Did you hear? School’s canceled today cause Kurt and Ram killed themselves in a repressed, homosexual suicide pact!
This week, Required Viewing takes us back to 1988, the year that gave us Heathers, the seminal dark comedy that paints teen angst in a wholly original and painfully honest light.
B: 1988 also gave us me. So in my totally unbiased opinion, it was a pretty banner year. Heathers has long been on our Required Viewing master list, but I selected it for this week’s edition in part as a response to my first exposure to Laguna Beach, in part because I deemed it essential before our next movie on the list, and in part because Stranger Things has me wanting to watch the whole of the Winona Ryder oeuvre, Gods I love her. I’m given to understand Annemarie had no idea she was getting into such dark murder-y territory, and I want to hear what watching this movie without that context was like. But I also strongly suspect she can pinpoint what I love about Heathers, and vanity dictates that I bug her to guess.
A: I’m guessing you love Heathers because Joss Whedon was clearly a fan of and was inspired by the teen dialogue? All I knew about this one going in is that Winona was in it and it was about high school cliques. I had no idea how murder-y it was, or that all three popular girls were actually named Heather. That was actually the first thing out of my mouth when the first croquet scene is playing: “Wait. Their names are all Heather? Isn’t that confusing?”
As a genre starter, I can clearly see the parallels to Mean Girls, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other “high school as a metaphor for X evil thing” movies and TV, which makes it a good primer for other films Brooke will inevitably make me watch. I also truly believe, just like no one really talks like Diablo Cody writes, that no one actually speaks like Heather Chandler. I wasn’t sure I understood most of what she said, but it’s clearly classic ’80s dialogue I missed.
One thing I don’t miss? The shoulder pads! These girls are dressed like conservative Nebraskan librarians and that’s not a look that’s ever been flattering on anyone.
B: You very nearly have it. The dialogue is a huge factor. I never actually connected how influenced Joss must have been by it until our viewing, but the voiceover was always what got me, even more than the weird Heather Chandler-isms. My teen angst bullshit has a body count. How can that not grab you? I also have always loved that the absurdity feels so near to the truth.
I also love the way Veronica and JD’s relationship is born, even if it does get super weird super fast. There’s a magical quality to Winona Ryder in a convenience store. In Reality Bites there was dancing and Big Gulps, in Heathers it’s an errand for Corn Nuts that leads her to a slushie and banter about the various junk food options available to weary travelers. Later, these crazy kids “play croquet” but mostly just look attractively pale together. There is so little drama in their courtship, just spark and wit … before it all goes wrong of course.
A: Once I got over the fact that people were going to actually die (I, like Veronica, was in denial), I greatly enjoyed the wit. And while I agree that if “My Sharona” ever came on in a 7-Eleven, I’d have to full-on Reality Bites-style dance, my favorite Winona moments are still in Little Women. Mock me if you must, but I saw that one before I knew she was an ’80s icon and I still dearly love her portrayal of Jo March.
But I digress. The dialogue, especially Veronica’s diary entries, are certainly smarter than they had any right to be. And now that I know that the whole “Everyone is named Heather” is a real thing, it does make perfect sense as satire. The popular girls are so hive-minded around their queen bee, that they literally have the same first name. It’s comic relief, but it’s right on teen-angst brand given that the popular girls always have the best names. There’s been some scientific research about this, covered in part in this Freakonomics podcast, but the gist is: your name really does matter in determining your social and socioeconomic status.
I too loved the early moments of Veronica + J.D. That’s exactly the opposite of how early-in-life romantic relationships usually go, and it’s refreshing (while not all that realistic) to see two 17-year-olds just be real with each other.
Let’s see. We’ve covered the fashion, the dialogue and the slushies. Anything else? Plain or BQ Corn Nuts?
B: BQ, obviously.
Let’s take a moment to observe that you went fully down the marketing hole with that “on teen angst brand” observation with a Freakonomics link to back it up. That’s truly impressive. I think the central question that we haven’t answered here is: do you think Heathers really is required viewing? I personally feel like your life has been enriched, not least because you are now saying “jam” rather a lot. It’s so very. PLUS, you’ll get to see a lot of interesting parallels when we watch my next selection, but that’s a story for another day.
A: To be fair, I was using “jam” as both a noun and a verb (i.e. “That cake is my jam” and “I gotta jam right after this meeting”) LONG before I saw Heathers. However, I fully agree it’s required viewing. It’s a quintessential ’80s black comedy, it’s a key moment of teen angst snark and I can see its influence aplenty in films and shows I’ve loved even without this knowledge. So well done, Brooke!
That’s all for today’s edition of Required Viewing. Don’t miss the continuing saga of Brooke being forced to watch Laguna Beach… the second season. Will she remain #TeamKristin and #TeamNeverStephen? Only time will tell.
Main image: Cinemarque Entertainment