Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Making Fetch Happen: 'Mean Girls' 10 Years Later

Startling to think that ten years ago Lindsay Lohan was the still a promising redhead on the verge of breaking out, Tina Fey was still mostly unknown outside of Saturday Night Live, Rachel McAdams hadn't yet made three (3!) time travel romantic fairy tales and Mean Girls was just starting to enter the pop cultural lexicon.  Ten years later, times have changed, and the three main ingredients that made this particularly sassy and smart teen comedy pop the magical way that it did have each branched out into completely different directions but the movie is still just as smart and fun and sassy as ever.  As Heathers was in the 1980s and Clueless in the 1990s, Mean Girls is the ultimate defining teen comedy of the 2000s.  Mean Girls borrows heavily from Heathers, but still manages to be its distinctive own beast and its exploration of high school hierarchy is still bracing, super quotable and majestically funny.  It's hard to believe its been ten years since we were first introduced to Cady Heron, Regina George, Ms. Norbury, Janis Ian, Damian, Gretchen Weiners, Karen Smith, Aaron Samuels, Shane Oman and the odd lots of Cool Asians, Nerdy Asians and Mathletes.

Map of North Shore High: Where do you fit in?

It's enough to make you feel old, but 2004 was a sturdy year all the way through and damned what the Oscars proclaimed as the best of the year (Finding Neverland, Ray anyone? No!), a great many titles from ten years ago are worthy of reflection and a revisit.  It was a year that offered choice and magnificent beauties like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Incredibles, Before Sunset, I Heart Huckabees, Maria Full of Grace, House of Flying Daggers, Sideways, Dogville, Vera Drake, Birth, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Kill Bill: Volume Two, Young Adam, and Shaun of the Dead. We could make a year of celebrating tenth anniversaries with such a bounty.  Alas, its Mean Girls time, and just in time to celebrate the wonderful "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series going on at The Film Experience, where you can pick your favorite shot from a selected title-- a one shot equals all attempt at holding dear everything that's so amazing and alluring about filmmaking.

The tricky slope of three-way calling.

Mean Girls, which was directed by Mark Waters (he directed the delightful 2003 Freaky Friday remake also starring Miss Lohan) and written by Tina Fey (sadly still her only movie credit for writing), may not be exactly renowned for its visual elan, but a second look back reminds that even though the movie strides on the invisible aspects of filmmaking, it's still a remarkable well put together movie.  There's hints and subtle character tics, choice costuming and superbly fun edits that breathe life and an established sense of self well outside the scope of particular scenes.  It's also fun to look back and notice the 2004 touches (iMacs, land-line phones) that have already become dated.

Regina isn't even in the foreground, but the show is still all about her.

Mostly, however Mean Girls triumphs as an acting piece.  Lohan was the star attraction and her performance is still a sublime reflection to what could have been.  Behind the star was a generous and wealthy assortment of actors who are in full charge and full command of Fey's terrific screenplay.  Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Franzese are all superb as well, and always on-- even in the most incidental moments-- I think back to McAdams' constant alpha dominance (she holds it so tightly even after she's fallen) and Seyfried's glazed, big-eyed stare.  Teen comedies will never get any respect as actors showcases, but the readiness and full-in charge of characters in Mean Girls is one of its secret weapons.  As is Fey herself and fellow SNL co-horts Amy Poehler and Tim Meadows.  Re-watching Mean Girls reminds again of the joy of the ensemble cast, each of who are always in character even when they aren't the focal point of their scene.  Seriously the cast was grand enough to merit a slot at the SAG Best Ensemble prize.

Gal and gay BFF post awkward kiss-- a Best Shot finalist.

That was never going to happen, but Fey earned a Writer's Guild nomination for her tart screenplay, the biggest coup the film was the receive from awards bodies.  Which feels pretty appropriate considering she adapted the film from a sociological self-help book by Rosalind Wiseman and was able to inform Mean Girls with a heightened and riotous sense of irony from very real and relatable woes-- credit the entire Janis Ian and Damian BFF-ness to her and be grateful for it (I am.)  Not to mention she crafted some of the best lines...EVER!

"You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, J.V. jocks, Asian nerds, Cool Asians, Varsity jocks Unfriendly black hotties, Girls who eat their feelings, Girls who don't eat anything, Desperate wannabes, Burnouts, Sexually active band geeks"

"See? That's the thing with you plastics. You think everybody is in love with you when actually, everybody HATES you! Like, Aaron Samuels, for example, he broke up with Regina and guess what? He still doesn't want you! So why are you still messing with Regina, Cady? I'll tell you why, because you are a mean girl! You're a bitch! Here. You can have this. It won a prize" 

"Why should Caesar just get to stomp around like a giant while the rest of us try not to get smushed under his big feet? Brutus is just as cute as Caesar, right? Brutus is just as smart as Caesar, people totally like Brutus just as much as they like Caesar, and when did it become okay for one person to be the boss of everybody because that's not what Rome is about! We should totally just STAB CAESAR!" 

"There's a 30% chance that it's already raining!" 

"Boo, you whore!"

"Stop trying to make fetch happen!"

Regina at her most bad ass.

I start with Janis Ian, beautifully played by a punked out Lizzy Caplan because, well, she's incredible in all her Lebanese glory and I end with Regina George, because it may end up being the most striking characterization of Rachel McAdams' career.  So so mightily she dominates Mean Girls with her bitchy machinations that it stakes Mean Girls out as something far deeper and funnier because of it.  Like a grand-daughter to Eve Harrington and cousin to Tracy Flick spliced with a special cunning all her own, Regina is well oiled hard ass, willing to do anything to stay atop the high school food chain.  Regina bounced back after her (ten-year-old spoilers) bus accident into a calling in high school lacrosse, but politics seem like her natural calling.  An even scarier notion.  There's a great sense of life behind the leading characters, but it's all about Regina George.  That's probably why my favorite shots in Mean Girls gravitate towards the numero uno Plastic.

Pre-bus standoff with 'Cool Mom' in the background.

Fierce even post-Plastics.


My favorite shot of Mean Girls is an odd one, and perhaps an eerie one.  It's showy and nearly out of place within a film so purposeful and to the point.  Post-accident Regina George meets her (feared) adoring public in the wake of tragedy.  Like a queen greeting her flock who've come to worship.  It's not nearly as iconic as other images (Cady's legs dangling in the trash can), but warped, fun and totally bent, just like the movie.  And even as life lessons and the violins begin to play as the film concludes, Waters, Fey and the generous ensemble cast keep it leaps and bounds above after-school special variety blandness.

Happy Birthday Mean Girls!

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