Lately, it seems I’ve been in the mood to watch movies about bad teenagers committing extreme crimes. I recently watched The Bling Ring, which focuses on the least likable people on the planet breaking into the homes of celebrities and stealing their priceless belongings. It’s fascinating because it has the feeling of an Animal Planet documentary, giving the viewer a mostly objective look at the lives of creatures that don’t seem to be humans – at least not if my friends, family, peers, and roommates are the standard for “human.” I thought that I liked it, until I saw the ’80s classic (and life-long member of everyone’s Netflix watch-list) Heathers, which takes a far more interesting approach. While just as much a satire, this film largely throws realism to the wind and thrusts the audience into a world of mercilessly dark comedy. I’m not sure exactly how much it made me laugh, but I will say that, when watching this movie, I had more fun – just pure and simple childlike giddiness – than I’ve had watching any other since Suspiria or Animal House – or maybe even my beloved Phantom of the Paradise.
Part of what makes this movie work so well is that it embraces cinema’s area of expertise: not truth, but “truthiness.” Anyone who knows what my high school was like knows that my experience there did not resemble that of this film’s characters in any way, and yet everything about this movie feels weirdly familiar. I’ve never met characters like the Heathers, but it feels like I’ve encountered them countless times. It feels like every high school in America has these same jocks, these same nerds, and this same staff. It’s almost like a bizarre take on Carrie, offering a chance to see justice done to the people in high school we all kind of wish were dead. I think that’s why it resonates with so many people, and why it’s a great example of how cinema ought to function, at least in its comedies.
Oddly enough, this film struck me as being the high school equivelent to a film noir. Perhaps it’s because of the odd, awkward dark tone matched with a bit of expressionism, or maybe it’s because of the situation the protagonist finds herself in, or maybe it’s because of the ending, but the whole thing feels like the filmmakers had been watching a lot of old films noirs when developing this story. It particularly feels like noir when Veronica looks down at the dead body of the man she just shot, seemingly realizing that she killed him and starting to feel bad, and then she proceeds to shoot the other jock, without explanation. I got a similar vibe when the film awkwardly tried to work in a message about how bad teen suicide is, with several references throughout to a song entitled, “Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It).” This message feels clumsily shoe-horned in, and it reminds me of all the times when the police officers in movies from the 1940s and 1950s explained to the characters (and, more importantly, to the audience) that the actions of the criminals were bad. These are just some of the ways in which Heathers is both strange and familiar for movie-lovers, and maybe that’s what makes it hit the spot for me.