(director: Michael Lehmann; screenwriter: Daniel Waters; cinematographer: Francis Kenney; editor: Norman Hollyn; music: David Newman; cast: Kim Walker (Heather Chandler), Winona Ryder (Veronica Sawyer), Carrie Lynn (Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock), Lisanne Falk (Heather McNamara), Glenn Sadix (Father Ripper), Shannen Doherty (Heather Duke), Patrick Labyorteaux (Ram Sweeney), Jon Matthews (Rodney), Christian Slater (Jason J.D. Dean), Lance Fenton (Kurt Kelly), Jeremy Applegate (Peter Dawson), Penelope Milford (Pauline Fleming); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Denise Di Novi; New World Video; 1988)

“A pointless satire on high school coeds acting bitchy and hanging out in cliques.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Michael Lehmann (“Because I Said So”/”My Giant”) directs his first feature, the best film he ever made, by covering such hot-button issues as teen suicide, peer pressure, school shootings and the retarded teen behavior that challenges the norms of society. It’s a pointless satire on high school coeds acting bitchy and hanging out in cliques. It gets traction as a mean-spirited black comedy that goes over the line by its cliquish teens getting involved in serious criminal acts.

It’s written with venom by Daniel Waters, and is set in a middle-class high school in Sherwood, Ohio, at Westerburgh High School. The reasonable seventeen-year-old Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) is one of the most popular girls at the high school. She has joined the tight clique of 3 Heathers, who are pretty, popular and come from wealthy homes. The Heathers, all with that first name, are Chandler (Kim Walker), the meanest Heather, Duke (Shannen Doherty), and McNamara (Lisanne Falk). Though all are envied by the other students, the Heathers are detested and feared by most of their classmates. The Heathers play a cruel joke of forging a fake love note and blaming it on the obese loner Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock (Carrie Lynn). Because of this nasty act, Veronica questions her association with the Heathers.

A thuggish smirk-happy transfer student, Jason “J.D.” Dean, when bullied by a couple of dumb jocks (Patrick Labyorteaux & Lance Fenton), pulls out a gun to threaten them. When Veronica sides with the outsider, the Heathers go after Veronica’s reputation and falsely spread the rumor she had sex with those same jocks. It leads to Veronica teaming up with the rebel J. D. to murder one of the more obnoxious lying jocks-with J.D as the killer. Veronica missed her target, but was misled into thinking she had blanks and they were only trying to scare the bully jocks. The nastiness of the taunts by the Heathers causes a few teen suicides, and has Veronica at last fights back against the Heathers and her misfit partner killer. The film’s best bitchy line comes from Heather Chandler, who asks “What, did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?”.

It might have some snappy lines by writer Daniel Waters (as one film character seems to relate to the writer’s mantra by telling us-”The extreme always seems to make an impression”) and the assured direction by Lehmann aims to please the masses with all its jokey asides. But its crude jokes (sometimes funny) and contrived plot were not enough to win me over, nor was its compromised tinny ending ordered by the studio suits at New World.

Winona Ryder and Christian Slater in Heathers (1989)

REVIEWED ON 10/26/2018 GRADE: C+  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/