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Heathers
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Movie Poster
Directed by Michael Lehmann
Produced by Denise De Novi
Written by Daniel Waters
Starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater
Music by David Newman
Cinematography Francis Kenny
Edited by Norman Hollyn
Distributed by New World Pictures
Release Date 31 March 1989

Heathers is a dark comedy directed by Michael Lehmann. It stars Winona Ryder and Christian Slater.

The film brought director Michael Lehmann and producer Denise Di Novi the 1990 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. Daniel Waters also gained recognition for his screenplay, which won a 1990 Edgar Award. Despite its 4 star rating the film was not that big of a hit in the box office but went on to become a cult classic, with high rentals and sales business. In 2006, it was ranked #5 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the "50 Best High School Movies" and in 2008, it was ranked #412 on Empire's list of "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time".

Plot

17-year-old Veronica Sawyer (Ryder) is one of the most popular girls at Westerburg High School in Sherwood, Ohio. In addition to Veronica, the popular clique consists of three wealthy and beautiful girls with the same first name: the leader, Heather Chandler (Walker); the bookish bulimic Heather Duke (Doherty), and the weak-willed cheerleader Heather McNamara (Falk). Though they are the most popular students, the Heathers are feared and hated. Veronica has had enough of their behavior and longs to return to her old life and her nerdy friends.

When a new student, a rebellious outsider named Jason "J.D." Dean (Slater) pulls a gun on school bullies Kurt Kelly (Fenton) and Ram Sweeney (Labyorteaux) and fires blanks at them, Veronica finds herself fascinated with him. When Veronica attends a frat party with Heather Chandler, but refuses to have sex and throws up, Heather vows to destroy her reputation. J.D. shows up at Veronica's house and they end up having sex outside, after which Veronica tells J.D. she wants to make Heather puke her guts out. The next morning, Veronica and J.D. break into Heather's house. J.D. serves Heather a liquid he claims is a hangover cure but is actually drain cleaner, killing her. J.D. urges Veronica to forge a dramatic suicide note in Heather's handwriting.

The school and community look on Heather's apparent suicide as a tragic decision made by a popular but troubled teenager. Heather Duke soon steps into Heather Chandler's former role as clique leader and begins wearing a red scrunchie that had belonged to Chandler.

Several days later, Kurt and Ram spread a rumor about Veronica giving them oral sex, ruining her reputation. J.D. proposes that Veronica lure them into the woods with the promise to "make the rumors true"; then shoot them with nonfatal German bullets. JD shoots Ram but Veronica misses Kurt, who runs away. Veronica realizes that the bullets are real; J.D. chases Kurt back towards Veronica, who panics and shoots him. J.D. plants "gay" materials beside the boys, and a suicide note stating the two were lovers participating in a suicide pact. At their funeral, the boys are made into martyrs against homophobia. Although she keeps dating J.D., Veronica is alarmed by his behavior.

Martha Dunnstock, an obese, regularly bullied student known as "Martha Dumptruck", pins a suicide note to her chest and walks into traffic. She survives but is badly injured and is mocked for trying to "act popular". Heather McNamara calls a popular radio show one night while Veronica and Heather Duke are listening and talks of depression in her life; the next day, Heather Duke tells the entire school about Heather McNamara's radio call; McNamara attempts to take her life by overdosing on pills in the girls' bathroom but is saved by Veronica.

Veronica tells J.D. that she will not participate in any more killings. He climbs into her room with a revolver to kill her, but Veronica has used a harness to make it look like she has hanged herself. Thinking her dead, he rambles about his plan to blow up the school during a pep rally. A petition he has been circulating via Heather Duke, to get the band Big Fun to perform on campus was actually a mass suicide note. Most of the students had already signed, so the mass murder would appear to be a mass suicide instead.

Veronica confronts J.D. in the boiler room below the gym during a school pep rally, where he is rigging timed explosives. She shoots him when he refuses to stop the bomb. As J.D. collapses, he stabs the timer and it stops. Veronica walks out through the pep rally with everyone cheering. The severely injured J.D. follows her outside with a bomb strapped to his chest, offers what amounts to a personal eulogy as Veronica looks on, and detonates the bomb.

Veronica confronts Heather Duke, takes the red scrunchie, says "Heather my love, there's a new sheriff in town" and invites Martha Dunnstock to hang out on prom night and watch movies with her.

Cast

Production

Daniel Waters wanted his screenplay to go to director Stanley Kubrick, not only out of profound admiration for Kubrick but also from a perception that "Kubrick was the only person that could get away with a three-hour film". (The cafeteria scene opening Heathers was written as an homage to the barracks scene opening Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.) After a number of failed attempts to get the script to Kubrick made Waters realize the futility of the enterprise, he decided to give the script to Michael Lehmann, who then took it on with Denise Di Novi. Many actors and actresses turned down the project because of its dark subject matter. Early choices for Veronica and J.D. were Jennifer Connelly, who turned down the role, and Brad Pitt. Pitt auditioned for the role of J.D. but the filmmakers rejected him because they thought he came across as "too nice" and therefore would not be credible. Winona Ryder, who was 16 at the time of filming and badly wanted the part, begged Waters to cast her. Eventually she was given the role with Christian Slater being signed shortly thereafter. Heather Graham, then 17, was cast as Heather McNamara, but her mother wouldn't allow her to do the film so Lisanne Falk was given the role instead. Principal photography took place from 17 February 1988 - 19 March 1988.

Release

Unfortunately, the film was a commercial failure and grossed $1,108,462 domestically over 5 weeks in theaters for a budget of 3 million dollars. However, it has become a cult classic since then.

Reception

The film was acclaimed by critics and audiences. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 95% of critics gave the film a positive review based on a sample of 43 reviews. At the website Metacritic, which uses a normalized rating system, the film earned a favorable rating of 73/100 based on 19 reviews by mainstream critics.

Desson Thomson of the Washington Post wrote, "Wickedly funny. In fact, Heathers may be the nastiest, cruelest fun you can have without actually having to study law or gird leather products. If movies were food, Heathers would be a cynic's chocolate binge." Robert Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and wrote that the film "...is a morbid comedy about peer pressure in high school, about teenage suicide and about the deadliness of cliques that not only exclude but also maim and kill."

Fun Facts

  • The song that plays during the opening and closing credits, 'Que Sera, Sera', was originally by singer Doris Day, but she didn't want her verison of the song to be in the movie, due to Heathers' explict language and themes. For the opening scene, singer Syd Straw sung. For the closing credits, the group The Sly and the Family Stones sung.

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