'80s Movie Month: "Heathers" Review

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Heathers is a 1988 black comedy-coming of age film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. The film portrays four girls — three of whom are named Heather — in a clique at a fictional Ohio high school.[1]

'80s Movie Month: "Heathers" Review

Rating: R
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: Mar. 31, 1989
Directed by: Michael Lehmann
Genre: Comedy

"Heathers" is a dark comedy about life in high school. It has the jocks, the nerds, the stoners, and, of course, the popular girls. At Westerburg High, three of these girls have the same name: Heather. The Heathers appear to take pity on Veronica by considering her a friend. Veronica (Winona Ryder) hates these friends; although they are popular, they are mean. She finds herself caught between her need to be popular with the mean girls and her desire to be nice to those who are not popular. It all starts to come to a head when the lead Heather treats Veronica's old and true friend Betty Finn (Renée Estevez) poorly. Heather then drags Veronica into setting up Martha Dunnstock (Carrie Lynn) into believing she received a love letter from a jock. It's not long before Veronica realizes Martha never deserved this treatment when she sees others laughing at Martha's expense. This sentiment is confirmed when she looks up to see J.D. (Christian Slater), the new guy in town, shrugging his shoulders in dismay at the sad scene.

Veronica vents her hatred for the Heathers in her diary but doesn't express it aloud until she starts dating J.D. He's a loner with a bad-boy attitude, and she opens up to him. Still, she feels she has to work at being popular to get along with the Heathers. One night, she goes with Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), the leader of the pack, to Remington University for a party. Once there, things go terribly wrong. Apparently, Heather is willing to go a bit further to satisfy her college boyfriend while Veronica is not. This is all too much for Heather who threatens Veronica by telling her she will never have any friends again. As payback, Veronica decides to make her sick, but J.D. suggests that Heather deserves to die. Duped into drinking a concoction made of drain cleaner by J.D. and Veronica, Heather dies.

After the funeral of Heather Chandler, Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk) asks Veronica to help her out by going on a double date with Kurt (Lance Fenton) and Ram (Patrick Labyorteaux). After another night of what could only be referred to as dating torture, Veronica finds out that Kurt and Ram have attempted to make her look bad at school. She hears nasty gossip about the double date and thinks many of her fellow students believe the rumors. Another revenge plot ensues, and there are two more alleged suicides in Westerburg High. In short, the bullies in this town are not safe anymore. As the town mourns the most recent suicides, Veronica realizes she is a pawn in a sinister plot by J.D., which may involve her own demise. In the end, the ill-fated lovers become opponents, and only one will survive.

Ryder is exceptional as Veronica Sawyer, a malcontent teen who doesn't know trouble until she dates him. She exhibits the need to feel popular and the torment of a misunderstood teenager perfectly. Slater is notable as Jason "J.D." Dean and offers a flawless performance as a degenerate troublemaker. He is completely believable as the newcomer, the loner, and the bad boy who has no problem catching the eye of one of the popular girls. Meanwhile, Shannen Doherty, known for her cruel roles, rises to the occasion in her part as Heather Duke. The characters in "Heathers" will make you laugh at the ridiculousness of high school dynamics. It's a black comedy and is worth seeing.

"Heathers" received five award nominations and three award wins in 1989 and 1990. It received a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic Category at the Sundance Film Festival in 1989. In addition, "Heathers" received a nomination for the Critics Award at the Deauville Film Festival that same year. Furthermore, it won a Special Mention under the festival title "Lethal Attraction" for Ryder's acting at the Torino International Festival of Young Cinema, and in 1990, Ryder received a Best Actress nomination from the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards. At the 1990 Independent Spirit Awards, "Heathers" received nominations for Best First Feature, Best Female Lead, and Best Screenplay, and it won the award for Best First Feature. Lastly, "Heathers" won Best Motion Picture at the Edgar Allan Poe Awards in 1990.

"Heathers" is a story of revenge and justice with a comedic-macabre flair. It offers the typical high school angst along with the not-so-typical fantasy of how a teen may wish to respond. "Heathers" is a teen's imagination gone wild.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5