Much like JD and Veronica's love affair in the cult classic, Heathers, the TV reboot of the same name seemed doomed from the start. Paramount initially scrapped the project after the Parkland school shooting but decided to pick it back up after some serious editing (a school bombing was removed, as was a scene in which someone plays a video game simulating a school shooting). After all that, it's been released on Amazon Prime Video, and as an avid fan of the original black comedy, I decided to check it out.
The 1988 film, written by Daniel Waters, revolves around Westerburg High's Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) whose group of popular friends, all named Heather, have turned her into a vapid, over-accessorizing party girl. Knowing she's in over her head, but not sure what to do about it, she meets J.D. (played by Christian Slater doing his best Jack Nicholson impersonation) who, after they hook up, starts murdering Veronica's friends and framing them to look like suicides. This was the original Mean Girls, The original Jawbreaker, and it is better than both of them in its wit, satire, and depth.
The original Heathers was ahead of its time and, watching it again recently, I was struck by how contemporary it seems. Yes, of course, there are problems with it that we can recognize now with hindsight, but it's aged well in its made up language (the most famous line being, "F*ck me gently with a chainsaw!"—A timeless phrase!), depictions of social hierarchy, and even some of the fashion (not all... we are still in the shoulder pad decade, of course).
So, a reboot? It sounded unnecessary, but how bad could it be? Well, let's start with the good, and there is some, although it tends to be buried beneath everyone trying too hard to be edgy ALL OF THE TIME. First of all, there's the soundtrack—a wonderful mix of new and old. There's a scene with Poison's "Every Rose has its Thorn" that actually made me feel something for a character. (That is a rarity here and subsequently a big problem.) They've kept a lot of the electronic background music from the original which helps keep that nostalgia alive, too.
It also succeeds in capturing our addiction to social media in ways I haven't seen before, and some of those scenes made me laugh out loud. There is a real finger on the pulse feeling when people are taking selfies at funerals and when a social media campaign against suicide inevitably makes people more depressed. Also, Shannon Doherty—who played Heather Duke in the original film—has a small part in the reboot, and although her performance doesn't bring much substance, it was nice to see her don that red scrunchie once again.
And now the bad. OOOHHH BOYYYY. There is some BAD. In the original, Veronica is self aware enough to understand the danger of ditching bestie Betty Finn for a bunch of "Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads." In the new version, Veronica (played by Grace Cox) has zero self awareness and nothing for the audience to relate to. And when it comes to her relationship with J.D. (played by James Scully) there's a void where the charisma should be. Whenever I would turn off my TV, I would immediately forget what J.D. looked like. He ain't no Christian Slater is what I'm saying. Slater played a murderous psychopath, sure, but he had a charm and a sense of humor that made you think, "Well, he did murder my best friend, but I'll still let him buy me a slushie at the Snappy Snack Shack after school."
The biggest problem here, though, is who The Heathers have become. Heather Chandler (Heather #1) is a social justice warrior who calls out classmates for fat shaming, wearing Native American themed sports jerseys, etc. Sounds okay, right? Well, she's awful and mean and maybe faking it all. There's also Heather McNamara, a bi-racial lesbian (or is she pretending to be a lesbian so she's "just"—an unnecessary replacement for the original's "very"?), and Heather Duke, who identifies as gender-queer.
These are our bullies now—people who are actually bullied all the time in the real world. Is it written to be a form of justice for these marginalized groups? Maybe, but it doesn't feel that way. It feels icky.
Making a new version of a comedy in which the subject matter revolves around gun violence at school is off putting. We all know that old adage: comedy equals tragedy plus time. But we are still in the thick of it. There has been no time. Heathers belongs safely back in 1988 when there wasn't a school shooting once a week and where a plot to bomb one's high school could still be seen as absurd.
As I can imagine Veronica Sawyer herself saying, "Tonight, let me dream of a world without a TV adaptation of Heathers—A world where I am free."
—Sarah Mathews is an Accounts Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.