I would not be fooled by the quiet demeanor of this films presentation, it is no ordinary teen comedy which is why I have chosen it for a review. First take the look on Winona Ryder’s face in the image displayed above, and then listen to the opening song of the musical version of this film. This is a black comedy, not a teen comedy, and little did I know what I was in for when I clicked play on Netflix. Heathers (Lehmann, 1988) is very different to your average teen comedy. A genre going back as far as Rebel Without a Cause (Ray, 1955) and amounts a list across the decades including Grease (Kleiser, 1978), Footloose (Ross, 1984), The Breakfast Club (Hughes, 1985), Clueless (Heckerling, 1995), American Pie (Weitz, 1999), Mean Girls (Waters, 2004), and Easy A (Gluck, 2010). This is just a snapshot, and while none of these are Hollywood blockbusters (closest would be Grease or Footloose), they each attempt to offer a glimpse into American high school culture in each decade. Whether these fictitious representations are in any way accurate is not for me to determine, as I only have the experience of an Irish Secondary which is quite different. Well, different is a strong word, maybe less highly strung than the films I have named. Of course, these films are highly dramatized representations as well. Like many films of the teen genre, Heathers (Lehmann, 1988) did not amount very much at the box office, but like many movies of its kind in the 80’s went on to become a cult classic.
The film follows the story of Veronica Sawyer, played by Winona Ryder as she attempts to find a path through the maze of high school culture in her junior year. Enter her ‘friends’, the Heathers: Heather Chandler (the ‘Queen Bee’), Heather McNamara, and Heather Duke (played by Shannen Doherty and suffers from bulimia). Veronica’s friendship with them is purely based on her forgery ability, as she used this to become friends with them to make her high school life easier, even though she really hates the Heathers. She longs to be with her old friends again, though there aren’t popular. This is first seen at lunch time in the opening scenes, as the Heathers get Veronica to forge a note from one of the jocks to Martha Dunnstock. Veronica insists that she has nothing against Martha, but Heather C says she has nothing for her either, and gets her to write the note. This leads to Martha being laughed out of the cafeteria by the jocks and the Heathers, much to Veronica’s dismay as she looks on.
She is spotted by Jason ‘J.D.’ Dean played by Christian Slater, too which she ultimately begins a relationship with after being humiliated at a frat party by Heather C by choosing not to have sex and for vomiting. J.D. comes up with the idea of getting revenge on Heather, and himself and Veronica break into her house. They fill a cup with drain cleaner and get her to drink it when she wakes up, telling her it is for her hangover. Heather C dies in front of them, and J.D. tells Veronica to forge a suicide note leading to a domino effect for the rest of the film. J.D. and Veronica predict that no one would miss her, but the opposite occurs with Heather C becoming a school martyr and Heather Duke stepping into her place.The film explodes at this point, in composing many important social issues such as suicide and homophobia. Two of the jocks spread a humour after Heather C’s death, that Veronica performed oral sex on both of them on the night of the party. In effect, Veronica and J.D. kill both of them in the woods and make them out to be secret lovers. Two high school jocks in love, not understood by society, and commit suicide together. Once again, they become martyrs against homophobia after their deaths, much to Veronica and J.D.’s dismay. Suicide attempts spread across the high school with Martha walking out into traffic, and Heather Mc is stopped from taking pills in the girls bathroom by Veronica. All the events lead to Veronica breaking up with J.D. as she attempts to deal with what she has done. The rest of the movie deals with the aftermath of these events.
The darkness of this movie is not one you would so easily find in a movie of its genre. Hence is why it is labeled as black comedy, and not so much as a teen comedy. It unravels many important issues which are still harsh realities in the 21st Century. Suicide, homophobia, bullying, popularity are still topics that we hear everyday in schools, in daily life, on the news, and throughout the world. On the other hand, it is quite the entertaining movie from the dramatic and humorous point of views, even if one doesn’t delve too heavily into the thematic elements. In essence, Heathers attempts to unravel not only teenage issues, but also human issues in a way which is unparalleled. It does this through the abuse of such issues, in a way which only serves to heighten awareness. The themes can be looked upon in the movies mentioned at the beginning of this review, and it could be ascertained how they change through the generations. If you are watching Heathers for a teen genre laugh, black comedy humour, for the social issues, thriller aspect, or just plain dramatic entertainment, I would recommend it.
‘What is your damage?’
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