Book to Film: 10 Things I Hate About You
First, I have to apologize for getting to this so late. April-into-May is one of the hardest times of year for a college professor. I posted final grades for my students on Wednesday, and on Thursday, we trekked across the Rocky Mountains for my son's college orientation and registration for classes for the fall. So, of course, it snowed.
I have been thinking about this month's "book-to-movie" theme a lot, even though I didn't get a chance to write about it until today (way to leave it to the last minute, teach), and rather than talk about dream casting of my own book, I thought I'd talk about movies that have already been made based on the same material from which I draw my inspiration: Shakespeare's plays.
If you didn't already know it, "The Taming of the Shrew," which forms the basis of Finding Kate, is also the basis of one of the best teen films of all time (in my opinion): 10 Things I Hate About You. It starred Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger, and you will weep if you watch it now, not only because it is passionate and moving and hilarious, but because Heath Ledger is so effortlessly charming and beautiful and it's heartbreaking that his luminous talent is gone from the world. Of course, as with any teen film, you will also cringe because the actors are all obviously in their mid to late twenties and playing high schoolers, but you go with it because Hollywood.
Is it perfect? Of course not. The structure has been maintained but the edges of Shakespeare's play have been smoothed and altered for modern day. The overbearing father has been changed to an overprotective single dad who is worried about his daughters' chastity -- more to the point, he's worried they will get pregnant out of wedlock. Thus, instead of the social constraints that will not allow a younger daughter to marry before the elder, this worried dad decrees that his younger daughter cannot date until her older sister does, an event he feels confident will never happen, since Kat (Julia Stiles) is a strong-willed feminist and wants to go to college and thinks boys are stupid and useless.
I'm making it sound trivial, and in some ways, it is. In some ways, it's your typical high school comedy with high-jinks and stupidity. But watching Kat transform her free-floating rage against men and society into a more nuanced feminism -- and watching her fall in love -- is beautiful.
One of my favorite supporting characters is Alison Janney's guidance counselor Ms. Perky. Her mix of disdain and exhaustion with her students combines with her not-at-all-secret side job writing erotic fiction at work. She's hysterical.
Clueless, based on Jane Austen's Emma, made a bigger splash at the time and is probably still better known. But 10 Things I Hate About You, I think, is truer to its source, in its use of language and word play, and more importantly in its attempt to show the characters' growth arcs from beginning to end.