Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My 10 Favourite Things About Michael Lehmann's Heathers

It has been a long time since I have posted one of "My Favourite Things" posts (nearly an entire year ago), so now is a good time to bring said recurring feature back into the fold - and what better film, than the cultish stylings of Heathers.  For the uninitiated, Heathers is the story of a cliquish trio of elitist high school juniors, all named Heather, and their more sensitive friend, Veronica, who teams up with bad boy new student, J.D., to save the school from the evil that were the Heathers.  It was the breakthrough film for both Winona Ryder and Christian Slater - and Shannon Doherty as well.  I remember, when I first saw the film, back in March of 1989, I thought it to be great fun - and a crush on Winona Ryder started as well.  I used to own the film on VHS (remember those) and watched it many a time throughout the early 1990's.

I am not sure whatever happened to that VHS copy (got lost during one of the many moves I went through throughout my twenties, I am sure) but apparently, I ended up forgetting all about the film, and for one reason or another, I had not seen the it in probably eighteen years or so.  That is, until just last month when I saw it on Netflix Instant, and could not resist hitting play.  After watching it, at the age of 45 - as opposed to 21, when I first saw the thing - I found that I was still a fan.  Perhaps now for more nostalgic reasons as well as just plain and simple entertainment.  Easily one of the best films of 1988 - the year it first opened, not going wider until early 1989 - the film manages to hold up ratehr well.  With all this said, let us take a look at my ten favourite things about the film - numbered from 1 to 10, but listed in no particular order really.  Oh, and as always, there be spoilers ahead, so if that is something that will bother you, consider ye self warned.

1) The Film's Own Unique Language - Granted, the quirky inclusive language of the world of Heathers, a language that was only spoken outside of the film as a way to copy the characters, not as the way anyone really talked, was probably just as stupid sounding to the generation before us, as Diablo Cody's ridiculous sounding teen-speak dialogue from Juno, was to me, and the rest of my Gen X compatriots, but that doesn't mean it wasn't great fun to hear.  From "Did you have a brain tumour for breakfast" to "J.D.'s "Colour me impressed" to Heather Chandler's sarcastic quips "Transfer to Washington. Transfer to Jefferson. No one at Westerberg is going to let you play their reindeer games"and "You were nothing before you met me. You were playing Barbies with Betty Finn. You were a Bluebird. You were a Brownie. You were a Girl Scout Cookie." to the most fun, and most famous lines, "What's your damage, Heather?" and "Fuck me gently with a chainsaw."  No one really ever spoke that way, but that is part of the fun that is the artificiality of cinema - the most beautiful fraud in the world, if you will.

2) Whatever Will Be...Redux - Director Michael Lehmann tried to get Doris Day's original version of Que Sera Sera, but the actress/singer would not allow something of her's to be used in an R-rated film.  So, Lehmann replaced her version with not one, but two other covers.  The film's opening credits, played over a rather vicious game of croquet, hand us a melodic version by Syd Straw, why we get Sly and the Family Stone's cover over the closing credits.  We also get the song Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It), written and performed by the fictional band, Big Fun (actually record producer Don Dixon and friends), but it is Que Sera Sera that makes the soundtrack what it is.

3) An Ode to Stanley Kubrick - Originally, screenwriter Daniel Waters had wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct his film.  Originally it was also supposed to be a three hour long movie spectacle, but more on that a little further down the page.  Director Lehmann did a fine job though, and even did manage to make it look like a Kubrick film - or at least like a Kubrickesque film.  Whether this was on purpose or not, who knows, but the film definitely has qualities of both Kubrick, and to some extent, Godard as well, and even though Waters' desired three hour script was never filmed, he did get to have the certain look he did desire.

4) Winona Ryder, Once Upon a Time - There was a time in my film watching life, basically the time running from Heathers to Francis Coppola's Dracula, four years later, that I thought Winona Ryder was the be all and end all of what hot celebs were supposed to be - smart, talented and sexy.  And in interviews, I found out we liked a lot of the same books and movies and music.  This early crush, starting when she was seventeen and I was twenty-one (which is weird, because my celebrity tastes have usually run toward slightly older women), ended when I realized that her acting really was not all that up to snuff.  Sure, she was still attractive and intelligent, but after a slate of cinematic mediocrity, the potential talent had seemingly died off, and therefore, so did the crush.  Still though, after seeing her surprisingly great turn in 2010's Black Swan, not to mention her portrayal of Spock's Earthly mom in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot, maybe I was wrong all these years. Whatever the case, when Heathers came out, as well as things like Mermaids and 1969 and Edward Scissorhands and Night on Earth and the aforementioned Dracula, she was the so-called thing.

