“10 Things” screening gives Tacoma good reason to party like it’s 1999

Picture thousands of people sitting in the Stadium Bowl singing Franki Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” in unison. Not necessarily on pitch, but in unison.

It could easily happen Saturday when 5,000 movie fans gather to mark the 20th anniversary of the now-classic teen romantic comedy “10 Things I Hate About You,” made in Tacoma and adored by Tacomans.

How beloved is the film? More than 4,000 additional people registered for tickets but had to be turned away for safety reasons.

Tacoma’s Pretty Gritty Tours teamed up with the Stadium Booster Club to host a viewing party at the high school where much of the movie was filmed. The former luxury hotel, built in the gilded age by railroad tycoons, lends itself perfectly to this modern retelling of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.”

The movie’s best known scene takes place in the bowl where the main heartthrob, Patrick Verona, played by then 20-year-old Heath Ledger, pulls off one of the great romantic hat tricks of cinematic history. No spoilers here, but it involves the Lincoln High School marching band, Frankie Valli and just enough public humiliation to make it charming.

This is the film that launched Ledger’s meteoric rise to stardom, and it’s easy to see why. We’re convinced that somewhere in the great playwright beyond, Shakespeare saw the late actor’s performance at Stadium Bowl and did the slow clap. Well played, thespian. Well played.

Fortunately, “10 Things” veers dramatically from the bard’s original plot, which involved withholding food, sleep and clothing from “the shrew” until she finally concurs that women need to be obedient to men.

Everyone can agree that’s a plot line best left in the 1500s. The 1999 retelling keeps the strong female character but cuts loose the male-domination theme.

The modern Hollywood take on Shakespeare was summed up succinctly by the New York Times as “Seattle kids debate sexual politics.”

The East Coast critic got it half right. The film’s cityscape may be of Seattle, but we all know the real stars of this film are Tacoma and its iconic Stadium High, a building that holds the perennial honor of being called the prettiest high school in the U.S.

Tacoma might play second banana to Seattle, but at least “10 Things” was filmed here, which means the filmmakers spent money here. That’s better than the latest comedy production to put Tacoma on the pop-culture map. Cable-TV sitcom “Tacoma FD” pretends to be set at a local fire station but is actually filmed in Southern California. Boo, hiss.

Tacoma does for “10 Things” what New York City does for a Woody Allen film or what Forks did for vampires. The setting explains why the characters do what they do.

The sweeping views of Puget Sound, the gray skies, the historic hillside homes are a perfect backdrop for a brooding teenager; they certainly explain why female lead character Kat Stratford (played by Julia Stiles) has a penchant for faraway stares, longs to play grunge rock and sits at home reading Sylvia Plath.

The Pacific Northwest also explains why the 17-year old young woman is fiercely independent and refuses to play a part in a conventional high school script. Independent is how we grow ’em here.

The folks who purchased tickets to Saturday’s event will magically be transported back to a time when kids didn’t have to worry about likes on social media and the word “selfie” was as foreign as ye olde English.

Glimpses of Tacoma bygones like downtown’s Ted Brown Music store only add to the nostalgia sundae. But the cherry on top is that 20 years ago Tacoma got to prove it has more to offer than serial killers and smelters.

As “10 Things I Hate About You” dramatically demonstrates, T-Town is fertile ground for love.

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