a critiQal film review Heathers (1989)

Plot: Veronica (Ryder) has ditched her old friends to become one of the "Heathers" - the most popular clique in high school. Unfortunately, she's discovered she can't stand them. When mysterious new guy J. D. (Slater) suggests a way to get even, she's all for it. At least, until the bodies start piling up.

Reviewed
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  • ...the tragedies of Columbine and the like have turned this dark comedy classic into a film that rings a rather sour note these days.

A film like Heathers has lost a lot over the decades. In the 80’s, I can remember this film becoming an instant dark comedy classic that helped the rise of Christian and Winona’s stars – not to mention “Beverly Hills, 90210” (TV) star Shannen Doherty on the beginning of her infamous road to fame.

Watching Heathers again hadn’t really crossed my mind until one evening Heather mentioned she had never seen the film with her name. Fondly remembering the dark comedy classic from the 80’s, I immediately sought to rectify the situation. Soon after, I sat down with Heather to watch Heathers again – for the first time in about 15 years.

Watching Heathers again, it’s hard to imagine how this film helped increase Christian Slater and Winona Ryder’s incredible popularity in the 80’s. Their acting in the film just wasn’t that good. Christian Slater does an okay job with his rather simplistic character, but the script really limits what he’s able to do. It is nice to see him trying to expand his repertoire by taking on a different, more sinister character than people are used to seeing him play – it’s just the wrong movie to do it in.

Winona, on the other hand, never really has shown she actually deserves the popularity she once had (pre-shoplifting), and this movie is no exception. Beetlejuice (1988) (also back in the 80’s) was probably the crowning achievement of her career, and every other movie hasn’t shown anything better from her. She tries (a little bit) to get into her character, but she always seems to have some inner demons, and they conflict with her ability to relay to the audience what she wants to. Thus, the viewer is left confused and slightly disappointed for most of her performance.

Shannen Doherty shows a little bit of the infamous Brenda from “90210” (TV) that she would become, but in such a naive and innocent way, the viewer can tell she’s just feeling her way down the beginning of that dark path.

The plot, at the time, was a refreshingly original dark comedy dream. Sick of the popular kids? Kill ’em. Kids’ll eat it up. Back then, refreshing, original, and something so nuts it would never happen, so it was safe, harmless fun. Since the 80’s, however, school shootings have made the news more times than one would care to count, and killing classmates like in Heathers just isn’t something Americans today joke about.

With that in the back of our heads these days, Heathers loses a lot of it’s dark comedy appeal, striking just a bit too close to home for most people nowadays. What was funny back then has turned into an almost eerie precognition of what was lying in wait for society as a whole. The tragedies of Columbine and the like have turned this dark comedy classic into something much different – a comedy of incredibly bad taste that will most likely leave a sour note in most viewer’s minds.

Sadly, due to the tragic school shootings this nation has been witness to, Heathers has degenerated from instant classic into poor taste schlock. Watching it today will not bring the chuckles you remember, but rather a sad note at the way society has changed since that comparatively carefree time.

Then, we lived in a world where MTV was new, yuppies were hitting the streets, and the internet was something still in the future. Now, our world is haunted by political goofs, and attacks that strike at the very heart of the nation. It’s a sad state of affairs we have gotten ourselves into, and Heathers is just one of the many victims caught in the crossfire.

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