Review: Heathers (1989)
In an age of dumb, painful-to-watch teen comedies, watching Heathers today should be a refreshing interlude. And the film is, but it’s temporary.
Heathers, released in 1989, has been billed as a great teen black comedy. Teen murder and suicide are the perfect set-up material for punch lines until the movie offers a moral to its story.
And the film’s story is complete with all the necessary clichés for a comedy set in a high school. The movie first focuses on the popular and cruel clique of Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) and three girls named Heather. The group is, of course, called ‘the Heathers.’ After those four girls are introduced, we meet the rest of the two-dimensional cast: the dumb, sex-hungry jocks; the ugly girl; the nerds wearing glasses.
Then we meet the new-in-school, anti-hero played by Christian Slater, Jason Dean—a sort of Columbo come cowboy with a penchant for black clothing and killing popular students only to cover up the murders as suicides. Sawyer becomes Dean’s unknowing thrill kill partner and both go on a spree.
At the double funeral for the killing duo’s second and third victims, Sawyer has a moral reawakening, which causes Heathers to take a step off its ledge and plummet to the concrete below.
But until then, director Michael Lehmann’s film was shooting on target. All the people we hated in high school were getting what they deserved even if it wasn’t in our high school.
From the wide-padded-shoulder jackets to the spandex body suits to the horrible slang (“How very,” and “What is your damage?”), Heathers wears the 1980s proudly if not painfully.
Also painful is Slater’s weak performance as Dean. While the rest of the cast manage to convincingly portray simple archetypes, Slater annoys with his twangy voice and mannerisms. Maybe that was Slater’s character or maybe Slater can’t act—no evidence exists to contradict either.
Despite Slater’s performance, the film’s real failing is when Sawyer decides that killing all the horrible but popular people in her school is wrong. No, really? Sawyer dumps her sociopath boyfriend, Dean, and is determined to stop him from killing again.
This plot twist kills this supposed black comedy. The moral lessons are already built into the irony of the jokes. Sawyer doing the ‘right thing’ and stopping the killing spree isn’t needed.
The last 40 minutes play as if Lehmann felt his audience would take the comedy seriously and therefore, he needed to inject a moral lesson. But the moral lesson dulls the film’s edge.
For a movie about making an ultimate commitment like suicide, Heathers, ultimately, isn’t willing to commit to being a black comedy. It turns into the joke that silences the room.
Above was the last reporting assignment for the year. Heavy lifting, indeed.
More to come later.