At first glance, a free adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew by The Clearasil Players seems like a terrible idea, if nothing else because there are no shrews left to tame in American romantic comedies. Who needs another sour reminder that the tough, quick-witted heroines who defined the genre in the '30s and '40s, such as Katherine Hepburn and Irene Dunne, have long since been eclipsed by the gummy smiles of Meg Ryan and Sandra Bullock? But as the tempestuous "shrew" in the sweet, immensely likable 10 Things I Hate About You, Julia Stiles is so self-assured in her rebelliousness that she'll only soften once the rest of the world—and the film itself, for that matter—is shaped on her terms. In a funny twist on Shakespeare's antiquated premise, stand-up comic Larry Miller plays an overprotective single father and obstetrician who's so worried about teen pregnancy that he refuses to let his virginal daughter, Larisa Oleynik, date until Stiles, her older sister, does the same. And even then, she's forced to spend a few moments wearing an empathy belly. Oleynik's suitors, a vapid tube-sock model (Andrew Keegan) and an earnest new kid (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), conspire to fix Stiles up with her equally caustic male counterpart, Heath Ledger. Quirky, inventive, and brimming over with clever visual gags and colorful supporting characters, 10 Things uses Shakespeare as a jumping-off point to playfully send up a society that doesn't know what to do with a strong woman. Unlike Rachael Leigh-Cook in the inexplicably popular She's All That, Stiles isn't asked to lobotomize herself for the sake of romance. Though episodic and scattershot at times—and there's not much to like about the wall-to-wall Letters To Cleo on the soundtrack—10 Things is still the brightest and least exploitative of the new teen comedies.
More from The A.V. Club