The ’90s teen rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You was released in theaters 20 years ago on March 31st, 1999. Here, HG contributor Molly McLaughlin celebrates one of her favorite movies while sharing her realization that Patrick Verona wasn’t quite the hero she cracked him up to be.
First, you should know that I absolutely love 10 Things I Hate About You, and I always will. I regularly cite it as the last good rom-com. My Instagram bio read, “Likes Thai food, feminist prose, and angry girl music of the indie rock persuasion,” for longer than I care to admit. But when I revisited the beloved film earlier this year, I felt disappointed by it for the very first time. The movie’s happy ending suddenly didn’t make me happy; it made me frustrated. Despite Heath Ledger’s captivating performance, incredible charisma, and gorgeous jaw line, I simply can’t fall in love with Patrick Verona anymore.
He now leaves me, as Bianca would say, whelmed.
When I was a teenager, Kat Stratford was everything I wanted to be. She calls out Hemingway for being “an abusive alcoholic misogynist who squandered half his life hanging around Picasso, trying to nail his leftovers.” She smiles when Ms. Perky tells her that most people think she’s a heinous bitch (although she sees herself as “tempestuous.”) “You don’t always have to be who they want you to be,” she advises her younger sister Bianca after explaining the not clearly consensual sexual experience she had with Joey Donner, the guy currently courting Bianca.
I admired Kat, so of course I thought she should end up with Patrick; I saw him as the perfect guy.
But after my most recent viewing, I find myself questioning Kat’s relationship with him because I doubt that his positive characteristics are more than schtick. Obviously, I understand that the whole premise of this Taming of the Shrew-inspired movie relies on Joey paying Patrick to take Kat out since Joey can’t date Bianca unless Kat dates, too. The part I can’t get over is that Patrick still takes the money. Twice.
Before Patrick’s character development, he describes getting Kat to go out with him as “[taming] the wild beast.” He tells Cameron that Joey can “plough wherever he wants” in reference to Bianca. He even calls the band playing at Club Skunk “chicks who can’t play their instruments.”
Of course, we are meant to watch Patrick learn to be a better human by hanging out with Kat. He pretends to like her favorite band and read Betty Friedan; they go paint paint-balling and bond over being misfits and rebels. He won’t let her go to sleep just in case she has a concussion at Bogey Lowenstein’s party. In possibly the most romantic teen-movie scene of all time, he sings the Frankie Valli classic “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” to her in front of the whole school.
But when I watched the characters get closer to one another, I noticed that Patrick continues to manipulate Kat. He guilts her into going to prom with him; when she first refuses, he tells her she needs therapy. He denies having an ulterior motive for being with her and smugly accepts her apology for (correctly) questioning him—before ultimately ruining her prom night when Joey reveals the truth.
“You were paid to take me out, by the one person I truly hate. I knew this was a set up,” Kat says.
It’s a deep betrayal, and one that buying her a guitar will not make up for—which is exactly why she should go to Sarah Lawrence College across the country and move the fuck on from Patrick.
Instead, in the final scene, when Kat protests the idea that Patrick can “just buy me a guitar every time [he] screws up,” Patrick just grabs her face and kisses her again—as if being cute somehow negates his asshole behavior.
Thanks in no small part to the incredible soundtrack and Ms. Perky’s erotic novel, 10 Things I Hate About You will always be a fave—even if it’s an at times problematic one.
The movie still makes some very valid points in 2019—like how it addresses white feminism in the scene when Mr. Morgan sarcastically sympathizes with Kat’s struggle to overcome “all those years of upper-middle class suburban oppression.” Plus, Bianca breaking Joey’s nose is pretty damn satisfying.
The 10 Things I Hate About You writers updated Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew in some ways, but its basic premise positions an independent woman, whether it’s Kat or Shakespeare’s Katherina, as a problem to be solved. And thankfully, many of us are no longer subscribing to that ideology in 2019. It’s actually a good thing that, 20 years after its release, the gender politics within 10 Things are beginning to seem outdated. We can still celebrate what Kat represents, and acknowledge that a ’90s interpretation of feminism in an adaptation of a 1590s Shakespearean play ought to eventually be criticized and learned from—not eternally idolized.
Our understanding of feminism becomes more complex with each generation, so as a society, we are forced to confront the fact that it’s not only representations of villains like Joey Donner who stand in the way of gender equality. Sometimes a charming guy like Patrick Verona needs to do better, too.