The Roku channel brings us Heathers: The Musical, a kind of movie based on a blockbuster theatrical production based on the 1988 cult classic starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, and trashed the high school movies that dominated the decade. This new thing you might be tempted to stream is shot in front of a live West End audience so it’s not an expensive production just a film version of the stage version because a film version of the stage version of the original version of the film would be simply ridiculous. So, putting aside any consideration of whether this dark, dark (dark!) satire works as a bubbly musical, the main question we should address is: is it worth streaming, when the original film, chock-full of quotable dialogue and unforgiving dark comedy, is also streaming on the same service?
The essential: No, they don’t update it to the modern day – that would be, as they say, problematic. We are in 1989. Westerberg High School. An opening number consists of all sorts of slurs taken from the era: Freak, slut, homo, hunchback, lardass, cripple, etc. It was, as they also say, then, and it is now. Between tirades of ironically deployed insults, we meet our protagonist, Veronica Sawyer (Alisa Davidson), who narrates from her diary – in sooooooonnnnnnggggggggg! Her lifelong best friend is Martha Dunnstock (Mhairi Angus), an outcast nicknamed Martha Dumptruck. The two eat popcorn and rent movies, but that’s not enough for Veronica anymore. She aspires to be popular. Have you ever wanted? Often I sit and inhale. Did you suck?
And she succeeds. The school is run by the three Heathers: Heather Chandler (Maddison Firth), the leader of the “mythical bitch”, and her minions, Heather Duke (Vivian Panka) and Heather McNamara (Teleri Hughes). They are the top of the social hierarchy. Plant your platter of pizza fiestada and an underbaked chocolate chip cookie next to theirs at lunchtime, and it’s like having an audience with the queen. And somehow, Veronica sneaks into their exclusive clique; her matching thigh highs and primary color outfit complete her assimilation. But she soon discovers that being a member of the “lip gloss gestapo” isn’t all she’s made out to be. The Heathers treat each other like shit just like they treat everyone else like shit.
Veronica wanders into a 7-11 and meets JD (Simon Gordon) and, after a great comedy ode to Slurpees, totally kisses. He’s the new kid at school. He’s always the new kid in school. His father is paid to demolish buildings and they move around a lot. But he beats the two sports bullies, Ram (Rory Whelan) and Kurt (Liam Doyle), establishing himself as someone you don’t get along with. The Heathers play a cruel prank on Martha, so Veronica quits the group. And this is where it gets dicey: Between one thing and another, the morning after a party, Veronica and JD mix up a hangover cure for Heather C and put some drain cleaner in it and Heather C drinks it and it kills her. JD and Veronica forge a suicide note, elevating him to martyrdom. Next stop, Ram and Kurt, because they sexually assault Veronica, and after she plans to play a prank on them and JD shoots them dead and casts them as a tragic suicide pact between gay lovers, inspiring a number called “My Dead Gay Son”. This whole mess makes poor Veronica a tortured soul (and accomplice to murder, but never mind), where JD, well, he justifies it. They were holes. I can’t disagree, but, like, death is so permanentyou know?
What movies will this remind you of? : Disney took a similar approach, just filming the scene is cheaper than making an actual movie for hamiltonand it was a huge streaming success.
Performance to watch: Davidson is a rock-solid frontman, and while the material doesn’t inspire her to reach particularly deep into the well of human emotion, it pretty much nails the musical’s upbeat/dark tonal dichotomy.
Memorable dialogue: The musical takes its best lines straight from the movie (you know, something about a chainsaw), so let’s choose a lyric from one of the musical numbers: “Welcome to my school, it’s not a high school, it’s the Thunderdome.
Sex and skin: Chiseled football dudes in bikini briefs, Davidson keeps her top on as she rides Gordon.
Our opinion : By their very nature, filmed versions of stage productions tend to lose something when translating to a flat screen – I call it “you-to-be-there-ism”. You only have a limited number of angles, and the cuts in the audience’s shots make us react, kind of like a laugh track. The wired vibe of live performances is present, but dulled. Still, the production is pretty popular, and its soundtrack racks up tens of millions of plays on YouTube, so here we are.
And the result is good, very good. It justifies its existence by delivering songs that are nothing short of memorable, but at least have a slew of clever lyrical phrase-turnings – there’s something subversively appealing about a chorus of performers spitting out a slew of non-PC bashings screened wholesale from the 21st of the last century’s banned word lists. Not that we should dust off the most offensive slurs for everyday use, but Heathers: The Musical gets away with it because the seething satire of the original film remains powerful, even in watered-down, second-hand form.
However, the aforementioned tonal dichotomy is often a difficult adjustment. Suicide, murder, eating disorders, and homophobia are casually tackled at first, before the production shifts to a more earnest and earnest tone. He also dutifully hands out musical numbers to a joke’s supporting characters, bits that have their moments but drag all the effort, making a concise 100-minute film a 135-minute hike that gets slow in the third. deed. It feels like it’s losing its temper, the beat dulling its sharp blade with hyperbolic teenage angst. Musical comedy will appeal to those who want to see the play but can’t make it to the West End; for those who are just curious fans of the Ryder-Slater movie, it’s unlikely to fly very high.
Our call: SKIP. Watch the movie instead. It’s right there.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Learn more about his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.