Mean Girls. The epic comedy about high school. It’s got a relatable main character (relatable for everyone, not just girls in high school), a quality plot, comedic prowess, great acting (especially from the often overlooked Tim Meadows), and a great message to take away from it. As I was watching it last night in preparation for this post, I was trying to find something I didn’t like in it or didn’t agree with. But I couldn’t. That happens, but rarely. Even the current favorite film of most people, The Grey, I had a few issues with. But Mean Girls rises above the classic “chick flick.” It does more for women that the current holy-crap-women-are-people-too-movie Bridesmaids. I’ll get to Bridesmaids in a minute.
So why is Mean Girls so wonderful? I think the fact that the message it puts forth is so relatable by everyone is what really makes me love it. Everyone has been through high school and had to deal with cliques. It’s not fun. The main character is relatable too. She’s not loved because she’s pretty but because she’s smart. We root for her because she’s just trying to be liked and fit in, and that’s what we have to do every single day of our lives.
While initially the plastics seem to back the stereotype of women being able to get by on their looks, it’s the complete opposite. No one can watch that movie and relate to the plastics. We all get that feeling of sick satisfaction when Regina gets hit by a bus. The relationship between the plastics and Cady, and the ultimate result of the plastics breaking up and Regina no longer being an ultrabitch, is used to show that acting dumb and just getting by on looks is not the way to do it.
This movie is the opposite of the quintessential chick flick. It’s not about the geeky girl taking her glasses off, wearing her hair down, and then getting the hot guy and living happily ever after. Cady take that role but only to infiltrate and destroy the plastics. It’s an action/spy movie set in high school!
And here’s the point I talk about Tina Fey. Put aside the fact that I am totally in love with her (just like every other person on the planet). Her character in this movie is amazing. She’s like a philosophical master. She really doesn’t have a ridiculous amount of screen time, but when she gets it, she uses it for good. She’s the mentor. She’s a strong and successful woman who’s life seems like a mess. But she is profound. She says shit like “I know having a boyfriend might seem like the only thing important to you right now, but you don’t have to dumb yourself down in order for a guy to like you.” Bam! That could have been the entire movie right there.
So this entire post came about because I got in an argument about Bridesmaids, which seems to be everyone’s go-to movie when talking about the wonderful things women have accomplished and blah blah blah. The guy I was arguing with was adamant that this movie is “an unabashed flexing of women’s comedic and filmic talents that, even more so than Mean Girls, demonstrates the equal yet all-too-often undersold competency of women as lead actors and writers to the public.” First, does anyone else think it’s weird that a man so often argues against women about what movies do for the societal standards of women? Shouldn’t we know better? No? It’s just me? Okay. It’s not just against me, either. I’ve seen him argue against other women about this very movie. And he never listens to our points and never seems to really take into consideration that he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. Anyway, that’s a totally different topic. It’s just something that really annoys me.
That quote is a direct quote from this argument that inspired this post. First, I don’t really think the question of whether women can be lead actors and awesome writers is that relevant anymore. Women have had starring roles in pretty much every type of movie I can think of. Of course the romantic comedies are largely dominated by female leads, but action movies have been relying on women in increasing number (Kill Bill, Salt, Resident Evil, Underworld, etc). Most of those examples are from the early 2000’s. And I could definitely name more. So it’s not like the “competency of women as lead actors” is really in question anymore. It’s not just action movies either. Horror, comedy, coming-of-age dramas, epic historical dramas (Gone With The Wind FTW), fantasy. They’ve all had high-grossing movies with competent, well-acted female leading roles.
And women screenwriters? Did you know a woman wrote and directed American Psycho? Because one did: Mary Harron. (And if you haven’t seen that movie, go watch it and marvel that a woman did it.) Other big names (screenwriters and directors): Julie Taymor (Frida, Across the Universe), Betty Thomas (The Brady Bunch Movie [awesome], Doctor Dolittle, 28 Days), Penny Marshall (she played Laverne in Laverne and Shirley and then went on to direct Big [which was co-written by Anne Spielberg, Steven Spielberg’s sister]), Nancy Meyers (she both wrote and directed The Parent Trap, What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give), Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally [my favorite romantic comedy of all time] she also wrote and directed Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Julie and Julia). And do I even need to mention Sophia Coppola? She wrote and directed the masterpiece Lost in Translation. She also wrote and directed Marie Antoinette which was actually a pretty decent movie. I guess I should mention Diablo Cody too simply because Juno was such a big hit.
The competency of women as writers and actors in film was not in question until Bridesmaids came out and then suddenly it was all okay and women were real people. Women have been a huge influence in film for a very long time. I did leave Tina Fey off that list but simply because we all know how amazing she is. She was the first female head-writer for SNL, she’s the head-writer and star of 30 Rock. Oh and she did the screenplay for Mean Girls. So all this nonsense of making such a big fuss about Bridesmaids like it was the first comedy written by a woman is insane.
Bridesmaids isn’t even a really great movie. It was entertaining but the main character is not relatable. She’s portrayed as insecure and insane. The screenplay was unoriginal. If you replace the female leads with men, it would be just like the I Love You, Man types of movies.
The message of Bridesmaids? Don’t go insane when your best friend is getting married? The pacing is rough, the comedy is lowbrow. The movie is simply about what’s going on in a woman’s life. You can’t invert the gender and it would still make sense. No one would believe that a guy would go that crazy when his best friend was getting married. But everyone believes it when a woman does it (furthering the stereotype that women are crazy).
So I guess what all this is saying is that making such a big deal about Bridesmaids is nonsense. Mean Girls is worthy of that big deal because it’s a far superior movie. I’ll leave you with some words that were said during the argument: “A great movie has a solid plot and doesn’t seem drawn out. Bridesmaids very much feels drawn out. There are a few scenes in the film that serve no purpose to the story or character development. That’s a pretty big sin for a great movie. Turn on Fight Club, turn on The Dark Knight: every scene in those films are completely necessary to the work as a whole. Also, it breaks a vital rule of comedies: make the audience root for the protagonist. Wiig’s character goes all irrational (rejects her friend, her love interest, and her job) with the realization at the end is that she was being irrational, I guess? Sorry, but when a character makes me dislike them, seeing them rewarded at the end with all their wishes coming true is not satisfying to me, thus the story failed.”