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Monday, March 18, 2013

My Favourite Movies: Heathers

I’m sure that Heathers was pretty much written and produced as an anti-John Hughes film. It is the very opposite of sickly sweet movies such as 16 Candles and Some Kind of Wonderful. It has all of the same elements that we know and love from the seemingly endless series of 1980’s teen High School dramas – the girl that tries to fit in with the top clique despite the fact that she’s smarter than the rest of them combined (in this case played by Winona Ryder), the bad boy biker who has spent his life moving from school to school (an early typecasting for Christian Slater), the beautiful girls (all rather confusingly called Heather!) that everyone wants to join or to fuck and most people hate, the jocks who terrorise the Geeks and think that the height of culture is a touchdown and a brewski, the uncaring parents and the confused teachers…. You know the drill, we’ve all seen it a hundred times before – but in this case, almost from the outset, it’s clear that we haven’t seen it all before. Heathers is darker, funnier and much more twisted than any other brat-pack movie before and probably since. The difference with this movie is that the teens with the angst – Veronica (Ryder) and her new boyfriend JD (Slater) – decide to do something about it rather than simply complain, bitch and eventually fall in love with real people rather than the image they wanted to at the beginning of the movie.

After a particularly bitchy episode Veronica decides to get her own back on one of the Heathers by making her puke after a night out. JD has other ideas and substitutes milk and orange juice for drain-o causing Heather to drop dead on the spot. When Veronica forges a pithy suicide note Heather becomes a school hero who exhibited hidden depths and hidden pains behind her confident façade. Confused by this turn of events Veronica and JD decide to stage a double suicide of a pair of bully jocks who apparently killed themselves because of their inability to ‘come out’ as gay lovers in an uncaring world. When they too are effectively canonised by the school JD flies into a rage and Veronica suddenly sees what he is capable of. It’s at this point that she needs to make a decision – does she follow JD on his trail of destruction or does she try to stop him if she can.

This is probably a film that probably couldn’t be made today and certainly not as a comedy. The image of students gunning down their fellows or simply pulling a gun in the cafeteria to make some jocks piss their pants just wouldn’t make it on to the screen in today’s politically charged climate. I don’t know if school shootings where unknown back then or maybe they were rare enough so that making fun of them really wasn’t considered to be in questionable taste (at best). The film is an 18 Certificate probably for the swearing and at least some of the content. It is not, to be honest, a great film or actually a particularly good film especially taken out of its historical and cultural context. After all it was directed by Michael Lehmann – the person who brought you Hudson Hawk (but then again he did go on to direct 14 episodes of True Blood and a few episodes of Dexter). What it stands out as being is a rather crude but fairly well made riposte to the John Hughes style of teen movie (which actually I had a lot of time for back then). Seen in that context it did its job well enough sending up the genre in some style. If you are or have been a fan of John Hughes in particular it will be worth seeing this movie just to see how successfully Lehmann has twisted the ideas that Hughes made his name with in a whole new and much darker direction. 


dbackdad said...

I love Heathers. It is the very definition of a classic "black comedy". While I do agree it couldn't be made today, I don't think you are giving it enough credit. It is, at least, a very good film.

The movie was a perfect snapshot of the unfortunate thinking at the time ... that your popularity often spiked after your death. People that despised you in life would find depths of compassion for you after your demise. Why the movie works is that nothing much has changed. I just watched this movie in the last couple of months and I find it still resonates, though the medium has changed (notes then, social media now).

And on top of my fondness for the movie in general, I definitely had a thing for Winona Ryder.

CyberKitten said...

I think I made the mistake of comparing a now fairly dated film to my memory of how much I enjoyed it back in 1988. It's still watchable but I think it has lost a lot of its edge (not surprisingly) in the intervening years.

Totally agree about Ms Ryder [grin]