In 1989 a teenage comedy flopped in theaters. Years later, it was revived to cult status thanks to home video. It’s a dark teenage comedy that probably went over the heads of many adolescents, but it was brilliant nonetheless, the film is Michael Lehman‘s Heathers. A satirical film based around the societal expectations and acceptances found in the lives of high schoolers in the 1980s, but what Heathers presented about the disturbing hierarchy of high school can still be applied to every generation since. Thanks to Heathers, teenage comedy/romance/drama films have become edgier and much more authentic, even if some of the main plots would never really happen, but the politics of high school life remain clear and horrifyingly real. So here I am, 25 years later, telling you how Heathers paved the way for the films we love today.
Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) was once a wallflower with trusting friends; then events prior to the opening of Heathers, she becomes a part of a small Ohio town’s IT crowd: the Heathers. These three junior year Heathers run the school in a dictatorial manner with Veronica at their side, they use her giant IQ to write love letters to the school’s nerds in the handwriting of the town jocks as a service, obviously. I mean the note’ll give Martha “Dumptruck” shower-nozzle masturbation material for weeks. As we watch the complacent Veronica go through the motions of popularity as Dictator Heather Chandler’s right hand woman, a new dark figure roles into town, J.D. a psychotic bad boy who means business. But in the beginning, Veronica sees this dark horse as something different and more inviting than the typical jock of 1980s’ Ohio teenage boy. Their relationship is based off of the mutual hate they have for Veronica’s best friends, and as time goes on, Veronica’s teenage angst bullshit begins to have a body count. She accidentally kills her best friend/worst enemy (what’s the difference?) with the help of J.D. (Christian Slater). Things get out of hand, as they keep “accidentally” murdering their classmates and cover it up as suicides, which then becomes the cool thing to do, and obviously has dire consequences.
Now that you know a bit more about the premise of Heathers I can divulge to you how certain scenes, characters, and lines helped contribute to a new kind of teenage film.
The Craft (1996)
Although disguised as a supernatural/horror movie, The Craft is truly about the outsiders becoming the all powerful tyrants of the schools’ pecking order. Although it’s been longer than a hot minute since I’ve watched The Craft, Heathers delivered the strong feminine leads that were then able to be transformed into the unpopular with power, shifting the focus of teenage politics to the rejected crowd.
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
When we talk about angsty teenage suicide movies, one film, by Sofia Coppola, rises to the top of anyone’s mind. The Virgin Suicides is a prime representation of 90s film dramas that focuses on the isolation of teenage life and the constant ignorance of self-involved parents that are so disconnected from their own children that the four sisters decide to take their lives into their own hands. The film is based around teenage themes that every adolescent stumbles through in their lives, and occasionally, Love, Sex, Death, Passion, Fear, and Obsession, get the better of them. The film tackles many things, but one thing that is evidently clear is that you should never trust the guy who takes your virginity, much like Veronica should have never trust J.D.
One of my favorite 90s teen films is most certainly Jawbreaker and it could even been seen as Heathers colorful, wicked sequel that took 10 years to make. Again, we are faced with the poplar crew and how the politics of high school seem to be the perfect setting for accidental deaths and eventual cover ups. No film could come close to the portrayal of blatant bitchiness and evil that is Jawbreaker. When compared to Heathers the filmmakers of Jawbreakers break all subtlety that originally went over the heads of viewers in the 80s, with crass humor and impetuous characters who really make you realize high school is hell, regardless of your status.
Sugar & Spice (2001)
Although I have not seen Sugar & Spice in the past 10 years, the plot remains crystal clear in my mind. A cheer leading squad follow their recently knocked-up captain into a life of crime and thievery to maintain a certain type of life style they have become accustom to. Nothing screams “Kids having kids,” quite like this film. And although I can’t think of a direct scene or character that sums up the similarities between Heathers and Sugar & Spice, one quote comes to mind. As the cheerleader Heather discovers her life is shit, she tries to commit suicide by swallowing pills, but before sweet sleep can be delivered, she struggles to open the “fucking child proof lock” lid that keep her from dying in a schools’ bathroom.
Heaven, religion, and acceptance are reoccurring themes in Heathers with the town dealing with the funerals and “suicides,” and Saved! tackles the complex idea of virgin teenagers saving themselves for marriage because of God and how regardless of their “purity” they can still be wicked, sinful bitches. There would be no cataclysmic, evil Mandy Moore character without the clever writing styles of Heathers’ Daniel Waters. And if you’re looking for a satirical take on catholic schools and the deinve high school hierarchy, that isn’t as goofy as SuperStar, I highly recommend Saved!
Mean Girls (2004)
Ah, I’m sure you were waiting to see this 10 year old gem on this list, and I contemplated placing it last, but then I would have lost all chronological aspect to this list. Let’s be real here though. Without 1989’s Heathers there would be no Mean Girls. Screenwriter Tina Fey took the thematic meaning behind the subtle Heathers and the blatant Jawbreaker and created a comedy that perfectly represented the safari-like life of high school for the milleniums. You know that pivotal scene in the gymnasium where Fey’s character is trying to get all the girls to talk about their emotions and junk? Well Heathers did it first in a cafeteria, and then made fun of the diabolical meaning and representation behind this “talk about our feelings” crap. Heathers is like Mean Girls mentor, without it, we would have never been graced with the heinous Regina George.
The Babysitters (2007)
The Babysitters is a brilliantly dark drama about a high school baby sitter having an affair with one of her clients. She soon begins a call-girl business for the married men of her town and things spiral into an intense representation of how one man who seems mysterious and mature can create a living hell for the girl he manipulates into sleeping with him. This film takes the relationship between Veronica and J.D. in a different direction, and instead of turning Shirley (the lead) onto murder, John Leguizamo‘s character teaches her about sex, another deadly sin that corrupts the lives of teenagers.
Easy A (2010)
Lastly on the list is Easy A which creates a world of lies, rumors, intrigue, and a high school smarty pants slutting it up. Without Heathers, we could have never gotten the quirky Emma Stone realizing what one wrong step and one white lie could severely damage her formerly decent teenage life. We have classic back-stabbing friends, rumors, and ever present false illusion of adults actually knowing what their doing.
If you enjoyed any of the above movies, and have yet to see Heathers a perfectly sly, wonderfully written, astoundingly executed, black comedy about high school life, you might have just eaten a brain tumor for breakfast. The film is a meta representation of teenage life for the mid-western teen trapped in suburbia life where creativity and originality go to die. In honor if its’ 25 year anniversary, and in honor of Mean Girls 10 year anniversary, check out Heathers and be blown away.