1988, Movies

Heathers (1988, Michael Lehmann)

At some point when I was younger, I told myself I had watched Heathers though I either confused it with some other ’80s movie featuring Christian Slater and/or Wynona Ryder or I saw five minutes of it and decided that that counted. Anyway, I had definitely not seen Heathers.

This movie is bonkers both in terms of its content and in terms of its style. It’s safe to say that this movie could not be made now or basically any time in post Columbine America. In terms of dark comedies with risky subjects, this feels on the level of Dr. Strangelove or Team America.

Stylistically, it is pretty out there for a “teen comedy” – the colours are all insanely bright, and close-ups are super close and the cuts are very obvious, sometimes crazy jump cuts. There’s this heightened sense of unreality – maybe a little uncanny valley – to the style of the film, especially when Winona Ryder’s character and her dad repeat lines.

What really impresses me is the film’s edge: the teens all swear constantly, something we know teens do but which American teen movies, marketed to teens, don’t normally allow. And the Heathers truly are awful to everyone, as the cool kids are to other kids in every high school.

And then, of course, there’s the murder. There are other teen movies with murder in them, but I’m not sure there’s one with murder this cruel. (There are horror movies with teens committing murder, but not a “teen movie” like this sort of is.)

And speaking of cruel, I’m not sure there’s another teen heartthrob as awful as JD. He’s absolutely crazy but you think she’s still going to end up with him. And it’s the height of subversion of the American teen movie that the two outsiders in love don’t end up together.

There are lots of quotable lines – “I love my dead gay son” – and there are a lot of nice touches. To pick one: JD and his dad talk to each other in cliches but with their roles reversed. It’s amusing but also perverse and a good way of letting you know they’re not normal.

I can’t believe it took me this long to see this movie.


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