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The Cinematical Movie Club is a new weekly feature where we pick a film, watch it and then discuss it. Feel free to read our introduction for more info.
Heathers is near and dear to my heart. It marked the first step towards my adult preferences, as I broke out of the kiddie fare and slowly journeyed into the world of more discerning taste. (My pre-teen self thought Grease 2 was a superior film to the original in all ways, people!) I rented the VHS because of my Christian Slater fandom born out of The Legend of Billie Jean and Gleaming the Cube. The Metropolitan trailer tugged me into the world of Whit Stillman and conversational features while the film itself allowed me to discover my deep love of black comedy and well-written banter.
To be fair, the first time I watched it, my friend and I were professing our love for Jason Dean, hoping to keep him from going further down that dark path. But when she went home, I rewound the tape and watched it again. And again. It stuck with me like no other film had. When I was 17 and driving around in my own car, I recorded the entire audio track and would listen to it daily, quickly learning every. single. line. It wasn't, however, mere teen adoration. I was simply enamored by the flow of the words, which may be passed off as merely weird, but rang in my ears like modern, satirical Shakespeare.
I know -- that's a pretty big stance to take. Shakespeare? But think about this: Heathers sounds like no other film out there. Daniel Waters created a wholly unique dialogue -- were you saying "cooze," "Swatchdogs," or "You're such a pillowcase"? -- but rather than simply throwing strange word bombs in a regular script, each piece bled into the next, each word carefully chosen and delivered so that they all counted. The banter thrived between people, but also between groups, shots, and scenes. The initial lunch room scene is the perfect example. After one of the most colorful journal entries cinema has ever seen (especially for a teen), we're taken to the head Heather, introduced to her latest evil deed, and then to the whole school -- the do-gooders, jocks, rich kids, nerds, stoners, you name it. Nothing about this introduction, or any scene for that matter, seems obligatory or forced because it's all well-placed and considered.
There are no definite changes in tone or pacing, plagues that infect many of Hollywood's comedies -- especially when the finish line is in sight and the story has to be wrapped up. Each bit dances to the next, each line sounds lyrical, but still natural. And this is why I call it modern, satirical Shakespeare. It's crescendos and diminuendos are timeless. Many films have tried to do banter with funky catch-words and silliness, but usually failed. Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was overflowing with alterna-speak, didn't have the same flow, and the phrasing was quickly abandoned after the pilot episode of the television series. A more modern example -- Juno.
But even the words are only as strong as the voices who relay them and the environment that surrounds them. Winona Ryder and Christian Slater were made for these roles. And while we might like to tease Slater for his overt Jack Nicholson mimicry, lines like "Greetings and salutations," would've fallen flat without that tired drawl. By now, my kind words are running rampant, I know. I can't help it. Heathers is the one film where I don't have a favorite character, I don't wait for preferred, favorite scenes. There's no cheering a character who could never win (Duckie), or griping over a wrong choice. Each character is respected and gets their due, whether its social isolation, revolt, or death.
But enough about me. Now it's time to see if you agree or disagree. Some questions and food for thought up for discussion:
- In his review, Roger Ebert asked: "Is this a black comedy about murder or just a cynical morality play?"
- Daniel Waters originally planned to use The Catcher in the Rye as the meaningfully marked up book for Heather Duke's fake suicide. Would that have worked better than Moby Dick?
- Due to the time of its release, Heathers often gets compared to the films of John Hughes. Is this a fair comparison? Which was best at relaying the high school experience?
- Daniel Waters originally intended to have everyone die and meet again in heaven. (Remember? "Let's face it: The only place that different social types can genuinely get along with each other is in heaven.") Everyone is at a heavenly prom, intermingling, from Heather Duke and Rodney to JD and Kurt. New World Pictures thought it was too dark and wanted something more upbeat.
- Many films have been linked to Heathers over the years, from the Waters follow-up Sex and Death 101 to Mean Girls. Do any films actually live up to the comparison?
And now it's time to look to next week:
NEXT FILM: The Graduate | Add it to your Netflix queue
I will livetweet again this Wednesday, 10 P.M. Eastern time. You can follow me at MBartyzel, and join in on the discussion using both #cinemovieclub and #thegraduate.