Heathers: 20th High School Reunion Edition (Anchor Bay, 1989) D: Michael Lehmann, w/ Winona Ryder, Christian Slater. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNNN
This is one of the all-time great dark comedies, up there with Dr. Strangelove. It’s not as polished as that film, but every bit as twisted, thanks to Daniel Waters’s smart dialogue, director Michael Lehmann’s sharp eye for comic imagery and David Newman’s stinging score.
The subject is teen suicide, and the movie takes on cheesy sentimentality, the media circus, bad parenting, airhead teaching, teen angst, general human idiocy and the viciousness of high school. Tastelessness abounds on a level way higher than fart jokes.
No one gets spared, including the heroine, Veronica, who’s part of the popular-girl clique of the title but involved with outsider bad boy J.D. Murders happen.
The film made stars of Winona Ryder (Veronica) and Christian Slater (J.D.). They’re great together. She plays it absolutely straight, while he channels Jack Nicholson in outsized-charming mode. That’s a weird but highly effective choice, and, as the extras point out repeatedly, Slater’s natural voice has that Nicholson twang.
There isn’t much new in the extras – one look back from 2008. The commentary comes from the 1998 edition and it gains enormously by its distance from the production. It was a first feature for Lehmann, writer Waters and producer Denise De Novi. They’re all proud of it but completely willing to discuss its flaws and their own errors. They’re also very funny.
EXTRAS Disc one: director, producer and writer commentary. Widescreen. Disc two: two retrospective making-of docs, original ending screenplay excerpt on DVD-ROM. Widescreen.