Guest Post on Heathers

The friend who loaned me Heathers read my post and wrote me a wonderful email in response. With her permission it is posted in its entirety below:

Whoa — I think you disliked this movie a bit more than you let on. 😉

Here’s what I think:

Sometimes I wonder if a great deal of the delight I took in first viewing this movie was the impact of its originality at the time. “Heathers” was not pretty in pink — it was somewhere between numbing amorality and heartfelt sap. It was released on the heels of a series of John Hughes teen-comedy/teen-angst films such as “The Breakfast Club”, “Sixteen Candles” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — fun, enjoyable comedies with broad appeal, including transitory themes of a more serious nature (all quickly resolved with pat answers).

The Heathers aren’t giggly, boy-crazy mall rats. They’re political animals in a disturbing world of high school feudalism. I don’t want to make more out of the movie than there is — in spite of its status as a cult classic (and possibly still as the reigning teen-queen of pitch-black comedies), it has plenty of flaws (notably Slater’s son-of-“The Shining” shtick and a loss of steam in the home stretch) — but I feel safe classifying it as a strangely hilarious morality play that pushed the envelope in its time. Every sacred, politically correct cow is skewered but the moral is traditional and well-loved: All men are created equal. Even the geeks.

At its best, “Heathers” is breathtakingly perverse and legitimately startling. A lighthearted, flip tone and bright colors contrast with the deepening guilt and growing awareness of the heroine, all the while maintaining a deliciously nasty tone with an (almost) relentless mean spirit — like some kind of demonic carnival ride.

The best black comedies provide a release that no other comedies can — you find yourself laughing helplessly at the most vicious plot turns, the wickedest jokes. “Heathers” is laced with brilliantly twisted lines, but it’s not realistic — it’s highly stylized and mannered. And then with a single shot of a weeping child, it pulls the rug out from under us and restores the value of life.

A comedy about teen suicide would seem to be reprehensible, especially one released after a rash of teenage suicides throughout the country. Some critics have said as much, but I think they missed the boat. The pointed satire doesn’t mock teen suicide, it mocks the gleeful frenzy of media coverage, the superficial social commentary and the martyrdom of victims — as well as the speed and dexterity with which most people retreat to comfortable topics and routines when faced with actions and statements of a serious or controversial nature. Veronica’s parents have the same conversation with her every day and the scenes are filmed like a lost episode of Ozzie and Harriet. The snippets of Big Fun’s song, “Teenage Suicide: Don’t Do It” are transposed sporadically over alternately flip and cruel or trite and mundane dialogue. Asked what she’s doing after the funeral, the heroine replies, “I don’t know. Mourn, maybe watch some TV.” When the heroine’s mother finally breaks routine to reveal an honest criticism of her daughter, she immediately reverts to formulaic conversation: “Want some pate?”

I guess I’d like to think “Heathers” wants the world to be a better place — but instead of a thoughtful drama presenting an idea of how that might happen, we get a scathing social commentary mocking the state of things instead.

However the film holds up sixteen years later, I think “Heathers” will always have a place in my heart. Okay, maybe that place is surrounded by signs reading “Caution!” and “Enter at Your Own Risk!” but it’s a place in my heart all the same.

As one of the film’s characters puts it, ”The extreme always seems to make an impression.”

[Sorry, comments are turned off on this post due to spammers loving it for some reason.]

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