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Sundance Flashback: A look at the endurance of ‘Heathers’

Michael Lehmann’s Heathers is the gift that keeps on giving

Heathers premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1989 and has since left a huge mark on pop culture, cinema, and television. In addition to being one of, if not the first, films to navigate the inner lives of the mean girl clique, it has also influenced the way society views high school teen life as a whole. Heathers starred quirky girl next door Winona Ryder as Veronica, the outlier in a clique of girls all named Heather. This dark comedy, through its satirical lens, asks the audience, are you a Heather or a Veronica? 

Heathers is about a girl named Veronica (Winona Ryder) who has had it with Heather Chandler’s (Kim Walker) bullying. Heather is her friend, and leader of the Heathers, a group composed of Veronica and two other girls named Heather. Veronica hooks up with an outsider, J.D (Christian Slater) and popular kids start to die in pretty hilarious manners. 

Sundance Flashback: A look at the endurance of 'Heathers'

Heathers did not introduce high school bullies to film. Mean girls, popular girls with influence, had already been introduced and had a history in horror films. The opening scene of Brian De Palma’s 1976 Carrie begins with a young loner showering during gym class. The scene is almost dreamy as it shows Sissy Spacek lost in her shower.

However, this peaceful scene quickly turns violent as the other girls turn on her and begin pelting her with tampons. This film is centered around the outcast’s revenge. Popular girls who wield their clout for evil have appeared in films like Sleepaway Camp, One Dark Night, and more. 

Heathers emerged and cast a cynical shadow over the movies of the decade. If one thinks of 80’s movies, John Hughes is at the forefront of those thoughts. Sentimental, coming of age, and with happy endings, Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink have a warm cemented place in the annals of nostalgia.

When the 80’s began to give way to the 90’s, Heathers was there to bridge the gap from one generation to the next. While mean girls were already known in horror, Heathers is the teenage coming of age comedy that told the story from the queen bee perspective, when the others were about the underdog.

Sundance Flashback: A look at the endurance of 'Heathers'

While Heathers put an emphasis on high school society, it also looked at real issues that teens face daily. Bullying, eating disorders, homophobia, and suicide are all present even if they are in the periphery of Veronica’s life. While the film is making fun of many things, and so much is over the top, Heathers is a film that is relatable to many generations. It’s no wonder it was remade as a television series in 2018.

Jawbreaker from 1999 was another comedy that showed how popularity can lead to death. The rules from TIna Fey’s  2004 comedy Mean Girls, “on Wednesdays we wear pink,” come right from the strict colors assigned to each Heather.  Heather Chandler swallowed Drano so Regina George could get hit by a bus. 

The Sundance Film Festival is online January 28- February 3. Tickets and a full lineup can be found here.

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