The teen movie does not get the respect it deserves.
Teen movies are a perfect bellwether for the aesthetics and values of a given time. Try screening Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Can’t Hardly Wait, and Superbad back-to-back-to-back and you will have a broad sense of American middle class youth from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s. Released in 1988, Michael Lehmann’s Heathers is an especially inventive example of the genre. It is a bone-dry satire of American suburbia, one that contrasts macabre absurdity with vibrant visuals. As opposed to the lesson-learned moralizing typical of teen films, it offers only deep ambivalence. Set in small-town Ohio, the film stars Winona Ryder as Veronica Sawyer, the only one of Westerburg High’s popular clique not named Heather, and Christian Slater as J.D., Veronica’s charismatic but unhinged boyfriend. When a prank spins out of control, Veronica and J.D. begin murdering their peers and disguising them as suicides. As the rest of the school adjusts with disconcerting ease to a world where killing yourself is trendy, a biting critique of a society obsessed with appearance and hierarchical dominance emerges. Its look is pure 80s with big hair and bigger shoulders, and in a world that is all surface, of course the outfits send a message. An American Psycho for the suburbs, Heathers still resonates.