Everyone knows the movie Mean Girls: It was Li Lo’s big break out role and the screenplay was written by the talented Tina Fey (who also starred in it) and produced by SNL creator Lorne Michaels. It also featured fellow SNL alumnis Tim Meadows and Amy Poehler, as well as Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried, and Rachel McAdams as the trio of popular girls that everyone both loved and hated. It was of course a box office smash, however it was an extremely tame film (very family friendly), and though filled with charm and humor, it comes off as a very watered down version of it’s predecessors.
A lesser known film (more well known in my generation) was Jawbreakers, a sexy, slick movie filled with dark humor and morbid themes. It featured the talents of Rose McGowen (and then boyfriend Marilyn Manson), Rebecca Gayheart, Judy Greer, and Julie Benz. It contained twisted, surreal elements (including a grim accidental murder) interspersed with candy colored motifs and was definitely NOT a film for children. And the mean girls weren’t just mean, but cruel. “The Plastics” of Mean Girls were replaced with “The Flawless Four“, who weren’t just worshiped, but feared. The leader of the pack wasn’t just a snake, she was a grade-A sociopath (Don’t let that “Snow White” exterior fool you, Rose McGowen’s character was pure evil Prom Queen). Despite it’s initial negative reviews, it has since moved on to become a cult classic and has developed a sizeable following.
But in the 80’s one film stood out that would set the tone and influence the above. A film so controversial for it’s time, so dark in its tone, so surreal in its presentation, that it had a limited release and actually faced protest. It was a revolutionary film, a highschool drama facing a high body count among the popular crowd due to the treachery of one of it’s own. Filmed in 32 days on a very limited budget, Heathers has gone on to become an underground hit,and has since been referenced in such popular media as Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Urban Legend, The Virgin Suicides, Saturday Night Live, Van Wilder, Scary Movie, Gilmore Girls, and Psych. It is remarkable for it’s memorable dialogue and moments, it’s grisly subject matter, and it’s taboo nature. All conflicts that teens may face in their darkest moments or nightmares are brought to life: date rape, suicide, bullying, teen shootings, homophobia, school bombings, and the death of friends. It’s dark content was presented in a comedic tone often dripping with cynicism that showed the absurdity of popularizing such subjects (as if it was a cool thing to do). In fact, that was it’s overall message. This film is particularly poignant as in the 90’s there would be a spree of teen violence in schools (Heathers would have never seen the inside of a movie theater at such a time), and later overly dramatic, shallow teen centric shows such as Gossip Girls, 90210, Dawson’s Creek, etc; which would present teen angst in a shiny glossy package, either making light of real teen worries or having it ring hollow by filtering it through a pop culture mirror filled with cheesy pop music, it’s characters portrayed by bulimic Stepford teens. It mocked the concept of teen drama/trauma being turned into a “cool” commodity years before Hollywood and popular media would do just that.
But for all Heathers insight, I particularly find it enjoyable because it doesn’t wallow in it’s own self-importance. It’s not Buffy; it doesn’t try too hard to be quippy or socially relevant to teens. It’s humor flows naturally; it’s humor is mostly derived from the total irony of a system that misunderstands/misrepresents the life of a teen by the very people who were once a part of that dynamic, and the social politics that come to play in that world. It sets up the stage for drama and then let’s it take flight, only taking occasional dips into the realm of the hypnagogic. It doesn’t try to ram a ton of pop culture references into it’s make up or point out “here is the ANGST” with a flashing neon sign. It’s not formulaic. There are many fun surprises in store for the viewer and it provides a memorable experience that can only exist through good solid writing and a competent cast.
The Plot: At it’s core, the plot revolves around a mean girl seeking redemption, which is only obtained through human sacrifice. An accidental murder combined with a roguish trigger happy boyfriend obsessed with carnage, drive the protagonist into a Bonnie and Clyde crime spree that ends with a literal Bang. Our heroine kills the queen bee then fakes her suicide. A chain reaction is started. Suddenly suicide is cool. It makes the death noble, the perpetrator a martyr. Others want to emulate. The town and media latches on to it. Soon the schools resident evil doers are offed one by one, only to be quickly replaced. Things spin out of control for our heroine and she ultimately must make a choice. The outcome shown in the finale was a different choice from the original, yet it is still poignant in it’s finale message.
My rating: 9.8/10. It’s a near perfect film for it’s medium. It still stands out. Is it a Cohen bros masterpiece? No, but it contains some pretty sharp and savvy writing and direction for an ’80s teen flick. This is no John Hughes film though (no offense to the late and great Mr. Hughes). I know I’ve kept this short (and haven’t gone to near the detail of my Sims review), but there isn’t much more I can say without spoiling the movie. If you haven’t seen this film, rent it. It’s worth repeated viewings. It really speaks for itself. It’s a rare treat, a film that gets better with age. Trust me on this.