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10 Reasons to Love Heath Ledger

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Thursday, March 4, 2010

“It’s a story for every guy who has ever tried, for every girl who has ever hoped, and anyone who has ever been taken completely by surprise.”  
The “it” is “Ten Things I Hate About You,” the witty comedy that served as the breakout hit for young stars Heath Ledger (“Brokeback Mountain”) and Julia Stiles (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) and launched them into stardom.
The hilarious movie is a modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play, “Twelfth Night.” It is the story of Kat (Stiles) and Bianca Stratford, sisters who could not be more different and who live with their excessively overprotective father. His house rule:  Bianca can’t date until Kat does. Bianca, the pretty, popular younger sister, has multiple guys knocking at her door, while Kat, the feminist anti-conformist, scares them all away with her acerbic tongue.
What follows is undoubtedly a solid 90-minute chick flick, but not a formulaic, overly cheesy one. The script is clever and quick, seamlessly intertwining lines from Shakespeare with modern jokes and references. It takes an old story and proves with its modern application that The Bard and his themes are timeless.
The actors help advance the movie without allowing it to sink into the mindless stereotypes generally found in teen comedies. Although the cast was relatively unknown in 1999 at the movie’s release, they brought their characters to life and helped launch their own careers. Such stars include Ledger, Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“(500) Days of Summer”), David Krumholtz (“Numb3rs”), and Larry Miller (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”).
Stiles plays her character flawlessly. She nails the feminazi, driven personality of Kat, all the while making her escapades as a drunk girl and her growing affection for Patrick Verona (Ledger) believable, not just the creation of a director trying to use clichés to appeal to a teenage audience. Shining in her role, Stiles is a breath of fresh air among the usual teenage heroine who flip-flops and generally ends up abandoning her principles for the boy.
Verona is the resident bad boy of Padua High School, around whom rumors abound because of his dark clothing and mysterious accent. Ledger sparkles in his role and is the best part of the movie, from his superb acting to his brilliant smile. He portrays his mysterious yet soft personality perfectly.
The character of Patrick is multi-faceted. A senior in high school, he frequents a local bar to play pool and drink beer, but he also hands out advice on love, telling Cameron (Gordon-Levitt), “don’t let anyone, ever, make you feel like you don’t deserve what you want.”  
The movie allows Ledger to display his true acting skills.  He illustrates that he can play a variety of roles and complex characters.  His bad boy persona as Patrick captivates the interests of his female audience, while his boyish good looks and adorable smile melt their hearts.  Even as Patrick accepts money to pursue and date Kat, it is impossible not to fall for him because Ledger allows every aspect of Patrick’s personality to shine through.  It also does not hurt that movie showcases Ledger wearing leather pants and later singing in a beautifully romantic scene.
This zippy comedy is one of the best chick flicks out there, pleasing to both males and females.  It is appropriate for any occasion, from a pick-me-up film to a quiet Saturday night in, and it never grows old, especially now that a 10th anniversary edition is available with extra behind-the-scenes footage.  Also, it is a fitting remembrance of Ledger in his youth, just over two years and one month after his sudden and untimely death.
Just be sure not to confuse this movie with the TV show on ABC Family bearing the same name and very loosely based off the movie.  It is a poor substitute, though Larry Miller still shines in his hilarious role as the overbearing father.