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What’s your damage?
In 1989, Michael Lehmann’s black comedy Heathers drew a line in the sand, rebuffing the sweetness and optimism of John Hughes’ more popular fare with darkness and death. Launching the careers of Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, Heathers became a cult classic, ranking #5 on Entertainment Weekly’s list of the 50 Best High School Movies and inspiring hoards of teen films that vastly overshadow its fame but lack its acid wit, moral complexity, and undeniable emotional punch.
For the latest installment of Deep Focus, John Ross Bowie blends captivating memoir with astute analysis, tracing the rebel-teen mythology that links Columbine, heavy metal, and The Catcher in the Rye. With help from Lehmann, screenwriter Daniel Waters, and members of the cast, Bowie thoroughly unpacks the film’s peculiar resonance. Brilliant riffs on the etymology of its teen slang, the implications of its title, and its visual debt to Stanley Kubrick show how Heathers—for all its audacious absurdity—speaks volumes about the realities of high school and of life itself.
The cult classic teen film Heathers is the subject of the latest release from Soft Skull's series of film criticism, Deep Focus. Bowie begins by describing his own high school experience, his first viewing of the film, and what it meant to him (bonus points for having seen it with a girlfriend named Heather). His interviews with screenwriter Daniel Waters and director Michael Lehmann provide trivia, deleted scenes, and alternate endings. Bowie examines the implications of the film's many layers, describing it as "a fluffy black comedy, brightly lit confection and an eerily timeless morality play." He points out the cultural significance of the names, colors, and props that appear in the film. For example, Veronica Sawyer and Betty Finn were an amalgam of characters from Archie Comics and the literature of Mark Twain. Veronica's black and blue wardrobe is shown in stark contrast to that of the Heathers, "to remind us of her sadness and the walking bruise she is." Bowie veers off-topic in the final chapter, tying in recent anti-bullying campaigns to the film's message, but he clearly means well. Fans of the film will be delighted with this book, which like the film, is fun, irreverent, and wickedly intelligent.