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The more I see in movies
Of a high school student’s woes,
The tricks and cliques and politics,
The mockery of clothes,
The favoritism, criticism,
Narcissism, hedonism,
Overwhelming pessimism
All the films have shown…
I feel more blessed for all the pros
Of being schooled at home.
_____________________

MPA rating:  R (for frequent profanity and occasional violence)

Well, it looks like my Blindspot list for 2020 didn’t go as expected, along with almost everything else about 2020. I may have only gotten to #7 out of the initial 12 Blindspots, but I’ll do my best to knock out the last few ASAP before getting to a new list for 2021. Still, I wanted to get one more Blindspot pick out of the way this year, which has also been the most accessible one all year. (It’s on YouTube in its entirety.) I’ve been hesitant to watch Heathers, though; I’ve listened to and greatly enjoyed the soundtrack to Heathers: The Musical, and I just wasn’t sure if the original film would measure up to my expectations, minus the show tunes. I’d say it did meet them, but I can’t help but have mixed feelings.

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Heathers follows Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), a half-willing member of the feared/admired high school clique known as the Heathers: Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk), Heather Duke (Shannon Doherty), and the queen of mean-girl stereotypes Heather Chandler (Kim Walker). Bristling under the thumb of Heather Chandler, Veronica grows close to classmate J.D. (Christian Slater), whose ideas of retaliating against the popular kids become more and more psychotic. Repressed teens may often wish their bullies were dead, as Veronica does, but J.D. is willing to grant such wishes.

Being familiar with the musical meant that very little about the plot of Heathers surprised me, though certain characters were combined and events shuffled around as needed for the stage adaptation. I was mainly surprised that the film already began with Veronica as a member of the Heathers, whereas the musical takes a little more time portraying her initiation. However, where both versions excel is black comedy, which is a very touchy genre for me. I can appreciate something like Beetlejuice, which also starred Winona Ryder and Glenn Shadix the previous year, but such films can also just come off as mean-spirited or in bad taste, which I don’t find entertaining. While I knew going in that it’s not exactly High School Musical, Heathers threatens to be in the latter category with its frequent profanity and making light of teenage suicide and homosexuality. Yet the film has some surprising depth to its satire and manages to weave some insightful themes into its droll plot: the stress of not liking your own friends, the eagerness with which the powerless can exploit newfound influence, the sensationalism that dark subjects impart in those with good intentions and no solution, and the difference that empathy or its absence can have on someone. Oh, and of course the signs that your boyfriend might be a psychopath.

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One ingredient I can say I liked was Winona Ryder, on whom I have something of a celebrity crush. She perfectly originates the sarcastic frustration of Veronica and evokes a sense of growth as she seeks to atone for the evil influence of Heather Chandler and J.D. Slater is also an effective bad boy doing his best Jack Nicholson impression, and the rest of the cast excel at their high school clichés, though it’s disturbing that two cast members later died in ways that the film foreshadowed. Another aspect worth commendation is that unique confidence of style that certain ‘80s films had, regardless of director, as if they knew they would become iconic eventually. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Say Anything come to mind, and Heathers likewise feels like the kind of film that knew exactly what it wanted to be, which is rare for high school movies these days that often just try to imitate what came before. Maybe my exposure to the musical accentuated that, as I recognized the origins of songs like “Big Fun” and “Our Love Is God.” So, although my feelings remain mixed on content, I largely enjoyed Heathers as a paragon of dark high school humor, mainly because its ultimate goal is empathy, something that we could use a lot more of nowadays.

Best line: (Veronica) “All we want is to be treated like human beings, not to be experimented on like guinea pigs or patronized like bunny rabbits.”
(Veronica’s dad) “I don’t patronize bunny rabbits.”
(Veronica’s mom) “Treated like human beings? Is that what you said, little Miss Voice-of-a-Generation? Just how do you think adults act with other adults? You think it’s all just a game of doubles tennis? When teenagers complain that they want to be treated like human beings, it’s usually because they are being treated like human beings.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2020 S.G. Liput
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