Heathers is a cult classic ten years ahead of its time. Think Mean Girls (2004) meets Full Metal Jacket (1987) and you’ll begin to scratch the surface of this epically dark comedy. In fact, the script was meant for Stanley Kubrick and is, as such, over the top and grandiose. Perhaps the greatest High School comedy of all time, Heathers is satire of the highest caliber.
Winona Ryder, in in first post-Beeltejuice (1988) role delivers insane, acerbic dialogue that would be lost on a lesser talent. Also starring are Shannen Doherty at her caustic best and Christian Slater as an anarchist heartthrob that turns out to be a school shooter.
The plot is equally eerily relevant and hilarious, distilling high-school hatred into violent satire. The elite glamour girls of Westurburg High are the Heathers including Heather Chandler, Heather McNamara, Heather Duke (Doherty) and our hero Veronica Sawyer (Ryder). The rebellious J.D. enters the scene firing pistols in the cafeteria and Veronica’s days as a Heather are over. When J.D. tricks Veronica into killing the Heathers’ ringleader by faking a suicide a dangerous fad begins. Suddenly all the kids at Westerberg are offing themselves in an attempt to be cool, J.D. pulling the strings like a diabolical propagandist. No clique is left uncut by the razors edge of writer Daniel Waters plot; homophobic football jocks, anorexic waifs, pimply geeks and polo wearing preppies are all equally skewered.
Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the film is dialogue, which, having been completely invented from thin air, remains timeless and undated. Lines such as: “Betty Finn was a true friend and I sold her out for a bunch of Swatch dogs and Diet Coke heads” and “Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?” are puzzling yet accurately descriptive. So dedicated was the writer that one could fashion an entire language from the slang in Heathers. This is the horrific, unknown world of the teenager circa the late 1980’s yet, somehow universal and entirely fictional. The film is full of these astonishingly funny one-liners, most memorable among them a mourning father weeping, “My son’s a homosexual and I love him. I love my dead gay son.”
Relevant now more than ever, in a world that has seen the ColumbineHigh School tragedy televised and youth becoming further entrenched in mystery, Heathers makes one laugh at the absurdity of it all. Heathers is the sort of extreme, politically incorrect cinema that just cannot be produced today but is so sorely needed. The chilling conceit at the center of Heathers is that, indeed, violence and self-harm leave more of a lasting impression than friendship and kindness. Only a film as expertly written as Heathers could handle such a dark premise, still remain funny and bring the viewer out at the end believing in the goodness of people. It’s high school opera at its finest, using teenage characters as the primordial American ideal throwing them into a dark night of the soul, forcing them emerge stronger.
Director: Michael Lehmann
Writer: Daniel Waters
Stars: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty
Release Date: 17 November 1989 (UK)