Heathers (1989)


Heathers is available now on Arrow Blu-ray and digital.

Despite the critics lapping it up, it is now hard to believe that Michael Lehmann’s pitch-black comedy starring Christian Slater and Winona Ryder wasn’t a glowing success with audiences on release in 1989. However, that was to change when it hit VHS and video stores, and like so many cult classics, it found an eager young fanbase instantly. By the mid-1990s, Heathers was heralded as one of the best teen comedies of the late 1980s, its sharp observational humour layered with a cutting dissection of high school American culture. Heathers would place the inherent darkness of the adolescent mind centre stage with a devilishly brilliant story of division, wealth, privilege and bullying that placed a ton of dynamite under the classic 80s teen comedy.

Seventeen-year-old Veronica (Winona Ryder) is desperate to belong in the jungle of high school life and couldn’t be happier when she is accepted into the alpha mean girls club Heathers. However, when Veronica meets the mysterious JD (Christian Slater), and the veneer rubs off the Heathers, her high school life takes a deadly detour.

Daniel Waters was twenty-three when he wrote the script for Heathers, originally as a Kubrick project. It is, therefore, fascinating that, like Kubrick’s The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, Heathers has attracted multiple socio-political theories over the years from its legion of loyal fans. But putting aside the socio-political theories that surround Lehmann’s movie, Heathers marked an important transition for the coming of age comedy, where the 80s template created by John Hughes gave way to something far darker as the 90s came into view. Heathers screenplay is, at its heart, a social satire, reflecting the darker hues of high-school life and the ever-growing inequality of the late 80s capitalist dream. Here the teenage need for popularity, place and purpose is dovetailed with the need to break free of parental and social chains; it’s a subverted and twisted version of The Breakfast Club that defies the suggestion that all kids are, ultimately, the same.

Watching Heathers today, Waters’ deliciously dark comedy carries more than a few uncomfortable parallels to the modern teen experience and as a result, one has to wonder if a movie like Heathers would get past the censors now without several trigger warnings. This is a story that includes themes of school violence, bulimia, internalised homophobia, sexual assault, suicide and terrorism. But it is these themes that only intensify the impact of Heathers over time. Some may argue that the teenage high school experience has changed over the years since JD and Veronica graced our screens, with more of a focus on mental health and inclusion, but is that really the case? Or was Heathers a satirical warning from the late eighties that still rings true? While our society is more connected than ever, a feeling of isolation and alienation among teens has only grown in the years since Heathers release. Here Heathers feels almost prophetic of the teenage experience today.



It’s a testament to the sheer power of Daniel Waters’ screenplay and Michael Lehmann’s film that the Heathers fanbase has only grown over the thirty-three years since Veronica and JD first entered our lives. Our coming-of-age season, ‘Teen Dreams’, explored the enduring power of Heathers and its ability to talk to multiple generations while blowing up the 80s teen comedy template. Heathers was sharp, bold and controversial, its themes ranging from sexual assault to bulimia, suicide and murder in a movie that ushed in a new era. Due to my endless love for Lehmann’s 1989 satirical masterpiece, I was less than convinced the film would work as a musical. I was partly right, as the inherent darkness of Heathers is toned down, with far more emphasis placed on exaggerated comedy rather than satire. This ensures the musical format works but, at times, blunts the sharpness of Waters’ original screenplay. But I also stand corrected in the colourful, vibrant, fresh adaptation the musical offers us. The comedy may not be as cutting, but it is beautifully timed, and as for the music, it’s nothing short of awesome. So “Lick It Up Baby, Lick. It. Up”.



error: Alert: Content selection is disabled!!