Weird movie, does not appeal to everyone. I find it not that good, satire of teenage suicide with dark comedy
3.0/10. There’s an interesting line of thought that’s come up lately with the glut of remakes and reboots in recent years – instead of remaking good or even great films, films that make the most of their premises with great acting, direction, and storytelling, we should be remaking bad films with good ideas behind them. It’s unlikely to happen, because the reason films get remade and rebooted – specifically, that they represent a recognizable brand name studios hope will be enough to lure you into the theater on goodwill alone – suggest that bad films, even bad films with noteworthy premises or story ideas, won’t have the economic features that would convince the commercial side of moviemaking to redo them.
But if there’s ever been a film crying out for this very brand of remake, it’s Heathers. The film is notable enough that you’ve probably heard of it, or at least heard of other movies that followed in its wake. It’s not so close to people’s hearts that you’re likely to get the tired “ruined my childhood” backlash. And most of all, it has the kernel of a good idea – a dark comedy that satirizes the high school ecosystem and the reactions to teenage tragedy – but executes it in a godawful fashion.
The easiest flaws are in the dialogue and the acting. The film does its best to approximate teenspeak, with a motley assortment of cheesy slang that feels like am embryonic version of the same idea employed in Juno with about a tenth of the charm or delivery. Nobody in the film does a particularly good job of spitting out that nonsense.
Winona Ryder comes the closest as the film’s protagonist, but even the talented young actress can’t really muster up the conviction to make the hammy exchanges that are the film’s stock-in-trade land. Opposite Ryder is Christian Slater, whose creepy bad boy routine is half-Jack Nicholson and half-Jonathan Taylor Thomas. He’s supposed to provide the film’s dark ballast, but his performance quickly crosses over into eye-roll territory. Between the weak writing and the hammy performances, anytime someone’s speaking the movie is nigh-excruciating.
The same issues infect the film’s tone. There’s a cartoony, almost dreamlike quality to the film, which works well enough for a satire that’s not meant to be taken too seriously. The problem becomes when the film wants you to connect with the characters and their emotional struggles. It’s difficult to buy into Veronica’s guilt over her role in the murder of her rivals when the whole effort feels pulled out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. It’s hard too to put too much stock in her having this grand realization about not turning her back on the nerds and geeks of the school when her relationship with Betty Finn is established solely through weak exposition. It’s hard to care much about the establishment and dissolution of Veronica’s relationship with J.D. when it happens in a flash of clichés and falls apart just as quickly.
There is, admittedly, something subversive about taking the idea of teens struggling within the Darwinian confines of high school and making that survival of the fittest contest literal. There’s also some darkly rich material about teenage tragedy being twisted and put on a pedestal by oblivious communities and the media outlets that serve them. But the latter is much better explored with more realism and conviction in films like World’s Greatest Dad and the former is drowned in a sea of broad performances and even weaker writing.
What’s more, the power of the subversion is lost in how shallow and cornball the movie’s take on these themes is. There’s no depth to the characters, with each standing as empty archetypes in a way that could work for a disposable teen comedy, but falters in one that is, at least purportedly, attempting to Say Something™. As transgressive as it is to depict teenagers brandish weapons and planting bombs in a high school, and as much as it shocks the conscience when watching the film in a post-Columbine world, Heathers wastes any power this imagery may have, any opportunity to really comment on the challenges high school students face within their social circles, by making its alleged subversiveness only skin deep, creating a film that’s awash in the hacky tropes and thin-characters it means to satirize. The result is a movie that’s filed with the surface-level details of something that really crosses boundaries, but lacks the substance or the maturity to use that to any meaningful end.
If there’s one thing to say in favor of this slog of a film, it’s that there’s a sense of visual flair to Heathers that helps mask its otherwise notable creative bankruptcy. The color-coding among the main characters makes for interesting costume choices and well-composed shots that create a candy-coated world and an array of bright, colorful images. At the same time, cinematographer Kenny Hill helps establish the dreamlike quality of the film by giving it an almost oversaturated, gauzy hue that contributes to the outsized tone of the film, however confused it may be. Given the film’s aesthetic merits and the lackluster quality of its script, Heathers may be a film best watched on mute.
Perhaps it suggests a lack of imagination to imagine Joss Whedon or David Robert Mitchell or Diablo Cody taking this same premise and spin Heathers director Michael Lehmann’s straw into gold. But for a film that’s such a misfire, there’s the germ of something worthwhile that Heathers only grazes over the course of the movie. In scenes where the unpopular, mostly silent Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock is bullied, is embarrassed, and seeks to find a way out, the film taps into the core of the destructive teenage experience it’s so desperately trying to grasp in the rest of the film’s runtime.
The day-to-day lives of highschoolers, and the peculiar social structures that emerge from young people trying to figure out who they are in relation to one another in that awkward stage between childhood and adulthood is rife for exploration and humor. The same is true of the way that the tragedies that befall teenagers are glamorized and fetishized. Unfortunately, all Heathers can offer on this front is a cheesy, poorly-written attempt to dig into the complexity and gallows humor of these subjects. Maybe someday, another director, another crew, and another cast can do them justice.
I love this movie, hadnt watched it in years, but I was 16 when it was first released. Far better than the sarcastic teen high school comedies that would follow, very dark humour, that works so well. Very quotable lines in the dialogue, always will be a top movie for me.
A complete load of crap.