In the 1988 film, Beetlejuice, the character Lydia, played by Winona Ryder says, “I, myself, am strange and unusual.” Indeed, Winona Ryder has played many characters since the late 1980s and although those characters are different they all seem to have one thing in common: strange, and unusual. Over the years she’s been sort of type-casted in roles as a moody young adult in films, Beetlejuice, Heathers, Mermaids, and Reality Bites. Other typecast roles she’s played has been a sort of waify lost girl like in the films Girl, Interrupted, Bram Stockers Dracula, and The Crucible. However, in films where her image was not within the categories she had been type casted they flew under the radar. According to Christine Geraghty’s essay, Re-examining stardom: questions of texts, bodies, and performance, “Too much difference from established star image may lead to disappointment for the intended audience,”(Geraghty 189). In this paper I will be applying Geraghty’s essay to the film Heathers to re-examine the stardom of Winona Ryder and articulate the parallels between the character and star.
Heathers(1988) is a teen black comedy about a high school girl named Veronica who is part of a popular clique called the “Heathers,” which she loathes. Three of the girls are named Heather, and the forth, Veronica, who is very much different from the others. Winona Ryder is unlike other female stars in that she never really was seen as spectacle as much as other female celebrities, “Women function effectively as spectacle in the press and on television as well as in the cinema,”(Geraghty 196). Veronica doesn’t really like how the Heathers treat people at her school or how they treat her for that matter. Veronica aesthetically looks very unusual compared to the hegemonic feminine upper-class Heathers. Veronica has black hair, pale skin, wears black clothes, fashion that is unlike the mostly blonde Aqua-net haired vixens of the Heathers, signifying her not-likeness. This aesthetic is present in many of other Winona Ryder characters in her career. She meets J.D, played by Christian Slater, and the two form a relationship. She tells him, “I want to make Heather Chandler puke,” to teach her a lesson but they accidentally kill her with a “hang-over cure” drink mixed with drain cleaner by J.D. J.D insists Veronica write a suicide note to cover their tracks. Because of the note, Heather is seen not as the shallow mean girl that she was but instead as a troubled soul with depth. Two high school jocks spread a rumor that Veronica performed fellatio on the both of them at the same time. Wanting to scare them, J.D and Veronica trick them to going into the woods where they were going to be fake-shot with blank bullets, however, that back-fires(no pun intended), and JD had put real bullets in the guns, killing both of them. Again, JD makes Veronica write a suicide note making the two jocks out to be gay lovers in an unaccepting world. The school reveres the dead jocks due to their, “repressed homosexual suicide pact.” Veronica breaks up with JD after realizing the deaths were no accident and she eventually stands up to him while he tries to blow up the school.
“The Hollywood star system was very much associated with personification, with the notion that the stars did not act but were themselves and that the pleasurably recognizable repertoire of gestures, expressions and movements were the property of the star not of any individual character,”(Geraghty 191). Veronica, like Lydia, are both basically the same character. Winona Ryder seems as though she plays as herself in many of her films, underlying “the claim to the uniqueness of the star-as-professional but, because of the emphasis on ‘being’ rather than acting,”(Geraghty 192). Winona Ryder has a uniqueness about her that mainstream celebrity stardom may perhaps view as strange, and unusual.