Heathers (dir. Michael Lehmann) is one of my personal favorite films, but I find it quite difficult to explain. Often described as a precursor to Clueless and Mean Girls, I believe this black comedy is barely comparable to any other teen film. Underneath all the candy-colored satire and profane dialogue is a dark reality of high school life. Heathers is daring, provocative, and bitterly caustic—and it would not have been made today.
Enter Veronica Sawyer (played incisively by Winona Ryder), an intelligent girl whisked into the most popular clique at Westerburg High that is comprised of three girls all named Heather. She is the odd one out and the only member capable of harboring empathy to those around her. Veronica falls for the new kid J.D. (Christian Slater), a brooding psychopath, and the couple unintentionally begins to make suicide popular.
Heathers was a scathing response to the “very special issue” episodes of the 80’s that took advantage of teen suicide to propagate their own stereotypical illusion of teen angst. After Veronica and J.D. inadvertently kill the alpha Heather that had ruled the halls as a downright bully and frame it as a suicide, she is falsely immortalized as a sweet, deeply confused girl that everyone in the school admired. In the words of Veronica, suicide gave Heather depth. Her forged suicide note is even plastered in a “special” spread of the yearbook, erasing the alpha of her meanness and replacing it with the creative flair of a troubled American teenager. The clueless teachers and parents are also heavily satirized—the eccentric Ms. Fleming exploits the “suicides” as an opportunity to gather all the students in the cafeteria, clasping hands in some kind of televised spiritual ritual of togetherness: “We need to connect this cafeteria into one mighty circuit! Look! Here’s the TV crew! Clap your hands!” Everyone joins in to the ridiculous chaos, despite having absolutely no care. A students tells the teacher, “I need a copy of [this event] by Monday for my Princeton application.” Meanwhile, Veronica’s simpleminded parents can only worry about Veronica’s date to prom and if she wants to eat some pâté.
Heathers is the black comedy of the 80’s, and still reigns supreme more than 25 years later. A piece so dark, edgy, and wickedly sarcastic is bound to gain such a massive cult following. As J.D. would say, the extreme always seems to make an impression.