The way it seamlessly combines all the traits of a 1990s American high school movie with a narrative set out by a 1590s English play.
Speaking of which, the way it takes the female lead from the one of Shakespeare’s plays with the most problematic gender politics and reinvents her as a strong feminist character.
In fact all of the young women in the film, played by Julia Stiles, Larisa Oleynik, Susan May Pratt and Gabrielle Union, are smart, confident and fearlessly individual. They are not objectified or the repeated focus of leering or sexist jokes, there not purely there to inspire or motivate the male characters, they are not tropes or cliches and they are not sidelined. Cinematically they are a little bit ahead of their time.
In terms of the boys, Heath Ledger gives a strong performance marking the start of a ten year career in American cinema in which he would establish himself as one of the most amiable and talented yet unpredictable actors of his generation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also shows himself to be a charming lead and like Ledger he great work under the tutelage of Christopher Nolan in his future.
Speaking of great performances mention also need to be made of Allison Janney’s wonderful turn at Ms. Perky, the over sharing guidance counsellor
and Daryl Mitchell’s Mr. Morgan who speaks to his pupils in the way every teacher wishes they could.
The script, which I won’t quote because so much of it is in the delivery. Lead couple Kat and Patrick’s banter is actually reminiscent not of Taming of the Shrew, which the film is based on, but of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.
Then there’s the architecturally magnificent school the kids all go to, which in reality is Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington. It was initially designed and built as a railway station come luxury hotel but was gutted by fire during construction and finished off as a ridiculously ornate education facility. All the locations in the film are real places, no sets were used during filming at all.
The throw away gag with the bow and arrow which would not work in any other high school movie but works with the slightly quirky tone of this film
and of course Heath Ledger’s performance of Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You on the football field which would never happen in real life but don’t you wish it would?