday night. Like the John Hughes movies of the ’80’s, I have a feeling this one may last after the rest of this year’s crop is forgotten.