Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Short Cut Movie Review: Heathers

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

I once saw the near-deification of a teenager who had died in an accident involving tremendous stupidity. It was undeoubtedly tragic for his family and no one should have to go through that, but it was also disconcerting to see the outpouring of grief, memorials, and bad poetry for someone whom most people thought was a real jerk and a bully. I bring this up because I was reminded of it watching Heathers, the 1989 cult classic black comedy about teenage suicide and murder.

What the movie understands is how people who are viewed with skepticism or even scorn I life, are idolized in death. Heather Chandler (Kim Walker) is the self-anointed leader of the most popular clique in school, comprised of herself, two other Heathers played by Lisanne Falk and Shannen Doherty, and Veronica (Winona Ryder). She’s depicted as a genuinely superficial and unsympathetic person and when she’s murdered (with the cover up making it look like suicide) she becomes more popular than ever. The same happens to two football heroes – guys who have virtually no redeeming qualities among a list that includes bullying, harassment, violence, aggression, stupidity, and date rape. Considering the goal of Veronica and her brooding, rebellious, black trench coat-earing boyfriend J.D. (Christian Slater, finely honing his Nicholson schtick) was to make them out to be fools and show the school who these people really were, it’s mildly irritating to them.

But that’s part and parcel of the satire in Daniel Waters’ debut screenplay, which I discovered twenty years after last seeing this movie is not all it’s cracked up to be or all I thought it was back then. The campiness, the dramatic dialogue, and the overacting (under the direction of Michael Lehmann) I suppose are meant to infuse the movie with a string of winks at the audience. Take note: you’re not to take this too seriously. Yet the subject matter is clearly designed to comment on teenage social mores and the attitudes of the adults surrounding them, represented by the naïvely disconnected parents of Veronica and the completely out of touch conference room of teachers discussing how to handle the death of the school’s most popular student.

Heathers really hasn’t aged well (for me at least) and just doesn’t hold up as social satire 24 years later. Frankly, I found most of the film rather embarrassing to sit through, boring enough that I was tempted to switch it off after thirty minutes, and left me incredulous as to how I could have liked it even as a teenager.

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