5) Regular or BQ?  BQ! - I had never had corn nuts before Heathers came out, but afterward, they were my favourite new snack.  Yeah, maybe this shows how susceptible I am to movie marketing (to quote Carrie Fisher, "I don't want my life to imitate art, I want it to be art") but I did enjoy them.  Gotta say, I haven't had a corn nut in probably a decade plus now, but after writing this, I will probably go out and get some tonight.  Of course, hopefully my experience later tonight won't be like the one poor Heather Chandler had after eating hers.  Of course she had help from J.D.'s liquid drainer concoction, in her murder-cum-suicide.  Oh the humanity.

6) Westerburg High and Archie Comics - One thing I always love in movies is references to other films, or other pop culture stuff.  It makes the film seem more like it is part of something bigger, more all-consuming.  References here include everything from the name of the high school being Westerburg High (one of Winona's favourite bands at the time was the Paul Westerburg-led Replacements) to the cops being named Milner and McCord (after Martin Milner and Kent McCord of Adam-12 fame) to friends Veronica Sawyer and Betty Finn being named after Archie's two dreamgirls in Archie Comics.

7) Christian Slater - You're Not a Rebel, You're a Psycho - Bard Pitt had originally tried out for the role of psycho killer J.D., but he was turned away for being too "nice" to play the part.  I wonder if those who turned Pitt away, ever caught his 1993 film Kalifornia?  Oh well, I digress.  Christian Slater got the role, and to this day, it is probably his best performance - or at least his most fun looking.  Usually thought of as kind of a joke around my house (I have liked him a few other times as well), Slater actually does a bang-up job with his fucked-up teenage rebel-cum-psycho.  A fucked-up teenage rebel-cum-psycho that the actor fashioned after Jack Nicholson.

8) Cool Guys Like You Out of My Life - When the end finally comes, and J.D. is blown to bits by his own bomb, Veronica is left a charred, smouldering mess in front of the school - but it is here that she makes her final stand, and decides to take back the school from the inherent poison that is the Heathers.  And even Martha Dunnstock, nee Dumptruck, gets to smile.  But one still must ask oneself, is this really the ending Daniel Waters wanted?  We are getting to that.  Be patient for fuck's sake.  First we must move on to some rather sad news.

9) When Life Imitates Art - Now this particular item is not necessarily something I like, but it is still something quite intriguing, and needs to be mentioned.  Two stars of the movie died at an early age: Jeremy Applegate (Peter Dawson, whose character prays he will never commit suicide) committed suicide with a shotgun on March 23, 2000, and Kim Walker (Heather Chandler, who had the line "Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?") died of a brain tumor on March 6, 2001.  Sad but true facts of life after Westerburg High.

10) Daniel Waters Had a Dream - As I spoke of earlier, screenwriter Dan Waters had originally planned a three hour movie, and with Stanley Kubrick at the helm.  The original screenplay had a different ending too.  Veronica kills J.D. by shooting him, and then straps the bomb to herself, blowing up as J.D. does in the filmed ending - leaving a suicide note in her locker.  The movie then closes with a creepy (one would assume) prom sequence set in Heaven - J.D. says earlier in the film, that the only place everyone will truly get along is in Heaven.  The prom begins with students dancing within their appropriate cliques, then switching partners in odd pairings, like heads dancing with Heathers and one of the murdered jocks getting his prom picture taken with a tipped cow.  The punch being served at the prom is the drain cleaner used in the Heather Chandler's murder scene, and Martha Dunnstock is singing onstage as the entertainment for the evening. This was what Waters had wanted for his film, but the studio thought it was too dark for the target teenage crowd and opted for a lighter ending.  Oh the humanity.

Well, that's it for my look at Heathers - a film from my distant past that has been reborn upon recent re-viewing.  Hopefully - well I definitely plan on it - there won't be such a long gap between this and my next "My Favourite Things" post, as there was between the last two. In fact, there may be another one coming up just next month - and it may or may not have a little something to do with ectoplasmic slime, Ray Parker, Jr. and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.  So, who ya gonna call?  See ya, as the kids are saying these days, in the funny papers.

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