Originally, Westerberg High School had three Heathers: Heather Chandler, Heather Duke, and Heather McNamara. Now, we have three more Heathers: Heathers, the original 1988 movie; Heathers, the musical, released in 2010; and Heathers the cable TV show.
Heathers, the movie, is Heather Chandler: original and apologetically wicked in its social satire. Heathers, the play, channels Heather McNamara’s bleeding heart. I guess that makes TV Heathers Heather Duke (Shannon Doherty)- all too eager to rise up and replace Heather #1.
In the movie, Winona Ryder plays Veronica. We meet Veronica on the tail end of her miserable friendship with the school’s popular clique. Veronica seems like a decent person, probably not a geek before this whole thing started, and openly fed up with Heather Chandler’s coy manipulation. Meeting J.D. (Christian Slater), an outsider whose father blows things up for a living, incites Veronica to murder her enemies.
A couple of theories exist about this movie. J.D. says, “people will look at the ashes of Westerburg and say, “Now there’s a school that self-destructed, not because society didn’t care, but because the school was society.” Maybe Heathers tells us society will inevitably self- destruct. The film uses red and blue symbolically. Theories tie Heathers to Reagan- era politics, communism versus liberalism, oppression (red) versus freedom (blue). I personally love this theory that Heathers is all about Bob Stinson’s split from The Replacements. Whatever your opinion, Veronica Sawyer did not snap apart her homecoming crown and throw it to the class of 1988.
Heathers deals with a lot of dark topics- rape, social pressure, bulimia, gay stereotypes, and suicide. Everybody forgets the part where Veronica tells JD she has a really high IQ and almost transferred to high school from 6th grade. Veronica sees a part of herself in J.D. that disgusts her- his psychopathic tendency to act on his urges. J.D., the film’s vigilante, presents his own set of issues. Re- watching Heathers in 2018, I saw parallels. This boy comes from a broken home and believes no one loves him. He truly thinks he can make the world a better place by blowing it up. Scary.
The musical Heathers brings Broadway- style humanity to the story. It’s a dark chocolate covered marshmallow when you want a piece of toffee. It has the same biting lines (“did you eat a brain tumor for breakfast?”), but the inside is soft and mushy where you want something sharp and hard. The characters are flat and stereotypical: jocks, nerds, doormats, assholes.
The musical imagines a passionate romance between Veronica and JD, which seems crazy compared to Veronica literally kneeing J.D. in the dick in the film. Writers Kevin Murphy and Lawrence O’Keefe take catchy lines from the movie and turn them into songs, like “I Love My Dead Gay Son” and “Our love is God”. They almost embarrass the script. The musical also puts Veronica at the bottom of the social ladder; she rises to Heathers status because of her talent for forgery. It also makes Martha Dumptruck her best friend. Musical Veronica wants to save everyone: Martha, J.D., the students at the school, even the characters she kills.
The musical follows the movie beat- by- beat. All the same things happen. But, the musical carries a different theme: anti- bullying. It feels particularly timely given current events, but shares more in common with 13 Reasons Why than Heathers the movie. In the musical, Heather Chandler, Kurt and Ram all come back as ghosts to haunt Veronica. I really liked the ghosts. I feel if Heathers embraced its dark side, it might have made a better musical. But Broadway doesn’t work like that.
I haven’t seen the TV show yet, but I look forward to it. From what I hear, it embraces the dark comedy and social commentary that made the movie a cult favorite.