Film Review: Heathers (1988)

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Director: Michael Lehmann

Starring: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater

Cert: 18

JD: “Greetings and salutations, are you a Heather?”

Veronica: “No I’m a Veronica”

The 1980’s, never has a decade produced so many iconic films. It was the era of questionable fashion, big hair, epic music and John Hughes films. The late and now legendary filmmaker defined a decade with big hits such as Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and The Breakfast Club. Then in 1988 a film came along that would change the teen movie genre forever. That film’s name is Heathers.

With its heightened representation of high school life, its profanity, unapologetic and somewhat deranged teens, a script dripping with witty irony and dark satire of teen angst. A film without which there would be no Freaky Friday (2003), no Mean Girls (2004) or Easy A (2010), a film that made Christian Slater and Winona Ryder huge stars and became a cult phenomenon. From its instantly recognisable and surreal opening sequence of the Heathers almost intentionally stepping on a flower bed of roses as they play Croquet in Veronica’s garden to the films explosive ending; Heathers will blow you away, literally.

At Westerberg high school in Sherwood, Ohio, (and it’s probably no coincidence that all off John Hughes’ films take place in the fictional town of Sherwood, Illinois) a group of three popular girls called the Heathers, because all their first names are Heather, rule the school and torment its population. The group’s newest member is Veronica Sawyer, though a member of the Heathers Veronica hates them and misses her old life. Enter the very handsome and mysterious loner Jason ‘JD’ Dean, the new kid who is a James Dean archetype (Christian Slater), even driving a motorcycle. JD catches Veronica’s eye in the food hall and thus beginning their intense and self-destructive love affair as they aim to bring down the Heathers.

“Our love is God, let’s go get a slushy.” JD

The screenplay for Heathers was written by Daniel Waters, who is the older brother of Mark Waters, who coincidently directed Freaky Friday and Mean girls. So it is no surprise that they share so much as the Heathers are the original mean girls. Under the direction of Michael Lehmann Heathers is somewhat visually surreal and accompanied by a unique soundtrack from David Newman, Heathers has an almost dreamlike feel.

The performances given by the then young teen cast is outstanding, and though Winona Ryder is perfect in the role of Veronica Sawyer, she can’t compete with the flawless Jack Nicholson inspired performance Slater turns in. Slater as JD is absolutely hypnotic giving us a character that is alluring and entertaining, yet unnerving at the same time. A character that slater has seemed to have tapped back into for his golden globe winning role as Mr Robot in Sam Esmail’s critically acclaimed new show Mr Robot (2015), which is definitely a must see.

With its reworking of the teen angst genre through heavy satire and irony, unquestionably marking the end of an era for the teen genre and leading the way for such nineties teen classics as Pump up the Volume (1990), Dazed and Confused (1993), Clueless (1995) and Empire Records (1995). Heathers is perhaps the most genius teen film of the 1980s and that’s saying something, I mean after all:

“The extreme always seems to make an impression.” JD


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