Our Cinematic Autobiography: 10 Things I Hate About You

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Our Cinematic Autobiography: 10 Things I Hate About You

By Genevieve Burgess | Think Pieces | August 28, 2012 | Comments ()


There are a lot of things to love about 10 Things I Hate About You. It's got clever dialogue for a teen movie, except for the places where the Shakespearian dialogue was forced it. All of the actors playing teenagers were ACTUALLY teenagers when the movie was filmed. Alison Janney steals the entire first 20 minutes of the movie as the sexually imaginative guidance counselor. The whole movie is a sort of love letter to the late '90s, from the fashion to the music to the unique high school stereotypes presented at the beginning of the film (coffee kids, anyone?), to the Ab-Roller that Daddy Stratford uses in one scene. Heath Ledger gets to speak in his natural Australian accent and proves he's got a half-decent singing voice.

However, the reasons that I, personally, love this movie have to do with Kat Stratford.

Kat is smart, outspoken about her beliefs, athletic, and driven. Unlike most of the smart and driven girls portrayed in other high school movies, though, Kat is a social outcast who would pull out her own finger nails before joining student council or the prom planning committee. She never wears makeup or a bra, she doesn't do her hair, she's bitingly sarcastic and difficult to connect with. And when the movie's over and she's managed to get involved with a guy who is crazy about her after the expected contrived roadblocks, none of that has changed. None of the main characters are crowned prom king or queen, there's no big graduation scene about how awesome high school was, and the movie treated high school as something that actually wasn't the best or most important time in your life. I found this shockingly reassuring.

I was never as angry as Kat. I was never as extreme in my feminist tendencies, and I was never that openly hostile, mostly because I was quiet and preferred to roll my eyes and go back to coloring in a picture I drew of the "Dawson's Creek" kids drowning* than pick a fight with my teacher. However, as a young teen whose boobs were fantastically late in showing up to the party, with long lank dark blonde hair, who didn't wear makeup everyday and had no intention of starting (that took up valuable sleeping time), Kat was as close as I was going to get to having a role model portraying something I could actually aspire to. I knew I was never going to be one of those girls who just seemed to have the hang of the whole high school thing. The best I could hope for was not attracting too much notice as I counted down the days until I could leave for college and cling tightly to a small amount of activities that embraced others like me.

It's the little things that made her seem more real to me than other characters, like Kat's reluctance to actually believe Patrick is interested in her even after several dates and his continued pursuit of her culminating in their argument about whether or not to go to prom. Her relationship with her sister, who she seems to feel protective of and exasperated with in equal measure. That she is flawed, getting drunk out of spite and occasionally lashing out at people who care about her instead of actually considering what they're saying. Her struggle to find a balance between not doing things because everyone else is doing them, and discerning the times when maybe you actually do want to do something that everyone else is doing. When she goes to prom it's both for her sister's sake and also because eventually you realize that refusing to do anything popular just because it's popular isn't anymore thoughtful or considered than doing something just because it is popular.

Realistically, my personality probably sat somewhere between Kat and her sister Bianca. I loved dressing up for dances and going to them, I was envious of my friends who had more active dating lives, my parents weren't as strict, and I was slightly more social than Kat. But Kat is the character I keep returning to, and I can see traces of her example across my own life. Some good, in that I have no patience for the idea that women should use shorter words, giggle more often, or stop wearing cargo pants if they really want to land a man. Some neutral, in that after hearing Kat describe Hemingway as "an abusive, alcoholic misogynist who squandered half his life hanging around Picasso trying to nail his leftovers" I've never really been able to appreciate the man's work quite the way my literature classes told me I should. Some bad, in that for a long time I was reluctant to trust the motives of people who seemed unusually friendly towards me but that may have happened even if I never saw the movie based on my own life experiences. And I've always kept one or two pairs of black panties in my drawer. Do with that what you will.

