Heathers


Dir: Michael Lehmann
Star: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannon Doherty, Lisanne Falk

Trash City
Top 50 Film
The passage of time has not exactly softened the impact of Heathers. It came out more than a decade before Columbine, and largely predates the issue of high-school student violence. Certainly, seeing JD (Slater), brooding in his long black trenchcoat and plotting the deaths of his entire school, has a different, darker resonance now, in these post-Trenchcoat Mafia days. It's a quite marvellous script by Daniel Waters, portraying a vision of high-school as an intensely socially-segregated hell, with a ringing resonance even to those, like me, whose education was on a different continent. The dialogue is sharply inventive in a way of which Diablo Cody could only dream, and one wonders why it wasn't even nominated for an Academy Award [the Oscar that year instead going to - and I think I just threw up a little in my mouth - Dead Poets Society].

The casting is equally impeccable: one wonders what might have happened had some of the other possibilities gone through, such as Justine Bateman and Brad Pitt as the leads. Much credit also to Frances Kenny's marvellous, colour-drenched cinematography of Westerburg High, which operates under the psychological dictatorship of the three Heathers (Doherty, Falk and Kim Walker - the last-named died of a brain tumour in 2001, rendering her infamous line, "Did you have a brain tumour for breakfast?" deeply ironic). However, a spoke is about to be thrown in their menstrual-cycle, in the shape of JD, who seduces fringe acolyte Veronica (Ryder) away to the dark side. One semi-accidental poisoning and two much less accidental shootings later, and teenage suicide is the biggest thing ever at the school. And it's only the start of JD's plans, even if New Line nixed Waters' original ending, with the prom in heaven. That would have been amazing, and very, very wrong. Instead, it's simply amazing.

Curiously, neither Waters nor Lehmann have ever produced anything since of even comparable merit (though the former's brother, Mark, would go on to direct the very similar Mean Girls). It seems this was simply one of those happy coincidences of the planets, where everything came into conjunction. There is certainly no better way to put a full-stop on the high-school flicks which permeated the decade, with its complete rejection of popularity through conformity.

A
[February 2010]

What we said then. [4] Veronica (Ryder) is in with the in crowd, but doesn't want to be. Egged on by JD (Slater), she poisons one and then finds things are getting out of hand. Described everywhere as 'black', I felt it was a little tastefully done; only one sequence hit really low, where Veronica and JD execute two jocks and make it look like a homosexual love pact, after the jocks claim to "have had a sword-fight" in Veronica's mouth. How much of this is due to studio intervention is uncertain - they insisted on a less bleak ending than the director wanted, where Veronica blew herself up! Still, nicely acted Slater's been watching old Jack Nicholson movies and Ryder is fine too, but Shannon Doherty as Green Heather out-acts (and out-cutes!) her, transforming from meek to bitchy when opportunity knocks. Teenage angst with a body count. 7/10

[6] Suffering deja vu? Yes, it was reviewed in TC4, when I expressed disappointment that it wasn't black enough. I recently saw it again, and enjoyed it a lot more, possibly because I had different, more accurate expectations; although I'm still not happy with the ending, and dialogue that borders on the unintelligible occasionally, the lovely camerawork, good acting and a vicious streak a mile wide more than compensate. If perhaps I'm being swayed slightly by lust for Shannon Doherty and Winona Ryder, who cares? Upgraded to 9/10


They're people I work with, 
and our job is being popular and shit

The extreme always seems to make an impression.
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