BY THOMAS WOOD
When discussing the movies of the early 2000s, many come to mind: Legally Blonde, School of Rock, and Napoleon Dynamite often rear their heads above the pack. However, another movie released in 2004 fits the bill: Mean Girls. Let’s dive into the plot and characters to see if this movie deserves to be considered one of “the greats.”
Our movie stars Cady (pronounced Katie) Heron, a new girl that transferred to North Shore High School after a life of homeschooling in Africa. She quickly makes friends with some high school nobodies, Janis and Damien. Since Cady is new to high school, these two must show her the ropes. They explain the ins and outs of the school, including class hierarchy and things to look out for. A top hazard point is a clique filled with titular Mean Girls: the Plastics.
I love the way that plot is handled in this movie. Since every plot point revolves around dumb school drama, you never feel like anything is at stake. However, Cady is such a charming character that you don’t want her to fail in her attempts to fit in. Even if all the spats in the movie are petty drama, the way they’re presented makes the viewer actually care.
Eventually, the Plastics notice Cady at lunch and invite her over to eat with them, since she’s conventionally attractive. Watching math-strong Cady interact with the airheaded girls is a really funny exchange, and it comes with an unexpected twist at the end when Cady is officially inducted as a Plastic. At first, Cady plots with Janis and Damien to steal the Plastics’ secrets and expose them in front of the school. After all, disrupting the high school hierarchy could be the greatest thing they ever do. However, things get more complicated when Cady learns more about the Plastics.
On one fateful day, the leader of the Plastics, Regina George, invites Cady to her house. There Cady learns about the value of good gossip in high school, and how you can put other people down to make yourself seem better. It’s funny seeing Cady soak up these lessons like a toddler since she only wants to fit in with everyone at school. Eventually, Cady starts doing as the Plastics; she starts to don makeup, she styles her hair differently, and what she wears completely shifts. The incognito mission has gone awry.
When Janis and Damien question Cady about her shift, she assures them that it’s all a part of the act, and that she’s perfectly capable of still sabotaging Regina. This becomes especially true when Regina spitefully claims Aaron Samuels, who is Cady’s love interest. Cady and co. sabotage Regina in any way possible: they give her foot cream instead of face moisturizer, they give her incredibly calorically dense nutrient bars in order to “lose weight,” and more. Eventually, it’s clear that Regina and Cady have undergone a sheer role reversal. Cady is now the apex Plastic, whereas Regina is basically a nobody.
Although it’s funny to see this shift in character for both of them, it makes the viewer feel sympathetic. Cady has no idea what she’s committed herself to in her quest to fit in, and Regina went from being the most popular girl in the school to an absolute nobody within weeks.
Near the end of the movie, Cady realizes what she’s become. Her parents berate her for her formerly high math grade, she’s fully taken on the look of a Plastic, and she’s employed the most underhanded tactics to get what she wants. When she realizes this, she initially ditches prom to attend a Mathletes competition, which is perfectly inconveniently scheduled on the exact same day. Although we essentially have the old Cady back during this Mathletes competition, it’s clear to see that her personality and mindset have permanently shifted. During the final showdown she has with another girl, we hear Cady’s inner dialogue, stating that the girl is basically just ugly. However, Cady has a realization that no matter how much she can outclass the girl in looks, it doesn’t matter if she can’t carry her weight in smarts. This realization helps her win the Mathletes competition for her team, just in time to attend prom.
Cady walks into her prom clad in her Mathletes’ letterman, a feat previously dubbed “social suicide.” However, when the prom queen is announced, the winner is revealed to be Cady. The speech she gives after winning the crown is an extremely heartwarming one. It shows the entire character arc of Cady, and it makes you feel happy about where her character ends. She says that putting people down doesn’t benefit anyone, but complimenting people makes so many days brighter. Confidence and self-assurance are key, but not without assuring your peers that they can be confident as well.
At the end of her speech, she notes that the tiara she was given is likely made of plastic, and then she snaps it into many pieces in order to share it with the crowd. The symbolism here is prevalent and powerful, illustrating how she broke apart from the Plastics in order to share her love with the entire school instead. Even if we feel we have the old Cady back, it’s clear to see that the popular Cady is still inside. However, she uses this popularity power for good, bringing amends to old broken relationships she ruined while under the Plastics’ trance.
Overall, the movie is a great commentary about high school drama. It’s funny to think about how literally nothing in the movie matters, since it’s all high school drama. But considering how loveable the characters are presented to be, and considering how lived-in the world is presented, this petty drama is the last thing you want to see as a viewer. Mean Girls absolutely holds up as a classic of the early 2000s, and although it has some dated humor, it absolutely deserves to be counted as one of “the greats.”