Time has marched on, and I've long since learned that almost everyone goes through high school thinking that they're another species than most of the people around them. I got a figure, cut my hair and dyed it red, and wear make-up now and again. I've had enough dating experience to know that there are more than a few men out there who appreciate women with strong opinions and an aversion to foundation. But there are days when I can still feel that uncomfortable, suspicious teenager inside me. The one who was deeply convinced of the world's unfairness and sure that it would take drastic change to find her place in that world. The one who still wishes she could find those super comfy but unflattering jersey skirts that were popular back '98-'99 or so. The one who never had to wear a bra. She doesn't have a complete say over my choices anymore, but she's there and because of that 10 Things I Hate About You will always be a part of me as well.

Of course, all that aside, 10 Things I Hate About You is a fantastically funny movie and a gem in its genre. Frankly, if you can't appreciate Allison Janney chirping "Same little asswipe shit for brains everywhere!" then you and I have very little to discuss.


Genevieve Burgess still misses Heath Ledger more than she'd like to admit.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Swimswim

    I still can't see Michelle Williams at an award show without crying about Heath*

    *I am usually drunk at this point

  • This movie changed my romantic life in high school drastically. Not only was I just as acerbic as Kat, I resembled Julia Stiles in face and hair (though I've got way more boobs and booty). Suddenly my expansive vocabulary, makeupless face, and low shit-tolerance were sanctioned by a Hollywood movie! I started getting "you remind me of Kat" all the time, and it was a good thing. I was not a kamikaze feminist, but in most other ways I found Kat Stratford extremely relatable: smart, driven, absent mother, strict (and possibly crazy) father, conscientiously checked-out of the race to become more average.

    So, thanks "10 Things". You made high school infinitely more bearable than middle school, without me having to change one bit. You also introduced me to Heath Ledger, and the possibility that someone that smoking could like a girl who talked that much shit. Proud to report that my husband is just as hot as Patrick Verona...and he included my trash-talking in his vows as a reason for marrying me.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I had already graduated high school and started university when this came out, but I wished someone like Kat had been in my class, because it did need someone to call out all the shit that was going on.

    I still have a crush on Julia Stiles.

  • Steve Ward

    Please tell me you still have the Dawson's Creek drawing and can upload it for us.

  • Kajj

    Not a word about Joseph Gordon Levitt, and the first inklings that he was going to be something special even after he left child actor-hood? I was in love with Heath, for sure, but I loved JGL's affable squirreliness in this movie. He gave the wedged-in Shakespeare lines an honest try too.

  • leuce7

    Instead of going to my senior prom, I went to the movies with a couple of girlfriends and this is what we ended up seeing. It turned out to be one of the best choices I made in high school. It was awesome to see a teen movie where the heroine's highest ambition is to get into Sarah Lawrence instead of into some guy's pants.

    And it also introduced me to the work of Allison Janney and Heath Ledger. What's not to love about this movie?

  • laylaness

    Genevieve Burgess still misses Heath Ledger more than she’d like to admit.

    Me too. Me. Too.

    That scene with the singing? Every time I hear that song, I think of Heath in this movie.

  • Nimue

    I have been such a fan ever since I saw him in his first American role on Roar. And old fox show about the Celts fighting the Romans. Fun fact, it also had Vera Farminga in it. I actually cried when he died. I had to turn off the TDKR b/c I still can't handle it.

  • bibliophile

    Me three.

  • I remember seeing this with friends when it came out and we all fell in love with Heath, yes, but also with Kat. Great piece, Genny!

  • Pants-are-a-must

    This movie is an absolute staple between me and my sister. Both of us can quote it verbatim. I never felt as close to Kat as you describe, but she did encompass a spirit I definitely felt kinship to, growing up feminist. Plus, who didn't want Heath Ledger in that movie, I ask you.

  • I had just turned 16 when this movie came out. I was awkward, not athletic, playing several different instruments in band, singing timidly in the choir, and I was one of the only non-Mormon people in the school. I wasn't just non-Mormon, as there were a few Catholics (mostly Hispanic) that stuck together like glue, and a few Episcopals; I was non-religious. Shock! Horror! I know, right? My mother was finishing her PhD in clinical psychology (it was Utah State's program that took us to Utah in the first place), she was divorced, I was an only child. I couldn't possibly have stuck out more if I'd tried--and I was expending huge amounts of energy trying not to stick out. It didn't work. I was short, and round, and fish-belly white, and redheaded, and brainy--and everybody knew me, though few wanted to be my friend.

