Thursday, May 1, 2014

Say 'Crack' Again: 10 Years of MEAN GIRLS

The internet is never short on MEAN GIRLS memes, gifs, quotes, or references, and this month/week/day, you will find more than ever.  Exactly 10 years ago, MEAN GIRLS was released in theaters, spawning a cult following that shows no signs of slowing down.

I was 17 when the movie was released.  Obviously, my demographic was a prime target.  But I remember that trailers at the time marketed MEAN GIRLS as a fluffy high school flick, so I didn't have much interest in seeing it, but I did anyway.  And am so glad I did.  I laughed so hard I cried at certain points (specifically the "Danny DeVito" line), and I was so startled by the school bus hitting Regina George that I jumped out of my seat (I usually don't reveal spoilers, but if you haven't seen MEAN GIRLS by now...) I left the theater feeling refreshed but I wasn't sure why.  After having ten years to think about it, I now realize that it was because I finally saw an honest on-screen portrayal of a young woman's plight in high school.

I'm not saying that MEAN GIRLS is 100% original.  We all know that HEATHERS (Michael Lehmann, 1988) was first, but HEATHERS was one generation ahead of me so I didn't appreciate it until later, and it was also much darker than I like to associate with my own high school experience.  In fact, I didn't even experience any bullying in high school.  This is where you may be thinking, "Well, if no one was mean to you, maybe YOU were the mean girl." Nope.  When I wasn't in class or at my job at the Queens Public Library, I was in my room.  I spent all my free time heavily invested in my passions: homework (it's true), comedy movies/SNL, 90s hip-hop and r&b, and sneakers.  It was an odd combination, but it made me who I am.  Explains a lot.  Anyway, it also explains why MEAN GIRLS was more my style.  It, like me, deflected a lot of life's realities by way of humor, so it was more profound to me than any other teen-centered film at the time.  And of course, Tina Fey adapted it from Rosalind Wiseman's book Queen Bees and Wannabes.  Since I was a bit of an SNL freak, I loved Tina Fey, and this was the first time I felt like I experienced something truly hers. Sure, she didn't write the actual book or direct the movie, but the strength of MEAN GIRLS is its script, which I felt was all Tina.

So, how has MEAN GIRLS managed to not only hold up, but become increasingly referenced over time? Besides the eventual increasing stardom of Tina Fey, Amanda Seyfried & Rachel McAdams, and/or scandals surrounding Lindsay Lohan?  Like I said, I think it is a well-written film.  I particularly love the ongoing comparison between high school students and wild animals.  But to add to that, the characters are given outstanding voices.  MEAN GIRLS has an excellent combination of characters who are mean, funny, grounded, and many types of weird.  Like high school, it has no shortage of oddities.  From the super rich gossip queen Gretchen Wieners to the confident rapper/mathlete Kevin Gnapoor, we are introduced to all the people we ever knew in high school. Maybe we even saw some characters we wish we knew (I never met a Janis or Damian; that would have made high school way more fun).  Also, the adults were not exempt from this.  They were as odd as the students were, which was great to see.  Many teen comedies make the adults so different from the teens, they seem like enemies (which I don't always have a problem with - FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF (John Hughes, 1986) does this flawlessly).  But the adults are some of the best and kookiest characters in the whole movie - Amy Poehler as Mrs. George is the prime example.

Finally, there is a moral center to MEAN GIRLS, and it is so self-aware of the potentially cheesy final scenes, that they are no longer cheesy.  Sure there is a well resolved squeaky-clean ending, but any other resolution wouldn't work.  Plus, after Regina spread copies of the Burn Book around school and caused a massive riot, it was pleasant to see some peace being made.

That just about sums up my love for the movie (this is a lie; I could go on a lot longer about how much I appreciate Tim Meadows in this, as well as the usage of  Kelis' "Milkshake," and the term 'fugly slut,' but I won't). MEAN GIRLS showed us that we all have the capacity to be ruthless and selfish, and in turn, no one is exempt from being bullied in some form.  But the movie also shows us that once we stop attacking each other and realize that most of the crap we stress about in high school means absolutely nothing, we'll feel a lot better about ourselves.  That's something I'm thankful to say I've carried with me since I first saw the movie, and it will never stop being relevant to future generations.  So, here's to looking back on ten years of watching the bullying, pranking, gossiping, apologizing and forgiving. All while laughing.  A lot.

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