I can't really imagine how audiences would have initially reacted to Heathers when it was released 30 years ago. Critics certainly saw merit in this cult classic and praised it, yet it did not do so well at the box office, leading me to believe it received poor word of mouth from filmgoers. That is surprising; this 1988 black comedy is unlike any high school movie out there, perhaps its cynicism and harsh bleakness perturbed those who were looking for more lighthearted relief.
Like the brilliant 1995 coming-of-age rom-com Clueless, Heathers still feels so modern and fresh, the type of movie that could be released today and still effect people. How many teen comedies focus heavily on suicide, murder and the prospect of school shootings? Our sympathies immediately lie with Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), a beautiful and popular high school student who loathes her three best friends, with good reason. Very amusingly, they are all called Heather, a clear mockery of how rich and pretty girls in high school lack any sort of individualism. The trio of Heathers love making life a misery for practically everyone at Westerburg High with Heather Chandler in particular showing no remorse for her actions, asking Veronica "do I look like Mother Teresa?"
Veronica simply wishes that she could meet someone who, like her, does not want to conform to other people's expectations. She finds that in Christian Slater's J.D. (short for Jason Dean, which is rather fittingly reminiscent of James Dean, who was also known for his rebellious image). Any high school girl would find J.D. intriguing and mysterious, he's a loner but exudes an abundance of confidence. He's handsome but not in a loud, obvious way, and his views about society and the way youths are treated are pessimistic but wise. Veronica naturally falls for him, but when he starts murdering his fellow students and encourages her to stage them as suicides, Veronica slowly learns that there is a massive downside to being so hateful of others.
The film's dialogue is rich, often brutal and still as sharp as it was thirty years ago. In many ways, it's a film ahead of its time. The quote that always sticks out for me is "Whether to kill yourself or not is one of the most important decisions a teenager can make." A humorous line within the context of the movie, but it has such a dark, unnerving undertone. In today's world, suicide rates are still on the rise, particularly in young people, and what is so unsettling about the characters in Heathers is that they treat the prospect of suicide as a natural thing for every young person to consider. In fact, few people in the film have an overwhelming emotional reaction to the deaths of these popular school kids; for example, police officers who discover the bodies of two high school jocks are more fascinated by the evidence they find that suggests that they were gay lovers.
Heathers is undeniably sardonic and grim, which will likely turn certain people off the film completely but the comedic edge is really what saves it from becoming too unpleasant to watch. This is a society full of hypocrites. When one of the Heathers dies of a suspected suicide, almost everyone acts like they admired her, although the early stages of the story make it perfectly clear that Heather's snobbery and cruel antics were despised by practically everyone. Not everyone is dishonest though - one person comments that when Heather was alive, she always dreamed of her dying.
Heathers focusses on some very disturbing and unfortunately timely subjects that young people can still relate to today. Winona Ryder is great in the role, and I couldn't imagine anyone else as J.D. than Christian Slater. Only he could make a line like "Chaos is what killed the dinosaurs, darling" funny, endearing and mildly creepy all at the same time. The film popularised the phrase "How very!" in the same way Clueless did "As if!" or Mean Girls made "That is so fetch!" a thing. Greetings and salutations, Heathers. Happy 30th anniversary.
Last updated: 13/08/2018 22:14:32