Heathers

3 out of 5

Directed by: Michael Lehmann

Heathers was one of those cult films that was missing from my film education.  As I started to stretch out in the world of movies in the 90s, I learned enough about the film to understand its status, and to recognize when quotes were taking from it, but when it would play on constant repeat next to P.C.U. on Comedy Central, I would end up watching the latter, and flipping past the former.  I’d get to it eventually, I figured.  And now I have.  My life: unchanged.  But that seems fitting, giving Heathers m.o. to maintain the status quo.

Michael Lehmann’s first film definitely has a lot going for it: Winona Ryder again proves why she was such a highlight during the era, able to mix in a teenage tossed-off attitude with notes of concern and contemplation that make her capable of crossing the line between a stereotype and sympathetic character; Christian Slater’s squinty-eyed whine may be a somewhat annoying shtick, but he’s perfectly cast as rebel J.D.; Lehmann mixes in a fanciful color palette and forced perspectives enough to give the film a particular flavor but not so much to make it seem too stylized; and the movie’s blase attitude toward its string of murders – perpetuated by Ryder’s Veronica and J.D. against offensive kids at their school and then masked as suicides – is amusing.  Daniel Waters’ script, and the tone of the movie, also take an interesting stance on a general (but absurdly expressed) ‘no one understands us’ teen movie theme, by jabbing the viewer, here and there, with level-setters, reminding us that no one ‘gets’ one another, and that we’re all generally guilty of wanting to grab on to social mores to keep us grounded.  But it’s also seeped in its own cynicism in that the movie doesn’t care enough to dig too deep into this, landing on its central suicide/murder quirk and then turning it into something of a low-key thriller as J.D. becomes more unhinged and Veronica more conflicted; in taking snipes at both sides of the argument, it loses any defining motivation, and reminds me of why I’d often flip past the movie: any given scene, from start to finish, has the same even-keeled sensibility to it.  You can drop in and get the gist at any point.

Heather is the name of the other girls in Veronica’s clique, who are replaceable – swap one for the other – popular icons at the school.  The movie explores this concept with a smirk, but, for the most part, the Heathers fall out of importance in the story relatively early on.  It’s a meta joke, or it’s not, and the movie continues to shrug at us with that same, easy-going smirk.