Film Review: Heathers (1989)

Also known as: Fatal Game, Lethal Attraction, Westerberg High (working titles)
Release Date: January, 1989 (Sundance)
Directed by: Michael Lehmann
Written by: Daniel Waters
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker, Penelope Milford, Glenn Shadix, Renee Estevez

Cinemarque Entertainment, New World Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. Do I look like Mother Teresa?” – Heather Chandler

When I saw this around 1990, when it hit VHS for the first time, I was pretty blown away by it. I was also eleven years-old and this was some pretty heavy stuff. But by that point, I already saw Christian Slater and Winona Ryder as two of the coolest young actors in Hollywood.

I probably watched Heathers a half dozen times in my youth but it’s now been decades since I’ve revisited it.

Seeing it with pretty fresh eyes, I think the film has aged really well and it is still effective, even if it was made as a sort of “fuck you” to the overly positive and cliche high school movies of the ’80s, specifically the John Hughes ones.

I can’t quite say that this is as good as my memory’s impression of it but I definitely enjoyed it and thought that it was a really well executed black comedy about teen angst in a decade that tried to gloss over some of the real issues young people faced at the time. But it is also a critique on the young yuppie lifestyle that was promoted in lots of the teen films of the era.

That’s not to say that this film was an original concept. These ideas have been explored before its existence but Heathers does it so well that it is the one film people seem to remember the most when it comes to expressing these ideas.

The first act of the film is damn near perfection. However, the second act is a bit of a slog and it seems to lose some of its momentum.

As an adult, you also see Winona Ryder’s character much differently. Where I found her relatable in my youth, you kind of see that she’s pretty much just an evil asshole like her boyfriend. She could’ve gone to the cops, she could’ve stopped him pretty early on in the story. However, she goes along for the ride and somehow turns out to be the hero in the end. Additionally, a lot of the moral dilemmas weren’t things I really dwelled on as much at eleven years-old when watching an edgy movie that felt cool.

The finale was decent but I feel like the climax sort of doesn’t live up to the amount of chaos this picture tried to build up. However, I don’t know how keen ’80s audiences would’ve been on a film that blows up a school with all the kids still inside.

Heathers is really good though, despite my more adult take on it, thirty-ish years later. It resonated with its fans for a reason and even if it bombed in the theater, it definitely deserves the cult status it quickly achieved after it came out on VHS and the word spread. 

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: things that ripped it off like Jawbreaker and Mean Girls.

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