Being in high school myself, watching Mean Girls was like watching a slightly larger scale version of some of my high school escapades. Not so much a more dramatic version, actually, but just a larger version in a larger school. Why is that? Well, Tina Fey wrote her script and based it on the non-fiction book Queen Bees & Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseland. Wiseland, a child educator and writer, interviewed girls about…girl politics. About stress. About love. And Fey, who at that time was the first female head writer for NBC’s Saturday Night Live took interest in the book. But, it was a non-fiction book that lacked a narrative. What to do, what to do.
Fey created a storyline on her own, basing the drama and politics form the book and even on some of her own experiences in high school. Cady (Lindsay Lohan, quite perfect in this role) is a really pretty girl who’s been home schooled all her life in Africa and her parents suddenly move and put her into a public high school. Right off the bat, she knows it’s a jungle, but certainly not one she’s used to. Automatically, she has to learn the laws of the land and quickly makes friends with these sort of outsiders/weirdos that we all know of. There’s the slightly “goth” looking girl, Janice Ian (Lizzy Caplan), who’s all artsy and whatnot. There’s the gay guy, Damien (Daniel Franzese), who you love and who is equally kooky. And with meeting people who have already known who most of the student body is, there’s bound to be some gossip. Who to stay away from, who’s the slut, etc.
In this particular situation, Cady is warned about the notorious, infamous, and definitely glamorous clique called the Plastics. Comprised of a dumb blonde (Amanda Seyfried, Mama Mia!: the Movie, HBO’s Big Love), an heiress who is wonderfully stuck up (Lacey Chambert, voice of Eliza from Nick’s The Wild Thornberrys), and the Queen Bee. The Queen Bee, Regina George, is the most evil person ever to set foot on campus. Spreading rumors, sleeping around, — Evil is her middle name. Played with cunning prowess by Rachel McAdams, she manages to completely inhabit what it means to be your worst nightmare.
Their main goal throughout the film is that Cady will infiltrate the Plastics to bring down Regina. And, like many high schoolers, she simultaneously becomes a hypocrite. She becomes exactly what she wanted to destroy. This aspect of the storyline is quite interesting, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Without sacrificing comedy for storyline, this is quite an exceptional comedy.
The interesting part of the film is that it’s so realistic. I already explained why that was, but even for a teen movie, never has a director (Mark Waters) or a writer portrayed and captured the image of what it’s like to become a teenager since John Hughes with his Brat Pack films. Even then, it didn’t portray this side. The politics of girls are scary, both in the film and in real life. You say one thing wrong and they’ll hate you. You blab on one thing and you’ll rue the day you were born. But to actually have that in a film and play it out for comedy while maintaining its serious impacts isn’t such an easy thing.
Are cliques really like this? Are they so demanding and horrifying? Well, yes, actually, they can be quite worse. Peer pressure is almost always part of the equation, but these small groups of young girls and boys are responsible for a great deal of bullying in schools nowadays. With their unrealistic power, these groups are like armies: they have a legion within them and they have tremendous firepower. Why would one want to portray that on screen? Maybe to show parents what it’s like for their daughter? Or perhaps to use, as I inferred, as a morality tale for girls and how things like this can be prevented. The drama that occurs in the movies is not at all farfetched. Burn Books, gossip, etc. They all happen. Maybe not the Burn Book, but one could say that after gathering enough secrets about one another, everyone in high school has the power to make one of their own.
It’s a surprisingly important film, as it looks at the politics of high school from a female sensibility. Throughout the Hughes films, there would either be no particular first person narrative (Pretty in Pink) or there would be a male narrative (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), this film certainly delves into the psyche of a girl. And the actual narration is helpful. I believe it was Charlie Kaufman, who wrote in his film Adaptation. that producing narration in a film is cheesy, unethical, and reveals too much about the character. Quite untrue, as in that film, the plot depended on the narration, as does this film. One can certainly make a movie about a teen girl and the woes of high school but to intimately get to know the character, there has to be another medium. Sometimes, directors provide this information through diary entries read aloud on the screen. And some do this, provide a onscreen narration. Now, on screen narration isn’t everything. It has to be utilized properly, and thankfully, Fey utilizes it quite well, making ample comparisons between the Animal Kingdom…and the other Animal Kingdom. Incredibly funny are the fantasies in which Cady imagines that her peers are animals themselves, attacking Regina like a puma, or picking flies out of someone’s scalp like an orangutan.
While Cady becomes a hypocrite, I was just flabbergasted at how identifiable it was. To watch as your friend becomes everything she hates. They tend to make the excuse “I grew up” but that’s no excuse for becoming a liar or a hypocrite. It happens all the time. The realism that was used in the film, from Regina purposely making out with her ex-boyfriend in front of Cady to the Burn Book being released in school, is so amazing; the film could easily e used as a morality tale.
With great writing comes great acting. Lohan plays Cady wonderfully angelically at first and, as in real life, you can tell as she descends into hypocrisy and betrayal. She seems so wonderfully quirky at first, a bright new kid entering a new path to achievement. But drama got in the way and all hell broke loose. Rachel McAdams is fantastic playing Regina, as she emulates complete narcissism flawlessly. Seyfried and Chambert are also excellent as they play good people who are really sheep than evil minions. Chambert has a very likable quality in her character as she’s sort of pushed out of the way in favor of Lohan. Seyfried is charming as the dumbest blond you will ever see, and not even stereotypically stupid. This girl is really, really stupid. But she’s sweet in a way too.
It feels like somewhat of a SNL party, as many of the adult characters are played by SNL alumni: Anna Gasteyer plays Cady’s mother; Tina Fey plays the Calculus teacher, Ms. Norberry; Tim Meadows plays the principal, Mr. Duvall; and Amy Poehler plays Regina’s hipster mom. Rather comical cameos I must say.
The film’s strongest part is its undeniably hilarious writing. The movie has an endless amount of quotes that can be rattled off one after the other. The good thing is that all of these insanely funny and memorable lines flow very smoothly with the pace and tone of the film. The comedy within the film relies on reaction, acting, ad delivery, and all the cast do splendidly with Fey’s lines.
I believe that this film has rightfully earned its place alongside Heathers, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and other classic teen films. Not since the 1980’s has a film so precisely captured what it is to be a teenager and to deal with what teens deal with. And not only that, but not since then has any of the films been actually excellent. The film will also amuse (and possible horrify) parents, but the comedy is so road, it works. Not vulgar like teen sex comedies of the 80’s or present, but very verbal repartee. I really enjoyed this film and I think it was a brilliant thing to watch.
Grade: A- (This movie was so fetch!)