The eighties were primetime for coming of age, high school films. This was the decade that gave us such classics as The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, all as a result of one man. To many, John Hughes was the first person to capture the real thoughts and feelings of teenagers and present them on-screen, but always peppered them in alongside some good-humoured comedy. So when 1988 came around and Heathers was released, billed as a ‘teenage comedy’, audiences were likely expecting the same story. How wrong they were…
Directed by Michael Lehmann, Heathers follows Veronica (Winona Ryder) and her reluctance to follow the rules in her popular girl clique composed of the titular Heathers. Veronica plays along until bad boy J.D. (Christian Slater) turns up, confirming her disgust, and together they plot to kill the lead ‘Heather’ of the group.
Heathers is a whip smart film, that subverts the high school genre that came before it. Like Hughes, Lehmann explores what it’s like to a teenager on the outside, looking in, but the film has more in common with Bonnie and Clyde than any The Breakfast Club.
The subversive nature of the film is revealed from its opening scene. As the opening credits begin, Que Sera, Sera by Sly and the Family Stone can be heard, evoking an ultra feminine and innocent feeling. This feeling is confirmed when we see a close-up shot of a young woman, tying a red scrunchie in her hair (something that later becomes quite important), which then fades to three teenagers, having a drink in a perfectly manicured garden. So far, so feminine and innocent.
In the next moment however, we see the three pretty teens get up, and rather than step over the perfectly kept roses, they step on them, destroying them. The simple act of showing these women destroying such a strong symbol of femininity, all whilst Que Sera, Sera is still playing in the background, sends a red flag to the audience – these women aren’t sweet, or innocent, and will step on anything that is (such as a delicate rose) to get where they want to go.
We continue with the women as the walk, in sync, to a croquet set, and it is here where we get a brief introduction to the characters, and the dynamics of their group. Their pretty blonde leader is dressed in red, in fact, even her croquet ball matches her outfit (as it does with the other two women), and it is here as she hits her croquet ball, that we are introduced to the fourth member of the group, and our biggest indicator yet that this is not a ‘John Hughes’ kind of film.
The rather surreal end to the opening is an interesting one. The ‘Dear Diary’ fade into the next scene leads us to believe that this is Veronica’s imagination, therefore putting a different spin on how we have initially viewed these characters: is this just Veronica’s opinion or is this the truth? This however is a nice device to introduce the audience to the protagonist, the person who they will follow throughout the film.
Heathers is a true classic that has inspired many films, most notably Mean Girls and the way Cady (Lindsey Lohan) tries to infiltrate the popular group in order to sabotage them, only to embody their philosophies.