Staff Pick: “The Heathers”

Upon thinking of films that portray high school drama, one might immediately think to the 2004 comedy “Mean Girls,” which follows transfer student Cady Heron’s descent into the obsession of popularity, or the 1995 romantic drama “Clueless,” which recaps a rich, popular teenager’s dramatized love life. However, a clear but usually unheard of classic is the 1988 cult drama film “Heathers.”  

The movie surrounds the popular friend group known as “The Heathers” at Westerburg High School in Sherwood, Ohio. The head is Heather Chandler (played by Kim Walker), along with cheerleader Heather McNamara (played by Lisanne Falk), followed by the quiet, bulimic Heather Duke (played by Shannon Doherty). The fourth member of the friend group and protagonist of the film, Veronica Sawyer (played by Winona Ryder), has a different mindset than the rest of the members of her friend group. Veronica has far better values and acknowledges that her friends are the bullies of the school. She makes it clear that the only reason she sticks with the clique is to make her life easier. One of Veronica’s special skills is being able to forge anyone’s handwriting, which the Heathers use to terrorize those who do they do not like.

In the beginning of the movie, the clique uses Veronica’s skills to terrorize an extremely overweight girl known as Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock (played by Carrie Lynn). In the corner sits the new kid, an extremely mysterious boy, smirking as he watches the Heathers interact with each other. As soon as he catches Veronica’s eye, she is clearly immediately attracted to him, and she runs up to start a conversation. He introduces himself as Jason “J.D.” Dean (played by Christian Slater), and Veronica subtly swoons. The Heathers pull her away, clearly insinuating that he is strange and creepy. When the school bullies, two dumb football players by the names of Kurt Kelly (played by Lance Fenton) and Ram Sweeney (played by Patrick Labyorteaux), approach J.D. in an effort to scare him, J.D. pulls a gun out of his jacket and shoots two blanks in their general direction. When the Heathers later discuss the incident, it is clear that Veronica is even more attracted to the mysterious boy than ever before.

Later that night, Heather C. drags Veronica with her to a college party that Veronica clearly does not want to go to. However, Heather C. is the head, and if Veronica wants to stay a part of the friend group, she must accompany her. At the party, Veronica starts to not feel good, and when one of Heather C.’s college friends tries to make a move on her, Veronica angrily rejects him. She then proceeds to run to Heather C. and explain the situation. As if Heather C. was not already angry enough, Veronica embarresses her further by throwing up all over her. The two girls have a screaming match outside the party, where Heather C. claims that she will ruin Veronica’s reputation.

Many key emotions that flood through the storyline are expressed as Veronica writes things in her diary. As she reveals that she wishes the Heathers were dead, J.D. shows up at her house. The two play a game of “strip croquet” and spend the night together. In the morning, J.D. tells Veronica that she should get revenge on Heather C. somehow. The two sneak into Heather C.’s house and decide that they will concoct a “hangover cure” that will simply force Heather C. to throw up in the same manner that Veronica did the previous night. J.D. jokingly takes out drain cleaner and pours it into a mug. Veronica rolls her eyes and grabs an empty mug to fill with a mix of orange juice and milk. However, the empty mug looks identical to J.D.’s mug of oven cleaner, and as they head upstairs to give Heather C. her hangover cure, Veronica accidently grabs J.D.’s mug of oven cleaner. J.D. notices this, but purposely does not say anything. After pretending to apologize to Heather C., Veronica coaxes her to drink the contents of the mug. However, within seconds, Heather C. chokes, dies, and falls onto the glass table in the center of her frilly bedroom.

Although J.D. is entirely aware of everything that happens, he manages to convince Veronica that it was an accident. Veronica’s ability to forge handwriting comes in handy as they craft a fake suicide note for Heather C. Now, within the first 20 minutes of the movie, the Heathers are without a leader and Veronica and her new boyfriend are murderers.

The film continues to reveal J.D.’s sociopathic tendencies and Veronica’s mental downward spiral into uncertainty about her life, her friends, her future, and her new relationship. Slater’s portrayal of J.D. is extremely convincing; the entire time, one can sense his disturbing, controlling, and manipulative personality. Meanwhile, Ryder’s successful portrayal of Veronica creates a deep character among the plastic people of Westerburg High School who surround her. She also manages to clearly show Veronica as a strong woman who is always ready and willing to fight back and stand up for herself. A thrilling storyline, a dramatic turn of events, and amazing acting creates the amazing concoction that is the film “Heathers.”