10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

10_things_i_hate_about_you_filmThe opening notes of Joan Jett hollering “Bad Reputation” made me grow wistfully nostalgic for Freaks & Geeks reruns. The hope budded that maybe 10 Things I Hate About You would be the same tour de force narrative brimming with the same type of candor. It is not. Not at all. But that’s okay. It has its own amount of charms that forgive the obvious chinks in the armor of this very loose adaptation.

True, its story reads exactly like a book or rather a play, William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew to be exact, but 10 Things I Hate About You succeeds due to the chemistry and charisma of its players. There is a genuine concern on the part of the audience as we watch them go through the interludes and rhythms that we already foresee beforehand. This is not the reinvention of the wheel in terms of high school romance films — not by a long shot — but the script coauthored by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith is equal parts lithe and witty. There’s actually some life to it, even if the plot is an age-old rehash of the Bard. It makes knowing what will happen next of lesser importance and more crucial how the resulting events will affect our protagonists — how they will deal with the inevitable teen drama.

Because the set-up is simple. There are two sisters. For arbitrary reasons, one of the said sisters cannot go to a party unless her older sister is also present. That’s at the behest of their resident oddball father who’s also a bit of a worrywart. Important for this tale is that everyone in school seems to know the set-up too. The smart aleck cool kid Joey Donner is looking to bed the perky Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) for the very reason that she is untouchable. Meanwhile, the starry-eyed new kid Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls instantly in love with this blonde vision. He doesn’t realize he has competition.

However, it all seems for naught due to Bianca’s “shrewish” sister Katherine (Julie Stiles) whose acerbic outlook on life seems destined to lead to dismal isolation. It’s no wonder she curls up in her living room with Sylvia Plath. Still, not to be outdone Joey enlists the help of resident bad boy Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to win Kat over and get her on a date. So right there you have the basis for the entire film with our two sisters and two parallel love stories (or loathe stories) with the cool kid running interference while also putting Patrick on his payroll.

At this point, it’s not necessary to get into all the gory details because we’ve probably seen them all before. But for some strange unknowable reasons I accept its cliches and sappiness and that, once again, I credit to the cast. Ledger and Stiles work well together churning up the sparks, he by exemplifying an equal dose of good-natured charm and roguishness.  She is simultaneously able to balance the necessary contempt with genuine care. She cares for her sister, her father, and ultimately Patrick as well. Larisa Oleynik is a capable counterpoint to Stiles and although his role feels relatively minor, Levitt wins the sympathies of any person ever on the outside earnestly looking in.

A major highlight involves Ledger lip syncing to Frankie Valli with synchronized band accompaniment as he tries to win back Kat while concurrently evading campus security. It’s in such a devilishly charming (or dorky) moment where he seems to have won Kat over for good. Although that’s not quite the case, he has the audience on his side for a great deal of the time after that. It only takes the final act for Kat to get there too. It takes a literature assignment of gushy poetry about how much she hates him, for her to realize that she hates being without him even more. Is this destructive? Maybe, but this is a movie about teenagers and teenagers aren’t supposed to have everything figured out. That’s part of the reason why we still readily watch movies about them.

3.5/5 Stars

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

16ddc-five_hundred_days_of_summer“This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.”

This one line is uttered by the very thematic narrator of (500) Days of Summer and it describes an aspiring architect-greeting card salesman named Tom Hanson who meets Summer Finn at the office.

This often inventive and imaginative romantic comedy highlights the highs and woes that come with a relationship. You see Tom and Summer are seemingly two conflicting forces of nature from the beginning. He is a hopeless romantic believing in fate and love at first sight. She does not quite buy into that stuff, and she is only looking for “a friend,” nothing too serious. The so-called Summer Effect is what draws Tom to her. She is seemingly a normal everyday girl, but there is something extra special about her. But you will see for yourself.

The film’s scriptwriters do an excellent job at highlighting the minutiae that go along with any relationship. The Smiths are a point of agreement. Ikea is a place to fantasize about the American Dream, the copy room can be a place of romance, and Ringo Starr’s “Octopus’ Garden” will always be a point of contention. Mind you, all of this is out of sequence because that’s the way the memories come flooding back.

There are days when the whole world seems to be smiling with you. The birds are singing, you’re Han Solo, and it just makes you want to dance. There are days when you have bed head and your dreams are broken. There is no longer faith in romance. One day it seems like the walls are coming down and you are truly getting to know this significant other on an intimate level. Another day a small squabble over a punch and soon enough you hate everything about her. Her smile, her knees, her hair, they’re all awful.

All these things happen to Tom because Summer is not looking for anything more substantial, but he feels he is getting mixed signals. They are finally reunited and he thinks this might be his second chance. However, expectations seemingly never mirror reality. He is disillusioned realizing movies, pop songs, and even greeting cards are responsible for the lies society feeds us about love.

Now Summer has moved on in a big way, the wounds still hurt Tom, but they meet at that same bench overlooking Los Angeles for a final time. So you see this was not a love story after all. However, remember the date May 23rd, a Wednesday. We do not know the outcome but if nothing else it was the day that Tom reaffirms his belief in love.

(500) Days of Summer was different enough to be an enjoyable film which was instigated by a nonlinear storyline that pulled us along through a relationship ( day 1-500). Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel were both enjoyable and Tom’s friends and sister had enough personality to add something to the film. The music is often fitting (“Sweet Disposition” by Temper Trap helps the indie vibe), and both leads got an excuse to work out their vocal cords.  By the nature of the narrative, the story jumps around a lot, seemingly leaving loose ends. Perhaps that is just my own hangup. Because, like any love story, this film may have its imperfections, but that is not to say it is not worthwhile.

4/5 Stars


Inception (2010)

Starring Leonardo Dicapprio, Joseph Gordon-Levit, Tom Hardy, and Ellen Page with direction by Christopher Nolan, the film follows the elaborate plot to plant an idea in someone’s mind. Dom Cobb is skilled at entering into peoples’ minds in order to steal ideas. However, in order to get back to a normal life now he must plant something instead. He gathers a team to help him enter the dreams successfully. However  they are not just going one level down but in fact several tiers into the mind. This will make  each successive perception more unstable and perilous. The team enters the first dream fine but soon they realize that their influential subject has built up defenses in his dreams. Furthermore, if they die the dream will not simply end but they will all be trapped in limbo. With those problems they enter the second tier and then the third and so on. Ultimately, Cobb must face one of his own realities or else all is lost. This film is so intriguing because it is different and in many ways it blows your mind (including the ambiguous ending).

5/5 Stars