A Lifetime In Film: 1988 #11 Heathers

Review:

Although I didn’t fall head over heels for it, I have to admit that Heathers has everything. It says pretty much all that needs to be said about coming of age during one’s high school years and especially concentrates around how teenage suicide is perceived by both students and adults. This film could have been made yesterday, and it would still address many of the trials and tribulations that high school teenagers face, in a very precise manner.

The story of Veronica (Winona Ryder at her best), a popular and intelligent girl who is part of the Heathers clique (made up of her and three other girls all named Heather), meeting just arrived outsider Jason (Christian Slater), is more than what the premise might suggest. Jason inspires Veronica to abandon her clique, and become someone totally different, with interesting, violent, and sometimes even funny consequences.

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What the film does is not just offer multi-dimensional characters, it’s screenplay (written by Daniel Waters) also has many dimensions. The actions the characters take surprised me in almost every scene, and in that way the film very deftly keeps the viewer on edge. Everyone is unpredictable, there are no clear protagonists or antagonists, seemingly throwaway lines hold a lot of thematic meaning, and most of all the screenplay unflinchingly addresses such difficult topics as homophobia, suicide, parental neglect, bad teachers, and mass murder in schools.

So why didn’t I absolutely fall in love with it? Because the film is not very well directed. Michael Lehmann makes his directorial debut with Heathers, and it is at best an unsure one. I often was not sold on the character motivations, as little work was done to explain why they would do what they end up doing. And while some will point to the film’s climax as the moment all the plot threads come together and all the characters show their real selves, sadly that’s not what actually happens. This is a film that has a clear unambiguous ending, and yet we still don’t quite know how it all got here. Perhaps this is on purpose, but it did leave me a little let down at the end. Nevertheless, it is a film that pretty much lives up to the hype and it must be seen to be believed. B

Legacy:

It has become something of a cult favorite, one would think because of how ‘adult’ it is. With very strong language (“Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw.” one of the Heathers proclaims in the first 10 minutes of the film), violence, and strong thematic elements, the film lacks the lighter John Hughes touch that would have made it a mainstream classic. Most of the actors including Ryder, Slater and Shannen Doherty went on to have great careers in Hollywood. Writer Waters and director Lehmann went on to have spotty careers, with Hudson Hawk a career lowlight for both of them.

Next I will be watching the Eddie Murphy comedy classic Coming to AmericaSee you then!

Previous posts in series:

Announcement
1988 Introduction
1988 #15: The Great Outdoors
1988 #14: Time of the Gypsies
1988 #13: Bull Durham
1988 #12: A Short Film About Love

8 thoughts on “A Lifetime In Film: 1988 #11 Heathers

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