Yes spoilers. Deal with it.
First and foremost, I have to acknowledge that I’m biased. Incredibly biased. This film oozes nostalgia for me, and all I wanted to be growing up was Cat (does anyone actually want to be Bianca? lol). Anyway, I watched this film on a big screen for the first time last night, still could recite most of it, but found myself thinking so many different things about it that I just had to share.
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, the film catalogs the trials of navigating high school’s social hierarchy and finding love. But I also found that it does so in an incredibly self aware way so it makes it hilarious and not nauseating like other romantic comedies? I don’t experience this film as sophomoric as others in the same genre. Yes, relationships are the focus, but it doesn’t feel overdone. I read an article that Julia Stiles doesn’t like watching the film, I guess that’s normal for actors? But that makes me sad because it’s stands out in my mind as such a staple of growing up for me. Anyway. If you haven’t seen the movie, here’s the premise:
Overprotective dad won’t let popular daughter [Bianca] date until her unpopular, mean-girl-esque sister [Cat] does. So Cameron [wants Bianca] and friend Michael concoct a plan where Joey [also wants Bianca but for not genuine reasons] funds Patrick to take out Cat so Bianca is available. But Patrick ends up really liking Cat, and everything blows up when Joey lets slip what happened at the Prom. Eventually, like most teen movies though, things end up alright.
Watching the film last night I found myself thinking about how the film showcases women’s sexuality as a tool to solidify self in the social hierarchy. If you see Bianca’s reactions to Joey (the “hot” jock character), she isn’t always enamored with him and sometimes recognizes his … unintelligence? Like when she’s board watching him practice model poses at a party. But even after being dissed at the party by having Joey leave with her friend, Bianca STILL didn’t say no outright to going to prom with him. WHY? Reading between the lines, there’s still something powerful at play and she realizes that there’s still some value in being associated with Joey, even if he’s an asshole. Not to mention the manipulating she initially put into play by keeping Cameron [not flashy “nice” guy] on a string because Cameron committed to getting someone to date Cat to free up Bianca. Cameron has a more genuine interest, though it’s STILL based on looks in the beginning, whereas Joey more so seeks out Bianca for his sexual conquering (“for fun” not because Joey actually likes her). Which, we later find out, is even all the more insulting because Joey dated Cat and slept with her back in Freshman year. The whole movie is centered around conquering Bianca’s virginity, which is ludicrous, but does speak to the lengths and lies that some men will go to just to get with a girl. Not to mention how Joey throws this in Cat’s face at the party. When Cat says to stay away from Bianca, Joey says “I can’t guarantee she’ll stay away from me.” The women in the movie are pawns of sorts, at least for a time. Their emotions not taken into account, other than how to manipulate them toward an end.
There’s a telling, scene, though, after the party where Joey disses Bianca by leaving her at the party and Cameron gives her a ride home. In the car outside her house he asks her if she has always been this selfish, and she says yes. And around the same time she admits that even though she said she wanted to go sailing with Cameron, she really didn’t mean it. Keeping him hopeful/interested when she wasn’t. Girls, on some level I think, know how their sexuality can get them what they want–be it attention or otherwise. She likely hadn’t been called out in that way before, so maybe that was attractive to her, because at that moment her and Cameron start becoming chummy and share a kiss. Also, I’m not saying that boys don’t lead girls on, they certainly do. Don’t get it twisted.
And on to my favorite dynamic and arc of the story is that of Cat and Patrick. Patrick is the “bad guy” that is paid to take out Cat, but then ends up really caring for her. Cat’s character is interesting for a lot of reasons, but the movie alludes to that she used to be popular and then all of that stopped. I found myself wondering if what they meant was popular was ‘like Bianca’ until everything went to shit with Joey and her? I don’t know. But there was that reference to Cat being different and hanging with different crowds previously. I like her because she doesn’t give a shit what people think about her. She dances while drunk atop a table at a party (much to Bianca’s dismay) and flashes a teacher to get Patrick out of detention (miraculously not landing herself in detention? lol). What’s interesting about this dynamic to me is that Patrick signs up for the situation to make money and then it’s not really what he expected. I like that idea of expectations going awry.
I think my main comment on the movie is that they nail some aspects of the sexual tension and how that plays into social hierarchies in high school. It’s not a place I would like to go back to. lol As much as I love this movie, I at the same time would have loved to see a scenario where women were calling the shots and NOT getting manipulated. But alas, maybe there will be another film that gets at that. I don’t think anything can quite capture then 90s vibe like this one though. I’ll love it forever.
Side note, I absolutely love Heath Ledger as an actor, but that’s a topic for a different blog.