Imagine this premise for a movie- you have two high school students- one a reluctant member of the popular posse, another a jaded, sociopathic loner with an intense hatred for the popular kids. The two teenagers conspire together to kill the most ranked students in the school, and fake these murders as suicides. Did I mention that this is played for laughs, albeit very dark laughs?
That’s the plot of “Heathers”, a 1989 high school flick revolving around the various perils of high school politics. Everyone’s familiar with the movies in which the protagonist ditches their unpopular group of friends at the price of being popular, only to realize how shallow the popular crowd is. Well, “Heathers” opens where those kinds of stories end. Our protagonist, Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) is a recent addition of the “Heathers” clique at Westerburg High School, named after the three other members of the group- arrogant leader Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), cowardly cheerleader Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk), and bookish Heather Duke (Shannan Doherty), who secretly hopes to upstage Chandler as the head of the clique.
Veronica, however, only half-heartedly enjoys being popular, and resents the Heathers’ petty behaviour. She still routinely hangs out with her former best friend, Betty Finn (Renee Estevez). One day, Veronica bumps into new student and charismatic outcast, Jason Dean, AKA J.D. (Christian Slater). After confessing her disdain for her alleged friends, J.D. suggests that she take a “vacation” from her popular pursuits.
Veronica and J.D. sneak into Heather Chandler’s house, where they plan to prank her by making her throw up from a combination of milk and orange juice. Unbeknownst to Veronica, J.D.tricks her into picking up a container of liquid drainer, which promptly kills Chandler once she consumes it. A horrified Veronica insists that she never meant to literally kill Chandler, but J.D. calmly goads her into forging Chandler’s signature so as it’ll appear that underneath her prestigious social ranking, Chandler was unhappy with her lot.
Unfortunately, this works too well, as Chandler’s status as queen bee has risen since her demise, with the school newspaper dedicating a whole spread to her. After obnoxious school jocks Kurt (Lance Fenton) and Ram (Patrick Labyorteaux) spread lewd comments about Veronica, J.D. decides to teach them both a lesson the only way he seems capable of doing.
By this point, Veronica has had enough of J.D.’s shenanigans, realizing that she would have been better off without him in her life. However, J.D. won’t stop until he’s through with the entire population of Westerburg High…
“Heathers” is a film which would have a hard time getting made in this day and age. Back in the 1980’s, the idea of teenagers killing their more popular peers seemed implausible and completely unlikely to happen. Nowadays, with more instances of shootings occurring within school environments, this concept suddenly doesn’t sound as absurd as it might have back then. I wouldn’t recommend showing this movie to teenagers under the age of 14, or in general, anyone who would understandably find the entire subject matter to be a tad too grisly for their tastes.
Having said that, the principle cast carry out their performances to varying outstanding degrees. Winona Ryder is as engaging as ever, as she portrays Veronica as the witty, only sane girl amidst all the chaos surrounding her. Christian Slater as J.D. is equally as impressive as the freaky outcast, although he appears to be channeling Jack Nicholson for the majority of the movie. As for the Heathers, Kim Walker makes a lasting impression as mean girl Chandler, which is a tragedy given her untimely death from a brain tumour in 2000. Shannan Doherty, as Duke, plays both timid wallflower and overly confident queen bee to a tee. Rounding out the girl posse is Lisanne Falk as McNamara, who seems to be the most innocent and friendly of the Heathers.
In summary, “Heathers” receives a total of three and a half stars out of five. Some viewers may enjoy the film in spite of the grimness that prolongs the plot. If you enjoy contemporary teen comedies which showcase the workings of high school popularity, such as “Jawbreakers”, or “Mean Girls”, then you might enjoy this very quotable take of adolescent life!