****/**** Image A Sound B- Extras A-
starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk
screenplay by Daniel Waters
directed by Michael Lehmann
by Walter Chaw Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) is the only non-Heather "Heather," one of four girls in Westerberg High's most popular and fashionable clique. The conscience of a harridan quartet responsible for much of the insecurity and intimidation at their institution, Veronica confides to new kid J.D. (Christian Slater), "I don't really like my friends." Nor is there much to admire about Westerberg's other clusters, who spend their time destroying overweight students, tormenting the "geek squad," and placing themselves in humiliating situations for the sake of imagined boosts to their ill-gained status. J.D., a rebel with a cause, functions as the catalyst for Veronica's revenge fantasies: The two begin a killing spree of the beautiful people, getting away with it by playing on grown-ups' propensity to romanticize teenage suicide.
More than a scathing indictment of how young people engage in brutal initiation rites under the sponsorship of "tradition," Heathers cunningly steps outside of the argot and soundtrack of its era, substituting Valley Girl's "Gag me with a spoon" for Heather Chandler's "Fuck me gently with a chainsaw." The film is so sharply conceived (with a different colour scheme representing each of the four girls) and so scathingly plotted that some of its movements remain a surprise even after multiple viewings.
The best part of Heathers is the interaction of the kids and adults, who alternately try to understand the younger generation (a pathetically well-meaning guidance counsellor played by Penelope Milford) and do their best to mollify them (Veronica's vintage-sitcom parents). As with Heathers' skewering of targets as variegated as religion, homophobia, high-school athletics, mass media, and Ohio, the sheer audacity and genius of director Michael Lehmann and screenwriter Daniel Waters's satirical acuity is often overlooked because of the film's deceptively bright tone. For example, J.D.'s tense exchanges with father Big Bud (Kirk Scott), in which they speak to one another in clipped and antagonistic phrases, are among the cinema's finest non-Bergman portraits of familial dysfunction.
The film exists in a peculiar twilight space between reality and fantasy, just as adolescence exists in a perverse stasis suspended atwixt childhood and maturity. It speaks its own idioglossic vernacular and presents a vision of the world that is at once familiar and grotesque: high school as distorted by a funhouse mirror--somehow truer for being just a little south of true. Lehmann and Waters set out to make the quintessential anti-John Hughes film, jokingly referring to their project as "Stanley Kubrick's Heathers." What they made is arguably the very best film on the subject of teenage clique structure and the ways in which bullying under the liberal and blind eye of 'enlightened' administrations can sometimes lead to tragedies like the one at Columbine High School. Heathers is brilliant social commentary, as current today as it was over a decade ago.
Anchor Bay's new DVD release of Heathers is "so very." The THX-approved 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is free of the colour bleed, muting, and artifacts that beset the film's previous transfers, and the source print is pristine. Although its low-budget doomed Heathers to a less-than-lush visual reputation, the film looks as good on this disc as it ever has or, indeed, could. The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, however, is flat, with negligible usage of the rear channels. The strength of the film is its dialogue, which is audible and intelligible, and not the overall sound design. Snarky, entertaining audio commentary provided by director Lehmann, screenwriter Waters, and producer Denise Di Novi resurrects a few on-set disagreements, unearths Waters's long-simmering dislike of Shannen Doherty, and gives as much behind-the-scenes information as a devotee of the film could possibly want. Long-time aficionados of the film take note: this is the same track that was recorded for the Lumivision LaserDisc.
Exclusive to this DVD release is a 30-minute documentary called "Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads", comprising interviews with the principal actors (Slater, Ryder, Lisanne Falk, Doherty) as well as key crew (in addition to Lehmann, Di Novi, and Waters, DP Francis Kenny and editor Norman Hollyn pitch in). Though many of the stories told here are repeated within the commentary track, it's certainly interesting to note that Ryder has correctly identified Heathers as her best film and that Doherty lacks perspective on the detest that former co-workers feel for her. Of incidental interest, actress Kim Walker died earlier this year of a brain tumor--ironic that her character Heather Chandler wonders at one point if Doherty's Heather has "had a brain tumor for breakfast." The typically exemplary Anchor Bay DVD concludes with a screenplay excerpt of the original ending, a theatrical trailer, and brief talent biographies.
103 minutes; R; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1; CC; DVD-9; Region One; Anchor Bay