This weekend will see the 20th anniversary of 10 Things I Hate About You, one of the best and most timeless teenage (dirtbag) romance films made of all time. While the whole movie is always worth a revisit, I want to draw your attention to one scene in particular. And also, a car in particular.
The scene I’m talking about, of course, is the one where Kat Stratford (played by the always-cromulent Julia Stiles) is trying to leave a music shop in her 1964 Dodge Dart GT and can’t back out of her spot because her shitty ex-boyfriend/nemesis Joey (played by guy-who-was-in-this-movie Andrew Keegan) blocks her in with his Camaro.
“What is it, asshole day?” Kat snarls before demanding to Joey whether or not he minds. He brushes her off, of course, so she throws her car into reverse and hits the Camaro, the Dart eating a nice hole into the Chevy.
Joey hears the crash, rushes back over and screams, “You bitch!” at Kat, to which she responds, “Whoops!”
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t mess up someone’s car when they piss you off, but the message rather than the method is what counts here.
There’s been no shortage of teenage romance movies over the years, especially during the late ‘90s and early 2000s. You had Clueless, She’s All That, Cruel Intentions and Superstar, to name a few. But what made 10 Things stand out from them all was Kat Stratford. She did not, as this very lovely Jezebel piece notes, feel like she needed to fit in:
Kat didn’t have to put on makeup or a dress, or date a rich dude, or go to the popular kids’ ill-fated pool party. Kat could shit on Hemingway in class without worrying her classmates would think she was lame for being smart, since she didn’t care what they thought in the first place. She could ram her car into the one belonging to the hottest boy in school, because she already fucking owned him.
Kat’s disdain for stupid bullshit and conformity was something that has stuck with me for all of these years, as it was a revelation the first time I saw this movie at a friend’s sleepover party.
For most people, teenage years are shaped by wanting and trying to fit in in one way or another, learning to understand the world and how you function in it. It can take a little while to be able to find your own footing; it definitely did for me.
Yet here, miraculously, was a character that rejected all that, gloriously so. She comes out at the end of the movie with the same clothes and music as she did at the beginning of it. Her relationship status might have changed, but her overall character did not.
And what better car to give her than a ‘64 Dart?
In fact, it’s in this Dart that you first meet Kat. The movie begins by panning to a group of girls in a 1988 Volkswagen Cabriolet, bopping along to some pop song on the radio. And then Kate pulls up, alone, in her Dart, blaring Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.” She stares the down for a beat before she rolls her eyes at them. This is how the movie introduces her. It’s excellent.
The Dart is extremely fitting because it’s old, rusty, faded and beat up. Most importantly, it doesn’t pose as anything flashier or nicer than it is. It has, inexplicably, a white hood and a white trunk. Did Kat do this herself? Probably not. It’s most likely left over from its previous owner.
You can easily imagine her getting her license for the first time and picking up this used Dart for herself cheaply instead of something newer and more expensive, like some European import. Who is she trying to impress? Kat doesn’t seem like she has a whole lot of pocket money, as she cannot afford the guitar that she wants. So it would make sense that her car wouldn’t cost too much, either.
Kat is also aggressively un-basic and to a bunch of image-conscious and vapid high school peers, the old and peeling Dart would have likely elicited some snickers. Honestly, that might have even been a bonus for Kat. And if her father made any comments about the Dart’s safety features (or lack thereof), she probably would have just told him to piss off. It definitely seemed like it came away from the parking lot altercation with Joey undamaged.
Sure, ultimately it’s a silly movie about a boy and a girl falling for each other, but the idea that you shouldn’t change who you are so that people will like you more is a good one. And the film accessorizes well.
Kat Stratford is the queen of teen romance flicks, was the champion of my own crippling teenage angst and that Dart is her chariot. Go watch 10 Things I Hate About You right now.