Mean Girls feat. Julia Vickerman, Sarah Tennant, Kara Leonard, and Jodi Herring
On this week’s episode, we turned the microphones over to our friends Julia Vickerman, Sarah Tennant, Kara Leonard, and Jodi Herring (who also hosted our Sex and the City episode) to discuss Mean Girls (2004). While most of us have fond memories of this movie, our guest hosts found that it just hasn’t aged that well.
And it’s hard to disagree with them — I have fond memories of seeing Mean Girls in theaters, possibly even a few times. Like Julia, I crushed on Lindsay Lohan and was disappointed with her post-Mean Girls roles, but that’s a story for another day.
But I remember this film having a positive, women-work-together theme to it, as well as topical humor and witty comedy. Yet watching it now, it all feels so… dated.
For its faults, the film has a strong voice. I can see how this felt cutting edge and ahead of its time in 2004, but it’s very much still rooted in 2004 now. Fourteen years later, it has the stale brand of white, middle class feminism that follows most of Tina Fey’s creations, even still now. Just look at her recent SNL appearances and the criticism of her cake scene to see that she still takes heat for her comedy.
However, our guest hosts point out that Fey is the ultimate mean girl in writing this film, for singling out women who don’t fit her match of what is appropriate for a woman. Fey seems to be aware of this at least somewhat from her 30 Rock episode, “Reunion,” where she returns to her high school to find out she was the bully all along.
But back to Mean Girls. Some of the comedy still works, but it is few and far between. There are great one liners from ancillary characters, and a lot of funny performances. Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Franzese, Tim Meadows, and Rajiv Surendra all have some great moments and bits of comedy. I enjoy the panicky performance of Chabert as Gretchen Wieners, especially as she breaks down in her friendship with Regina. Yet the film brings all the characters except Wieners to a storybook ending — instead of finding her own feet and embracing her individuality, she finds another clique.
On top of that, the film has Cady ending up with Aaron Samuels, even though their relationship was shallow at best. The whole crew becomes friends, which in itself isn’t unrealistic, but doesn’t feel right.
There are a few moments I enjoyed, but I kept finding myself cringing at how wrong a lot of it seems. Just look at Seyfried’s Karen Smith. Treated as a dumb blonde trope the entire time, she never has time to shine as a full character. Compare this plot to something like Legally Blonde — which came out 3 years earlier — and you will see that cinema had already experienced a reckoning on what that trope can be used to accomplish. Women working together, regardless of what persona you are slotted into.
But there are so many issues with this movie, that fixing Karen would only fix a little. The whole conversation on gender, sexuality, race, and agency is so bungled in this film that you wonder if the filmmakers only paid attention for the first chapter of a college course on the topics. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the film sets out a question that would be a valuable answer, especially for the time: Why will women be so mean to each other over things like relationships and friendships when they could work together to do so much more? But the answer the film gives never feels right, because the answer just feels like “girls can be mean because girls can be mean” or “girls can be mean but it doesn’t matter if you say sorry and get the boy still.” If the film was at least aware of these fumbles, I could accept it. But it ends with a very triumphant stroll into home base, even though it doesn’t deserve it.
Now 14 years out, watching Mean Girls makes you wonder — why does it matter that Janice is bullied as a lesbian, even if she isn’t? How come the film doesn’t take a stand for Janice or Damian to say, no matter what these two teenagers are, they should be respected and loved for it? Why do we see the reprimand of Ms. Norbury for “pushing drugs,” but no punishment for the coach who is sexually abusing two minors?
It’s easy to see why this film was a success, at the time. The message felt fresh, and I think we’ve left it behind. The stars all range from adorable to hilarious, and the SNL alumnus deliver their comedy in strong fashion. The film isn’t timeless, however, and I don’t think it can recover from the societal changes we’ve gone through. You couldn’t make Mean Girls the way it is then in our current age. The audience would need accountability for scumbag teachers, the physical humor wouldn’t connect, and the tearing apart of women who don’t match one mold would fall so flat, the film could possibly be hated.
Our guest hosts pitched a few concepts on how this story could be updated, and there are a few ways. But it’s clear that Mean Girls is one of those films that you may want to avoid revisiting if you hold it too dear. We suggest, however, that you give it another go, listen to our breakdown, and ask yourself exactly why it doesn’t work.
Related news about guest host Julia Vickerman: Netflix Picks Up New Animated Series ‘Twelve Forever’ for 2019