Heathers (1988) starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker directed by Michael Lehmann - movie review on The Movie Scene

Heathers (1988)   4/54/54/54/54/5


Winona Ryder and Christian Slater in Heathers (1988)

Poison Heather

Prior to a recent rewatch of "Heathers" I had only watched it once but one viewing is enough to leave a lasting impression, heck any movie which starts with Winona Ryder buried up to her neck in a croquet lawn and three girls knocking balls at her is going to leave a lasting impression. That scene and many more help to make "Heathers" a darkly funny movie which satirizes 80s American High School life and in fairness is so memorable you can see its influence on the numerous wannabees which have followed since. The thing is that "Heathers" is a darkly funny movie, one of the darkest and funniest satires you are likely to watch but it has a problem and that is after a brilliant first half of biting satire it then switches focus on making some profound commentary on American High School life and society and in doing so it loses those who have not gone through the system. It's still dark and funny even a bit crazy but that depth not so much ruins it but makes it a movie which speaks to a select group after having been open to all through the first half.

Veronica (Winona Ryder - Beetlejuice) is smart and intelligent but she is also friends with the three Heathers, the IT girls of Westerburg High School who enjoy making other lives a misery. That is until she meets the mysterious JD (Christian Slater - Windtalkers) who she starts dating despite his willingness to live life on the edge. And JD's sociopathic tendencies start to influence Veronica as he leads her to exact revenge on her enemies including the Heathers except what she thinks is just revenge is murder.

Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker and Winona Ryder in Heathers (1988)

So after the darkly funny, surreal opening involving the croquet lawn "Heathers" settles down into familiar territory as it satirizes High School life with various cliques. And as such we have the quirky clique of Heathers who are basically the IT girls lead by the manipulative Heather Chandler who enjoys bullying others be it the fat girl or one of her own clique. It is this side of "Heathers" which has become the basis for numerous movies since but director Michael Lehmann does this side of things with such bite that even though you know what is coming it feels sharp, even now over 20 years since "Heathers" came out.

Now this opening is darkly funny but it gets darker and funnier when we move into the section as Veronica and JD start to date because we have the revenge aspect. From accidental poisonings to making it look like two jocks died in a gay suicide pact it is full of razor sharp humour and some stunning dialogue. It has such an edge to all the humour that again even when something seems obvious it still makes you laugh because it doesn't hold back, going for the kill with a joke and making it work.

All of which makes the first half of "Heathers" wickedly good fun and there has not been a High School movie since to rival it for being a dark funny satire. The trouble is that during the second half it seems like the focus shifts, we still get plenty of dark humour, a certain hanging scene being one of those many memorable "Heathers" scenes you never forget, but it then seems to then try and turn the satire into a profound statement on American High School life and society. Now I am sure that must work for those who experienced teen life in America during the 80s, who can connect with those feelings but for those who haven't it leaves you an outsider. There is still that dark humour to entertain but it becomes less as depth is searched for.

Never the less be it in the first half or the second "Heathers" is entertaining thanks to two career making performances from Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. As two teen lovers they have chemistry but they also have spark when it comes to the dark humour with Ryder giving us shock whilst Slater gives us psycho, basing his character on the great Jack Nicholson. And it works especially when we watch JD go full psycho as the movie ebbs its way to the big, darkly funny climax.

What this all boils down to is that "Heathers" is one of the best High School satires you will ever watch, it is darkly funny and razor sharp with performances from Winona Ryder and Christian Slater which makes it so memorable. But for me it does lose its way during the second half as the focus shifts from just being darkly funny to trying to make some sort of social commentary.


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