Taylor Wolf | Social Media Editor
What differentiates a cult film from the countless other movies released from Hollywood every year? Why do these movies stand the test of time and, more importantly, maintain fervent multi-generational followers? In this series, Cult Film Crash Course, we attempt to answer these questions about cult film qualities and more!
“10 Things I Hate About You” turns 20 on Sunday!
Give me a modern adaptation of Shakespeare set in a late 1990s metropolitan high school with a young Heath Ledger and I am set. The movie epitomizes 1999 American teen romantic comedy-drama with everything from the fashion to the personalities to the angst.
What has made this film such a cult piece is how it captures the essence of what all kinds of American teens of the ‘90s, and of any decade, experience. Set in a fictional waterside high school in Seattle, Washington, the film follows a group of students whose lives are entangled with one another whether they know it or not. There’s a wide-eyed, adorable new kid who falls for the most popular girl in school, the under the radar geeky guy who befriends the new kid and explains high school cliques to him, the beautiful and bubbly most popular girl in school herself, her angsty and liberal sister who rejects high school norms, the ladies’ man and the mysterious bad boy loner dude.
The new kid, Cameron, is instantly smitten with the popular Bianca, so he and his new geeky guide, Michael, devise a plan to trick the ladies’ man, Joey, to try and find someone to date Bianca’s sister, Kat, so Bianca can go out with him; however, Cameron is the one who actually plans to ask Bianca out. Since Kat is quite stand-offish and feminist, most guys in school won’t go out with her. Cameron and Michael manipulate Joey to bribe the mysterious bad boy loner, Patrick, into getting Kat to go out with him.
In true Shakespeare-inspired fashion, the characters’ stories all crossover and get tangled, creating chaos, confusion, deception and actually some love after all. Audiences have been captured by the range of diverse characters and personalities that each travel their own individual yet intertwined journeys. There’s a character, or a few, for anyone to identity at least partially with, creating a bond with the film’s audiences of every generation that stands the test of time.
Not only is the film a classic teen comedy in its purest form, it’s also deeply emotional and plucks at some of those nostalgic teen heartstrings. Audiences can empathize with the betrayal, the heartbreak, the joy, the frustration and the confusion experienced in teen years.
Also, who doesn’t appreciate the greatest romantic-comedy cliché of all time — the grand gesture. “10 Things I Hate About You” supplies the most classic. A musical, public and detention warranting gesture to win the girl back after the guy acts stupid is best served by a singing, young Heath Ledger parading across concrete bleachers overlooking a football field — just as this film so iconically provides.
Additionally, there’s a high school set-up scene where a geek explains the high school cliques to the new kid while traversing the compound and a good ol’ date montage scene that just give audiences classic and simple satisfaction in this genre.
The film doesn’t take itself so seriously, yet really strikes an emotional chord. The balanced cast, storylines and resonating character developments make this film unforgettable once watched — the mark of a true cult classic.