A VERY happy birthday to Heathers, back in cinemas for the 30th anniversary

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Director: Michael Lehmann

18 | 1h 43min | Comedy | 17 November 1989 (UK) (1988 US)

RATING: ★★★★☆

Playing various cinemas across London including The Prince Charles Cinema and Picturehouses

The darkly funny and subversive 1988 high-school comedy Heathers, now 30 years old and due a re-release, seems like one of the outliers in the high school movie genre given just how dark and provocative it gets, even by what feels like "today's standards". It feels like a full-throttle "fuck you" to all the John Hughes movies that arguably set the parameters of this kind of film just a few years earlier. Maybe a Heathers was kind of inevitable in that way, its common to see certain films kick against a trend a few years after said trend has bedded in. And so in Heathers, a story about a series of high school murders carried out in the name of rebellion against the school's suffocating clique-conformist culture, neither of the main leads here stay on the side of the angels. Despite a last-act turn against the descent into nihilistic mass-murder, Winona Ryder's jaded, upper-crust ex-clique rebel Veronica is still a co-conspirator to the deaths, acting in cahoots with he lover, the school's dark horse nihilist JD. The cast of supporting players who pivot around the main duo all at some point seem to the target of the film's mockery too. Whether it is new age proponents of touchy-feely teaching, bullying jocks, or leering anti-social geeks; the entire bland Ohio high school which serves as the film's setting is seemingly empty of anyone that we the viewers can latch on to, though this gives us plenty to chuckle and roll our eyes at. Director Michael Lehmann's and writer Daniel Waters' approach feels more John Waters than John Hughes in this regard. I can't deny I like films that go after everyone, without punching down.

One the film's most deliciously funny conceits is the fact that killing various members of the despicably privileged and brainless ruling cliques - which Veronica and JD proceed to set about doing in a variety of crude DIY methods ranging from poison to pistols- is ironically the only way these kids end up attaining a bizarre kind of grace by the time they are laid in the coffin; not exactly what their murderers intended. This school is so fucked up, even murder can't be done right: instead of waking people up in the way rich kid revolutionary JD raves about, each brutal death simply sends everyone in the school further into a spiral of schmaltzy memorialisation of the ruling clique pupils who everyone either secretly hated or feared when they were alive. JD draws his own nihilistic conclusions from this: might as well just blow everyone up in one go and create a "Woodstock for the 80s" via a few bricks of TNT.

If there is anyone worth rooting for, anyone the script seems to have a sliver of sympathy for, it seems to be only those at the very bottom of the pile, such as the socially isolated and overweight high-schooler "Martha Dumptruck" who is everyone's punching bag. As acidic as the film's screenplay is, and as flippant as it comes off about issues like teen suicide, rape and murder (with high school shootings now seemingly the norm in the US, elements of this film's plot does induce some queasiness), the presence of characters like Martha seems like the clearest evidence that the film isn't really on the side of Slater's "kill em all and let God sort 'em out" faux-rebel theatrics; which are made even more hypocritical by the fact he himself is the scion of huge wealth which he doesn't seem very interested in rejecting. It is instead more a satire-laced cry for a return to basic empathy; something which Reagan's 80s relegated to the bottom of the priority list. Still, I find myself wondering how much flak this film has taken in the post-Columbine shooting era, with JD's trench coat getup, 44 Magnum, and arsenal of cynical one-liners something of a high-school killer lookbook.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Maurice, from the director of Call Me By Your Name, returns in a sumptuous 4K reissue

Director: James Ivory

15 | 2h 20min | Drama, Romance | 18 September 1987 (USA)

RATING: ★★★★☆

Merchant Ivory’s award-winning adaptation of E.M. Forster’s autobiographical novel, will open at BFI Southbank and selected cinemas UK-wide from 27 July 2018.

This handsome-looking Merchant Ivory British drama is getting a 4K digital re-release this August courtesy of the BFI, and its a timely reissue given the recent success of the James Ivory-scripted gay drama Call Me By Your Name. Maurice, also a gay-cented movie, bears many similarities to last year's indie hit, but whereas Call Me was about the sweet pain of letting it all out, Maurice is about the pain of keeping it tightly wound in.

Adapted from the E.M Forster novel by Kit Hesketh-Harvey and James Ivory himself, Maurice is set in an early 20th century Edwardian Britain still reeling from the Oscar Wilde trial. We start off in the refined atmosphere of Cambridge University, populated exclusively by upper crust males, where the repressed, unworldly bourgeois Maurice Hall (James Wilby, in a performance that opens out superbly over time), ends up surprised by his own passions for the sophisticated but cautious fellow student Clive Clive Durham (Hugh Grant: clipped and dashing, but always suggesting the pain of fighting a losing battle against conformity). Both men end up caught up in the push and pull between their own desires, fears, and each other's different judgements of the two, a battle which can never really be either resolved or fought out in the open, this being an era not only when homosexuality was illegal but when social expectations of the upper class were as suffocating as any law. The tension of discovery is never far away, especially when one of their less cautious and effete classmates is exposed by a cruel police sting and given much the same treatment Wilde was. The scene where Grant's character essentially jettisons their friendship over the telephone to keep his freedom (and privilege) is a painful reminder of what fear did to gay men. Still, wealth and status give Maurice and Clive a layer of protection (there are clues Maurice's sarcastic butler knows the score) not afforded to the poorer class, which just showcases the hypocrisy of English homophobia even more.

Yet Ivory's lavishly decorated film is interesting too in how it explores the tragic irony of this situation: Maurice and Clive, and all their fellow students, are literally drowning in privilege. They are also being educated in what you might call an almost ludicrously male environment; where ceremonies, language and lessons all reinforce the superiority of the English male. They even are schooled in very saucy Greek homosexual literature in their philosophy and literature seminars; explicit texts which, hilariously, cause one lecturer to blushingly keep requesting that they 'skip over the vice of the Greeks' at key points in recitals. Yet for all this privilege, all this maleness, these two men can't express their love; they are suffocating. Ultimately though, thanks to Maurice's growing resentment at what the strictures of society mean for his future (which puts him on an interesting reverse path to Clive), and an encounter with a gay groundkeeper in his later years, a positive and enriching portrait of a loving relationship does eventually emerge. Worth seeing, especially if you enjoyed Call Me By Your Name.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.