How Veronica Sawyer Saved Teen Movie Heroines


I was probably in 6th grade when I saw Heathers for the first time. It was the most messed up movie I had seen at the time, and I absolutely loved every second of it.

There is really no separation between good and evil in Heathers; everyone is a bitch, everyone has their own motives, everyone is out for themselves. Who we sympathize with is mainly based on the seeming intentions behind the insanity; Veronica Sawyer, played by Winona Ryder, is the most sympathetic character, as she seems to be trying to destroy the system she’s stuck in from the inside, but it doesn’t excuse her behavior or make her any less evil than the bitches she’s out to take down. It simply makes her type of crazy angst more relatable and worth rooting for.

Eva Wiseman explores the influence Heathers had on popular culture in today’s Guardian, noting that “these heroines were us and we loved them. Teenage girlhood, with its broken relationships and conversations about weight, was far easier to watch than to live through.” Heathers, she argues, is really the first film to deal with teenage sexuality, popularity, and the darkness of adolescence in a true light.

As Kate Random Love tells The Guardian: “Of all the portrayals of female adolescence in film, Heathers stands out as one of the best, mainly, I think, because it focuses on one of the key traumas of being a teenage girl: negotiating your social position. What made Veronica such a compelling character was that she wasn’t an outsider trying to fit in, à la Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, rather, as part of the ‘most powerful clique in school’, she was an insider trying to get out.”

Heathers provided something most teen movies couldn’t: a look at the world of cliques from someone trapped on the inside. Veronica Sawyer was beautiful, popular, and seriously fucked in the head. She was dealing with the adolescent angst that we all go through (albeit on an insanely elevated level with, you know, some murders involved) but her existence on screen was proof that the people on the “inside” are just as messed up as the “weird” outsider girls that Molly Ringwald always played.

One of the reasons I love Veronica Sawyer is because she’s so painfully aware of the social structure around her; she sees it in her parents and in her classmates; she is aware that the world is filled with bullshit and that there is a game that needs to be played in order to survive. Unlike Molly Ringwald’s characters, who often base their existence around the acknowledgment of a boy who is painted as “out of her league” and who seems to only find happiness when said boy shows up and admits that he loves her, Veronica Sawyer ends up choosing her own sanity and happiness over a boy she’s clearly connected to in a pretty horrifically dependent way.

The closest we’ve come to a Veronica Sawyer type character, Wiseman notes, is Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron in 2004’s Mean Girls, but there is a sweetness to Heron that doesn’t show up in Sawyer; Cady Heron learns her lesson and goes back to living a blissfully clique-free life, while once imagines Sawyer will continue to deal with everyday bullshit for years to come, because that’s just the way things are.

It’s hard to say whether we’ll ever have another Veronica Sawyer; the teens in today’s films all seem to have to stop to kiss a sparkly vampire or go into a musical breakdown or express their rage through the power of synchronized dance. A movie like Heathers might not even be made today; the violence would be too much, the darkness too dark; the entire point, that growing up is insane and dark and bizarre would be lost behind hair flips and stupid lingo and the all-important soundtrack. But for those of us who grow up with Veronica Sawyer, her legacy remains. So lick it up, baby. Lick it up.

For kicks, here is an early Heathers trailer with the working title "Lethal Attraction":

Talking About Bad Girls [The Guardian]

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