Why We Like "Mean Girls"

Now compared to the likes of “Heathers” and “Clueless,” 2004’s “Mean Girls” is a rare teen comedy that manages to come shockingly close to the charm and humanity of a John Hughes film thanks to the sharp writing of Tina Fey who explores the battle of the sexes, the female dynamic and the struggle for superiority among the opposite sex with a mild box office hit that went on to live its remaining days as a classic among teenage audiences. Starring a slew of up and comers including Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, and Lizzy Caplan, and offering hilarious supporting performances from SNL stars, “Mean Girls” is a movie I didn’t love the first time out. But watching it a few years later I realized it’s a classic for a reason and is one of the few interesting teen comedies ever released. And we have Tina Fey to thank for that. She, of course, went on to write the underrated sitcom “30 Rock,” but here she taps in to the teenage persona and does it better than most writers today can ever hope to. Here’s why we like “Mean Girls” and why you should like it too…

Tina Fey as Mrs. Norbury

Only in a movie can teachers like Mrs. Norbury exist. Someone so caring, so under appreciated, so intelligent, and talented, and so damn attractive. I mean in high school I had a teacher like her but he was a man. Just my luck right? I’m not saying teachers like Mrs. Norbury don’t exist, but they are a rarity and Mrs. Norbury is one in many realistic characters in the film. Tina Fey also manages to touch upon another true to life aspect of her character: the fact that public school teachers are piss poor, even in schools like the one we see in “Mean Girls.” When I was in high school my favorite teacher couldn’t even afford basic cable, and one of my social studies teachers could only be on the internet during school time. So that’s why Mrs. Norbury is such an interesting true to life character explaining in the climax that she’s currently holding up three jobs to make extra money (partly because of her divorce, as well), who also manages to be one of the more interesting feminine personas of the story who is hopelessly out of touch with her own life but can somehow tap in to what makes the young girls work.

Mrs. Norbury shows that sometimes the people who can guide you in to the right direction aren’t always head that way. Fey brings a low key sanity to the movie while also managing to be very funny. Fey who went on to, of course, spearhead the hilarious “30 Rock” many years later brings much of the series understated insanity and hilarity with sharply comedic characters, interesting supporting players that manages to drown out our lead character, and moral center who is able to bring the school to peace thanks to her ability to tap in to what made her a teacher in the first place. Fey’s scenes involving the inept students make for some of the best moments in the whole film and she’s able to perfectly play off their utter ignorance with a smirk and a quick one-liner.

Tim Meadows (is hilarious)

“Mean Girls” accomplished something not even SNL could. Every time Tim Meadows as principal Duvall was on-screen I was in hysterics. The man not only gets the best lines in the movie, he not only manages to be the funniest straight man of all time, but this is a firm representation of a man entrenched in a girls world without a way out. Possibly his best moments involve his deadpan reactions to the hilarity including his response to a girl complaining about her wide set vagina to which he declares, “Yeah… I can’t do this,” and his rage at nearly being kicked in the face during the climactic school riot in which he screams “Aw hell no, I did not leave the South side for this!” And how the hell can you not crack up at this exchange?

Mr. Duvall: Her name is Cady. Cady Heron. Where are you, Cady?
Cady: That’s me. It’s pronounced like Katie.
Mr. Duvall: My apologies. I have a nephew named Anfernee, and I know how mad he gets when I call him Anthony. Almost as mad as I get when I think about the fact that my sister named him Anfernee.

I dare you not to laugh at that. I dare you, I double dare you. “Mean Girls” convinced me once and for all that Tim Meadows is a very under-appreciated comedic talent that has yet to be properly implemented until Fey came along to show off how good this man can be in playing a principal way beyond his realm when a situation presents itself that he can’t possibly register no matter how open minded he is in the end. And as one of the few men in this entire movie, he’s not ignorant or played as a caricature. Duvall is a very good principal who is intelligent and willing to do whatever it takes to help these women out but… god help him, he just can not understand what these girls are doing to one another until he begs for Mrs. Norbury’s help to offer some clarity while he sits to the side still trying to comprehend what these women are doing. It’s not that he’s stupid, it’s just that men don’t get women issues, and vice versa, and the movie explains that in full. If there is anyone who could replace Cleavon Little in a “Blazing Saddles” remake (heaven forbid), Tim Meadows could do it easily.

It’s a Girl Power Movie… Without Being Preachy

Most films that promote girl power and solidarity among the opposite manages to devalue the male animal and somehow posit itself as somewhat superior. That’s not the case with “Mean Girls” which manages to promote the notion of feminism and equality among the sexes without ever being too preachy. The message behind the film in essence is that deep down all girls are like the plastics. They pretend to be above what the plastics promote except they’re not as open to the bashing as the trio are, and it’s made clear during the scene in the gym where everyone, obviously in denial, is shown that every person they’ve ever come across has trash talked their friends or some classmate at one time or another. In the end the movie is about keeping the peace and bonding with one another and not letting the squabbling and backstabbing get the best of you. It asks girls to look beyond the plastic and realize that the person next to them is just as insecure as they are and probably even more, which we learn in full force by the closing scenes.

