Nick Valdez likes musicals. He once wrote a 15 page thesis on the training montage's effect on the hero's journey in Rocky. His favorite film is Zoolander or Machete. If he could mix the two and create Zoochete, he would in a heartbeat. One day he wishes to travel across the United States "David Banner" style while dragging around a player piano or that orangutan from Every Which Way But Loose.
[Chick Flix Club is a bi-weekly series in which I’ll examine a film within the female driven comedy/drama genres, (otherwise colloquially referred to as “chick flicks”) and discuss why I may or may not adore these films despite not being within the intended demographic]
Mean Girls is a unique entity in the "chick flick" genre. A story that revolves around the lives of a few teenage girls manages to be relatable to almost anyone who has been an outsider. Although this film takes some situations to sometimes unrelatable extremes, there is an underlying genuine "heart" at its core.
While there will always be a small part of me arguing that this film is a light version of Heathers, there are enough differences that make it stand out.
What was it about Mean Girls that caused the "schmultzy" intro this week? How does this film about young white girls in high school relate to me, a 22 year old Spanish American manly man? Please read on and find out.
Spoilers ahoy hoy.
Mean Girls is a story about Cady (Lindsey Lohan), a former home schooled student from Africa, as she now finds herself within the good favor of Regina George (Rachel McAdams) and the Plastics, a popular clique at Cady's new school. After the Plastics turn on her, Cady gets the help of her friends Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese) to take them down from the inside.
Like in Heathers, Cady (sometimes hilariously pronounced as "Catty") as a main character is a different, more literal, type of outsider. She is extremely proficient in math, she's a young white girl from Africa, and she literally refers to her new school as "girl world". Because Cady is looking through outsider lenses, the ridiculous nature of cliques is exploited for humor and slightly exaggerated. Full disclaimer here though: Since I was never in the popular girl crowd in high school, I'm not completely sure how much of their interactions are exaggerated. I just assumed the poignant moments at least are a little rooted in reality.
The writing and dialogue exchanges of this film are superb. Since the screenplay is written by Tina Fey, of "Liz Lemon" fame, there are trademark smaller jokes and asides hidden within the main storyline. For example, one scene in the film had Damien passing out candy canes in a Santa outfit. Before he loudly interrupted a class in session, the teacher states "why is so huge and obnoxious?" as she refers to a short story. This moment showcases one of the film's many"blink and you'll miss it" jokes.
One of my favorite things about Mean Girls is the characterization of the ancillary characters. Regina George (her full name is always used) is delightfully spicy, and I would like to think that McAdams completely reveled in her darker mannerisms. Regina's "army of skanks," Gretchen and Karen (Eliza Thornberry and Sophie from Mamma Mia respectively) may be slightly on the dumber side of the spectrum but are entertaining to watch nonetheless as the eventually rebel against Regina George. Tina Fey plays a teacher who also works as a bartender, the school principal (Tim Meadows) has a few great one liners with an even greater deadpan delivery, and Janis becomes the strong female character this film needs since Cady tends to lack in that area.
Pictured: Janis's awesome plan for destroying Regina George.
At the beginning of the film, Cady shows the potential for strength...before a man is introduced in her life. Unfortunately, following the "chick flick" genre rules actually hinders this film from being truly awesome. Cady's desire to fit in drives her actions, and that desire causes her to make truly baffling decisions. She rarely takes action on her accord. Throughout the film, she's led around by other, arguably stronger females and changes her personality in order be "friends" with them. The man, Aaron Samuels, irritatingly causes the brunt of Cady's betrayals and pettiness.
As I mentioned earlier, Janis is a breath of fresh air. However, there is still a nagging feeling that she also falls in line with the general pettiness that guides "Cady" as well. The very idea of destroying Regina George is selfish, and generally something a woman with self-confidence would not do. A strong female would not be bothered by the ugly nature of others. There would be no way that a strong woman would devote their time and energy to destroy another.
But as much as the character motivations bother me, they also remain endearing. High school is a period of trauma and self discovery that has the potential to create genuine friendships and lifetime memories. The characterization is so well done that I can forgive these kids flaws and just enjoy their interactions with one another. At the end of the film, Cady seemed like she grew from her experiences and while she isn't entirely a strong female character, the Cady at the end of the film showed a lot more promise.
All in all, this film is pretty entertaining. Once again, I feel like I should qualify why it's entertaining. As a teen comedy/drama, Mean Girls is compelling. I loved watching Lizzy Caplan portray a confident, powerful woman while Rachel McAdams is an villain that I loved to hate. Unfortunately, as a "chick flick," the film falters. The genre rules don't help it at all.
I watched Mean Girls and I connected with it on a base level. I've felt the strange desire to recreate my identity to make friends before, but I never took it far enough. Mean Girls helped me to see what I could do with that desire if I was a young white suburbanite in high school instead of the super specimen of Spanish manliness I am now.
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