    I don't want to understate this. '10 Things I Hate About You' really did save my life. Kat made me see that my school's "High School is the greatest time of your life" attitude was completely wrong, an attitude which I had previously bought into that made every day a miserable sham. She made being an outsider not just okay, but preferable. I didn't have to try so hard to be like the petite Mormon clones surrounding me. I realized that one day somebody might like me, maybe even love me for who I was--not for who I was trying to turn myself into. From the minute I walked out of the theater with my small band of geeky clarinetists--I knew I'd be fine. Kat made me believe it.

  • Every time I wear black underwear, I think about this movie.
    Love this movie, love this review. Especially this part: "But there are days when I can still feel that uncomfortable, suspicious teenager inside me." I don't think those ever really go away.

  • Melissa

    I wore black underwear this weekend(nothing lacy as is described, but still black), and my thoughts went straight to this movie too!

    I watch this whenever I find it on TV, and have the VHS and DVD, obvs:)

  • KatSings

    I love this movie. And this installment of Cinematic Autobiography. :-)

  • Cree83

    Man, this movie sure is a favorite among people my age! I think my high school experience just made it hard for me to appreciate teen movies. I went to an all girls school with maybe 90 kids in my graduating year, tops. There weren't really any bullies or mean girls: we weren't all holding hands and doing each others' nails, but pretty much everyone got along. There were no cheerleaders, because there was no football team. Our prom queen was not some white, lithe, goddess; she was short, Black, and weighed nearly 300 pounds. And she was freaking awesomely funny, and everybody loved her. Some people ran track and also were theater geeks. Some people were on the prom committee, but also were science nerds.

    I guess I just didn't *get* the Katrinas, OR the Biancas. For me, high school was not an offensive enough place for me to feel hostile towards anyone, and it wasn't the kind of place where it seemed particularly important to pursue popularity either.

    I feel left out of a whole film genre: 80s John Hughes stuff doesn't do much for me either.

  • "Hemingway as “an abusive, alcoholic misogynist who squandered half his
    life hanging around Picasso trying to nail his leftovers” "

    There are worse ways to spend one's life.

  • bimboden

    I was just discussing this movie the other day with a co-worker! This makes me all kinds of happy.

  • Gina Rivera

    I actually totally enjoyed this movie. Heath was quite the hot little bad boy in this too. I agree with all that you wrote here, I was probably 20 something when this came out but identified with it readily.

  • Ashley Avenger

    I was nine when I saw this movie for the first time, and "borrowed" my sister's VHS copy to watch it over and over again. Even though I only understood about 45% of it, I knew that I wanted to grow up and be like Kat Stratford. It didn't really turn out that way, but I can dream, right?

  • So much yes to this. If I was going to have a teenage hero that wasn't animated (Daria, duh), then it was Julia Stiles.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Kat Stratford was/is my original Pixie Dream Girl. She was just so much awesome that I was left in awe after seeing the movie. Much to my detriment I have pursued a great number of Kats in my life (they are out there, believe me). I say detriment because the "Kats" irl, or the ones I've known, just don't like me.

  • Even Stevens

    Kat is the opposite of a Pixie Dream Girl. Kat eats those girls for breakfast.

  • lowercase_ryan

    clarification, she was my version of a pixie dream girl. Or maybe she wasn't, maybe I have no clue what a pixie dream girl is but I know I fell in love with the Kat character instantly.

  • Even Stevens


    I'll do all the work for you, Norton! *Dramatic sigh*

  • lowercase_ryan

    ok yeah, I couldn't have been more wrong in the label. nice.

  • lowercase_ryan

    you shun me!

  • BlackRabbit

    What's wrong with cargo pants?

  • Strand

    No handjobs since 'Nam

  • e jerry powell


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