Think The Taming Of The Shrew meets Dawson's Creek as Julia Stiles' ice queen is manipulated into a relationship with mysterious slacker Heath Ledger, all so her younger sister will be allowed to date. Will the ice queen melteth ?
Just as Clueless modernised Jane Austen's Emma, so this bright 'n' breezy teen comedy turns to classic literature for its inspiration - the target this time being Shakespeare's Taming Of The Shrew.
Of course, the Bard's story of a man-despising lass whose mind is changed by a vaguely dangerous love interest has already been filmed as Kiss Me Kate, but giving it a bang-up-to-date setting in one of the hottest genres around is such a good idea you almost wonder why they didn't think of it earlier.
Taking cues from its source material (the setting is Padua High School, the family name Stratford), 10 Things... focuses on cute, affluent sisters Bianca (Oleynik) and Katarina (Stiles), the former as sweet and popular as the latter is mean-spirited and sulky. Their dad (the always watchable Larry Miller) has imposed a house rule that Bianca can't start dating until her older sis does - not the best news for besotted Cameron (Gordon-Levitt).
In order to win the saccharine sophomore, he plots to find someone willing to date Kat - the ideal candidate being loner-with-past Patrick Verona (Ledger, in his first Hollywood role) - and the inevitable sparks fly. It all takes a good 20 minutes to establish characters and plot, and flounders quite worryingly at first, with jokes that feel forced and uneasy. Once the romantic merry-go-round kicks in, though, things pick up considerably, with hugely likeable characters and spirited performances (Stiles is especially noteworthy as a rapidly softening queen bitch). And the incidental players (notably Miller's teen pregnancy-obsessed parent and Daryl Mitchell's jive-talkin' English teacher) bag most of the laugh-out-loud moments, suggesting this is one teen movie that isn't just for teens.
If it feels patchy, with some inexplicable plot developments (a guidance counsellor - the West Wing's Alison Janney - who vanishes after 15 minutes, a student whose obsession with Shakespeare is randomly and irrationally thrown in halfway through), 10 Things... still makes for a solid summer crowd-pleaser, with enough good-natured humour and wonderfully silly set pieces to carry itself through.
Oh, and Ledger's football field rendition of Can't Take My Eyes Off You (possibly the best musical sequence in a teen movie since Ferris Bueller's Day Off) is worth the price of purchase alone.
With the finest source material around given a modern zing, this teen comedy is somehow tried and true, but fresh all at the same time.