The cult of Heathers, the 1988 black comedy about two high school students who unintentionally make suicide popular, has grown so much in 25 years that it’s now gotten that ultimate niche-classic coronation: adaptation as a Broadway musical. Early notices for the stage production, which opens Monday—the anniversary of the film’s release in the U.S., where it flopped—says it “aims to strike a more hopeful, optimistic tone by the end” than the movie did.
To which any diehard Heathers fan might answer something like, “fuck me gently with a chainsaw.”
Optimism, see, has no place in Heathers’ appeal. The film is often mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Mean Girls and Clueless due to its subject matter and snappy dialogue, but Heathers features a dark streak unmatched by its descendants. Seen today, it deserves to be celebrated as an early, scathing critique of a culture that celebrates mediocrity and is indifferent to suffering.
Like most of its genre peers, Heathers begin with anthropological exam of high-school cliques. The most popular students are the “Heathers,” three girls who share the same first name and fashion sense (big hair, bigger shoulder pads). Their most recent recruit is Veronica (Winona Ryder), a smart girl who distinguishes herself from the Heathers through precocious self-awareness and the vestiges of empathy (the Heathers have none). A “lunchtime poll” gives the Heather, Veronica, and director Michael Lehmann an excuse to take a census of the students, and Veronica’s last poll victim is JD (Christian Slater), a new kid who’s skeptical of the social hierarchy. His mannered indifference piques Veronica’s interest, of course, so they sleep together after Veronica and the alpha Heather (Kim Walker) have a disastrous night at a college party.