The Screenplay

Many screenwriters these days try to imitate John Hughes without success (*cough*DiabloCody*cough*) and to this day there has yet to be a writer who can mimic the humanity and depth Hughes touched upon with his films. Tina Fey comes very close to achieving such posterity with “Mean Girls.” While true its comparison to “Heathers” is apt, it doesn’t mean Fey doesn’t do a damn good job here. Starting from various view points and focusing on many of the societal norms and the societal outcasts, Fey manages to build an immense gallery of interesting and hilarious characters all of whom allow for sharp comedy without ever being reduced to walking gags. We have Cady Heron the outcast with the potential to become the queen bee who suffers from Stockholm syndrome after deciding to chronicle the plastics, Regina George the alpha bitch of the school whose intentions are never quite made apparent even after the movie has ended.

Was she evil or just so insecure about herself she was willing to sell anyone down the river to get ahead? And what of the sudden shift in the climax where we begin to sympathize for her when she gains weight? There’s the scene stealing Damian the flamboyant homosexual who helps Cady get in touch with her superficiality, and Cady’s parents whom are a constant source of hilarity as they’re capable of being domestic but incapable of adapting to the mundane life of suburbia. Fey never misses a beat and touches on these molds while expanding upon them and making them feel human and never reducing them to humiliating caricatures to ensure laughs for the film, particularly in the case of the plastics who are the ultimate representations of the popular girl who manage to convey more depth than most of the characters in the film.

Amy Poehler

Those SNL alums stick together like glue bound by an electromagnetic force, so nine times out of ten if someone from SNL has directed, written, or is starring in a movie, you’ll see about three other folks from SNL make an appearance or have some sort of supporting role. Poehler, who is a best friend of screenwriter and co-star Fey’s, appears as the utterly obnoxious (and hilarious) Mrs. George, a stage mom so realistic it was quite disturbing. My little cousin used to be a pageant queen and took part in a dozen beauty pageants here in New York and I was forced to go to a lot of them. They’re long, tedious, crowded, and guess what: there are mothers there exactly like Mrs. George. Poehler is of course less of a caricature since she’s very attractive, but most of the stage moms I’ve seen who are overweight and over the hill do exactly what Mrs. George does in this movie.

She pretends she’s still hip with the kids, she involves herself in her child’s life trying to doll her up ad nauseum, she brings camcorders to everything she’s in, and she even stands in the aisles dancing along with her daughter partly trying to guide her along in her routine and live vicariously through her daughter’s own performance while everyone just nods in pity at the display taking place. While Poehler’s injection is quite obvious, she makes the most of her performance here as this memorable plot element who is pretty much the explanation for Regina George’s own egomania and queen bee mentality because her mom has raised her to act as such and lives through her daughter’s own social activities unaware that she’s putting on such a sad performance for everyone involved, including her own daughter. She pulls it off well because during the time of filming she was only seven years older than screen daughter Rachel McAdams

Lacey Chabert

Watching her monologue in the class room about Caesar that ends in her frantic screech made me furrow my brows and think “Oh that’s why she has such a huge following!” Out of the plastics she’s most worthy of being deemed an evil psycho queen capable of becoming the alpha bitch at the school at any time. She’s truly one utterly obsessed with being the leader of a click and is willing to do whatever it takes to get to that position. As the film goes on you can see her delusions take hold of her much more prominently while her self-obsession and eccentricities ultimately leave her alone and ruling over a group of girls she will never quite connect with. She doesn’t care though because she’s at least a leader of a group and allowed to live out her niche as the ruler of the roost because after all she is daughter of the man who invented Toaster Stroodle.

So she deserves the role. Chabert approaches this role with sheer obnoxious heights never quite allowing the character to turn in to a victim and just remaining this annoying individual who is incapable of processing other’s emotions, even when she watches her classmates confess to one another ultimately confessing that she’s sad people are jealous of her popularity prompting her to fall back on to her friend Karen violently. In the end of the movie she’s a queen without a kingdom, and Chabert makes this elitist worth laughing at and pitying because unlike Karen and Regina she’ll never have a wake up call.

One Word: Plastics

Under Tina Fey’s guidance “The Plastics” manage to become villains who are also victims in the process. Every single film based around high school for the last fifteen years has been pretty much based on one-dimensional clichés. The popular girls are popular because they just are, and the mean girls are mean because they just are. Here there’s a method to everyone’s madness and the title “Mean Girls” is not a direct reference to “The Plastics” and their way of life, but more around the damage girls do to one another. Regina is the queen bee because she feels like she has to be. So she cuts people down and presents an aura of intimidation which allows her to garner power through manipulation, intimidation, and jealousy, but deep down she’s just as insecure as everyone else. When she starts gaining weight we see the character crumble under the excess of her own obligations and finds little recourse but to bring down the entire school with her to help ease the fact that she’s losing her power. In the end of the story Regina is just a misguided girl looking for a way to express herself.

Karen is a dumb ditzy blond because she was given that title right before she could carve out a niche for herself. She’s not evil, she just follows the crowd to avoid becoming a victim. She knows deep down she’s not as bright as everyone else, so rather than work against the title and work for something, she adheres to it and it offers her security and social acceptance, but by the end of the movie thanks to Cady she manages to realize that she’s much more than that and she is able to find her own calling with her “talent” involving her breasts that are obviously not useful, but at least present her with the notion that just because you’re pigeonholed doesn’t mean you have to submit to it. Gretchen is a girl who offers little to nothing to her school and knows it, hence why she lives through Regina. Everything she does is a mirror of Regina and she’s so self-entitled and spoiled she feels as if she has to have what Regina does, and loses her sanity gradually as she begins to realize she will never be the queen bee and settles for being the queen bee of another click by the end of the movie that ultimately means very little in the long run, but at least she’s comfortable in her delusions. Fey is able to expand upon these character molds and makes the Plastics the most complex individuals of the story.