Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Some of My Favourite Things About Michael Lehmann's Heathers

Hi, and welcome to H-Day of the A to Z Challenge. Click on the linked banner at the end of this post, if you wish to know exactly what the A to Z Challenge. Otherwise, welcome to the latest edition of My Favourite Things series - and what better film to check out for the Letter H, than the cultish stylings of Heathers. For the uninitiated, Heathers is the story of a cliquish trio of elitist high school juniors, all named Heather, and their more sensitive friend, Veronica, who teams up with bad boy new student, J.D., to save the school from the evil that were the Heathers. It was the breakthrough film for both Winona Ryder and Christian Slater - and Shannon Doherty as well. I remember, when I first saw the film, back in March of 1989, at a theater in Washington DC, I thought it to be great fun. Great fun, indeed. I liked it so much that I used to own the film on VHS (remember those) and watched it many a time throughout the early 1990's.

I am not sure whatever happened to that VHS copy (got lost during one of the many moves I went through throughout my twenties, I am sure) but apparently, I ended up forgetting all about the film, and for one reason or another, I had not seen the damn thing in probably eighteen years or so. That is, until recently, when I saw it on Netflix Instant, and could not resist hitting play. After watching it, at the age of 46 - as opposed to 21, when I first saw the thing - I found that I was still a fan. Perhaps now for more nostalgic reasons as well as just plain and simple entertainment. Easily one of the best films of 1988 - the year it first opened, not going wider until early 1989 - the film manages to hold up rather well. With all this said, let us take a look at some of my favourite things about the film. Oh, and as always, there be spoilers ahead, so if that is something that will bother you, consider ye self warned.

The Film's Own Unique Language - Granted, the quirky inclusive language of the world of Heathers, a language that was only spoken outside of the film as a way to copy the characters, not as the way anyone really talked, was probably just as stupid sounding to the generation before us, as Diablo Cody's ridiculous sounding teen-speak dialogue from Juno, was to me, and the rest of my Gen X compatriots, but that doesn't mean it wasn't great fun to hear. From "Did you have a brain tumour for breakfast" to "J.D.'s "Colour me impressed" to Heather Chandler's sarcastic quips "Transfer to Washington. Transfer to Jefferson. No one at Westerberg is going to let you play their reindeer games" and "You were nothing before you met me. You were playing Barbies with Betty Finn. You were a Bluebird. You were a Brownie. You were a Girl Scout Cookie." to the most fun, and most famous lines, "What's your damage, Heather?" and "Fuck me gently with a chainsaw."  No one really ever spoke that way, but that is part of the fun that is the artificiality of cinema - the most beautiful fraud in the world, if you will.

Whatever Will Be...Redux - Director Michael Lehmann tried to get Doris Day's original version of Que Sera Sera, but the actress/singer would not allow something of her's to be used in an R-rated film. So, Lehmann replaced her version with not one, but two other covers. The film's opening credits, played over a rather vicious game of croquet, hand us a melodic version by Syd Straw, why we get Sly and the Family Stone's cover over the closing credits. We also get the song Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It), written and performed by the fictional band, Big Fun (actually record producer Don Dixon and friends), but it is Que Sera Sera that makes the soundtrack what it is.

An Ode to Stanley Kubrick - Originally, screenwriter Daniel Waters had wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct his film.  Originally it was also supposed to be a three hour long movie spectacle, but more on that a little further down the page.  Director Lehmann did a fine job though, and even did manage to make it look like a Kubrick film - or at least like a Kubrickesque film, let's not get carried away here. Whether this was on purpose or not, who knows, but the film definitely has qualities of both Kubrick, and to some extent, Godard as well, and even though Waters' desired three hour script was never filmed, he did get to have the certain look he so desired.

Winona Ryder, Once Upon a Time - There was a time in my film watching life, basically the time running from Heathers to Francis Coppola's Dracula, four years later, that I thought Winona Ryder was the be all and end all of what celebs were supposed to be in this day and age - and in interviews, I found out we liked a lot of the same books and movies and music. This early crush ended when I realized that her acting really was not all that up to snuff. After a slate of cinematic mediocrity (How to Make an American Quilt, her wooden performance in Scorsese's Age of Innocence, How to Make an American Quilt), the potential talent had seemingly died off, and therefore, so did the crush. Still though, after seeing her surprisingly great turn in 2010's Black Swan, not to mention her portrayal of Spock's Earthly mom in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot, maybe I was wrong all these years. Whatever the case, when Heathers came out, as well as things like 1969 and Edward Scissorhands and Night on Earth and the aforementioned Dracula, she was the so-called thing. Oh how times, they a-change.

Regular or BQ?  BQ! - I had never had corn nuts before Heathers came out, but afterward, they were my favourite new snack. Yeah, maybe this shows how susceptible I am to movie marketing (to quote Carrie Fisher, "I don't want my life to imitate art, I want it to be art") but I did enjoy them. Gotta say, I haven't had a corn nut in probably a decade plus now, but after writing this, I will probably go out and get some soon. Of course, hopefully my lomg-waited corn nut experience won't be like the one poor Heather Chandler had after eating hers. Of course she had help from J.D.'s liquid drainer concoction, in her murder-cum-suicide. Oh the humanity.

