Films about high school are nothing new, and as a consequence, there is an invariable plethora of movies have been made and set in those familiar stomping grounds. And while the 1980’s gave us some of the most memorable high school films, perhaps one of the least mentioned, but wonderfully made high-school films of the decade is Michael Lehmann’s ‘Heathers’ (1989), a grim but hilarious satire aimed squarely at the genre itself.
The film tells the story of a regular girl, Veronica (Winona Ryder), who attempts to survive the social jungle of high school by sticking with the three most popular girls at school, all of whom share the same first name: Heather. Sick of the Heathers’ elitism, Veronica encounters and later befriends the new boy at school, Jason ‘JD’ Dean (Christian Slater), though this decision proves to be a dangerous one, as her life spirals out of control, and a strange “suicide” epidemic follows soon after. Realizing that JD is a full-blown sociopath, Veronica attempts to stop JD before his psychotic machinations are fully realized, but it might just be too late.
A great deal of credit for the film’s success belongs to its script, written by Daniel Waters, which contains some of the wittiness, darkest dialogue ever featured in a high school film (“Well, f*** me gently with a chainsaw” being one of the more memorable, though “Whether to kill yourself or not is one of the most important decisions a teenager can make” is a good one too). Waters’ script is, in many ways, a satire of the overly melodramatic and saccharine high school films made popular by John Hughes, including all of the Hughesian stereotypes -- the queen bee (the three Heathers), the goth-girl (Veronica), the bad boy (JD) – and taking them to their most absurd, and darkest extreme.
Ryder is at her cynical, smartass best in ‘Heathers’, portraying the character of Veronica with equal amounts of sardonic humor and compassion so that she comes off as being cynical, funny, but also strangely sympathetic. Slater, playing her “love” interest JD, is also phenomenal, his blending of dark humor, sociopathic wit, and a touch of mystery helping to create a character that is both fascinating and utterly demented (but ultimately fun to watch).
Also deserving some praise is Kim Walker, who portrays Heather Chandler, the most popular of the three Heathers, and also the most loathsome. Mean-spirited, critical, self-absorbed, Walker does a fantastic job of portraying her character as a contemptible ‘queen bee’, and makes hating her (and Veronica’s hatred of her) all that much easier for us to believe. Shannen Doherty, portraying Heather Duke, is also commendable, her portrayal of the power-hungry queen usurping Chandler’s leadership position after the latter’s ‘suicide’ being just as detestable as Walker’s portrayal of Chandler.
Ultimately, Michael Lehmann’s ‘Heathers’ is a terrifically dark and hilarious film, and one that remains relatively relevant even today, unlike many of its contemporary films, whose ‘eightiesness’ leaves them wholly dated and more or less irrelevant except as fodder for nostalgia or pop-culture references.
Find the nearest Blockbuster (assuming they still exist) near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.