Heathers November 10, 2016
The titular mean girls of Heathers are monsters, all right, but at least they’re aware of their cattiness in the ways Joan Collins and Linda Evans were back in their Dynasty primes. When the leader of the pack, the blonde and comely Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), is called out by someone when a cruelly intentioned zinger goes too far, for instance, she scoffs at the notion that her bluntness is out of character. “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw,” she sneers. “Do I look like Mother Teresa?”
A fitting retort would be confidently reminding her that she isn’t Mother Teresa — closer to Elizabeth Báthory or a remarkably canny floozy of a contestant on The Bachelor. But because Heather C.’s queen bee and standing up to her spells out a social demise, her spiteful nature is never much questioned. Her posse, consisting of the impulsive Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk), the potentially sociopathic Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty), and the raven-haired odd-woman-out Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), wouldn’t dare call her out; a notable rep is more important to all of them than maintaining integrity.
But now that it’s junior year and self-actualization has begun to sound a hell of a lot more appealing than following in the footsteps of an asshole, Veronica’s starting to consider deserting the fake friends with whom she’s wasted her time for the last few months of the school year. Especially so when she meets new student J.D. (Christian Slater), a motorcycle-riding Jack Nicholson wannabe that piques her romantic interest.
Carrying a disdain for the remorseless students running the Ohio-based high school, J.D.’d very much like to off the committers of the social sadism that plagues the lives of the getting-byers. But, to our dismay, those murderous desires aren’t limited to daydream-level longings — they’re very much literal, and, before Veronica knows it, she’s an accessory to the murder of one of the Heathers (and, later, a pair of bubble-headed jocks).
Young love ain’t easy, I suppose, and Veronica would be better off ditching J.D. and the Heathers and once again become the wallflower she was not so long ago. But luck cannot always be by one’s side. “Dear Diary: My teen angst bullshit now has a body count,” she dramatically writes in her journal late one night.
But while there's no going back once you’ve got blood on your hands, Veronica’s so whip-smart, we're certain she'll figure out a way to get herself out of this mess. Fortunately, the film following her's whip-smart, too. Heathers (1988), written by Daniel Waters (brother to Mark, the helmer of Mean Girls) and directed by Michael Lehmann, is perhaps the high school movie that always gets the last laugh. Coming at the tail-end of decade’s worth of John Hughes-scented Brat Pack starrers, Heathers’s snarky, stinging atmosphere of cutting high school politics is attractively subversive, a sinful lark with murder on the mind and getting ahead in the heart.
In its land of backstabbing and frantic social-climbing, to be soft is a losing characteristic — and the film doesn’t make the mistake of getting flowery, either. Unapologetically dark and leaning toward the meaner side of things, it highlights the barbarousness that undoubtedly wreaks havoc on even the smallest of American high schools and doesn’t much care if its callous messages leave a bad taste in one’s mouth.
Because in our youth, maybe sometimes we did want to get rid of the pretty, self-important rulers of the land that made life harder than it ha to be. Maybe sometimes we had to temporarily undercut our morals for the sake of fitting in. The film, of course, takes those vulnerabilities and melodramatically emphasizes them to the point of nightmarish screwball.
But that’s what makes it so brilliant. And because the screenplay is so infested with dialogue sharp enough to sever a man’s head and because it arguably serves as the ultimate precursor to such teen movie classics as Clueless and Mean Girls, it’s an irresistible lampooning of high school culture. It also features an amiable, star-making performance from Winona Ryder. Heathers makes all the right moves and, as a result, cuts deep. A