Westerburg High and Archie Comics - One thing I always love in movies is references to other films, or other pop culture stuff. It makes the film seem more like it is part of something bigger, more all-consuming. References here include everything from the name of the high school being Westerburg High (one of Winona's favourite bands at the time was the Paul Westerburg-led Replacements) to the cops being named Milner and McCord (after Martin Milner and Kent McCord of Adam-12 fame) to friends Veronica Sawyer and Betty Finn being named after Archie's two dreamgirls in Archie Comics.

Christian Slater - You're Not a Rebel, You're a Psycho - Brad Pitt had originally tried out for the role of psycho killer J.D., but he was turned away for being too "nice" to play the part. I wonder if those who turned Pitt away, ever caught his 1993 film Kalifornia?  Oh well, I digress. Christian Slater got the role, and to this day, it is probably his best performance - or at least his most fun looking. Usually thought of as kind of a joke around my house (I have liked him a few other times as well), Slater actually does a bang-up job with his fucked-up teenage rebel-cum-psycho. A fucked-up teenage rebel-cum-psycho that the actor fashioned after Jack Nicholson. Howzabout that!?

Cool Guys Like You Out of My Life - When the end does finally come, and poor, misunderstood J.D. is blown to bits by his own bomb, Veronica is left a charred, smouldering mess in front of the school - but it is here that she makes her final stand, and decides to take back the school from the inherent poison that is the Heathers. And even Martha Dunnstock, nee Dumptruck, gets to smile for the first time. But one still must ask oneself, is this really the ending Daniel Waters wanted? We are getting to that. Be patient for god's sake. First we must move on to some rather sad news.

When Life Imitates Art - Now this particular item is not necessarily something I like (it's kinda tragic, even), but it is still something quite intriguing, and needs to be mentioned here. You see, these tragic events are that two stars of the movie died at an early age. Jeremy Applegate (Peter Dawson, whose character prays he will never commit suicide) committed suicide with a shotgun on March 23, 2000, and Kim Walker (top bitch, Heather Chandler, who had the aforementioned line "Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?") died of... you guessed it, a brain tumor, on March 6, 2001. Sad but true facts of life after Westerburg High.

Daniel Waters Had a Dream - As I spoke of earlier, screenwriter Dan Waters had originally planned a three hour movie, and with Stanley Kubrick at the helm. The original screenplay had a different ending too. Veronica kills J.D. by shooting him, and then straps the bomb to herself, blowing up as J.D. does in the filmed ending - leaving a suicide note in her locker. The movie then closes with a creepy (one would assume) prom sequence set in Heaven - J.D. says earlier in the film, that the only place everyone will truly get along is in Heaven. The prom begins with students dancing within their appropriate cliques, then switching partners in odd pairings, like heads dancing with Heathers and one of the murdered jocks getting his prom picture taken with a tipped cow. The punch being served at the prom is the drain cleaner used in the Heather Chandler's murder scene, and Martha Dunnstock is singing onstage as the entertainment for the evening. This was what Waters had wanted for his film, but the studio thought it was too dark for the target teenage crowd and opted for a lighter ending. Oh the humanity.

Well, that's it for my look at Heathers - a film from my distant past that has been reborn upon recent re-viewing. And hey, it's now a musical. Howzabout that!? I hope to have another edition of My Favourite Things up and running next month. Until then, let us move on with the A to Z Challenge. Tomorrow will bring the Letter I. For now though, that's it gang. See ya 'round the web.


  1. I have not seen Heathers and my brother is amazed by that:) It is on my list(ever long) of films to see and your writing makes me even want to see all the more but I am guilty of reading the last page first. It gets me more intrigued to read the book more-I know weird..oh well. BTW-That is sad and wild about 2 of the stars who died from the very thing that was mentioned in the movie

  2. I agree with your brother, for I too am amazed by that;) But seriously, it is a fun fun film. One of the very few times I've actually enjoyed Christian Slater.

    Thanx for stopping by. Hope you get to see Heathers soon. If only the originally planned 3 hour Kubrickian beast were made.

  3. Great post buddy boy. Ya know I went to Westerburg High, right? Yep. Anyway, I love this movie, and am glad to se it pop up here at All Things Kevy-Kev. Sad though, 'cause it looks like the big bump ya had at the beginning of this little April A to Z shindig, has gone poof. No one's coming 'round her no mo. Fuckin' buncha wankers anyway! Better off without 'em! See ya in th' funny papers buddy boy.

  4. Thanx Ruf. Yeah, I don't know where everybody went. I guess they went over to other blogs in the challenge. Maybe they're come back. If I write it, they will come. Right? Right.

  5. I'm still popping in!! ;)

    Heathers was a fantastic movie. I haven't seen it since the early 90's, but I do remember being fascinated by how badass JD was.

    For a young teenage mind, it was hard for me to wrap my brain around that kind of psycho mind set.

    Great review!

  6. Glad to have ya still popping in!! Thanx for that, and thanx for the kudos. My big passion is the cinema, so I do tend to gush on and on about films I love. The film was re-envisioned as Mean Girls in 2004, but that film, though enjoyable, didn't have the same creepy feel that Heathers had.

    See ya 'round the web.

  7. I was in my early thirties when Heathers came out, but I remember liking it immensely. Only saw it once, though.

  8. I was 21 when Heathers came out, so my crush on the 17 year old Winona Ryder wasn't all that creepy. Or was it? Anyhoo. The film was quite formative on by still budding cinephilia (I only knew the surface of the art film world at the time) and awakened me to the world of indie cinema. And I thought Winona was cute too.