Growing up in the 2000s, ‘Mean Girls’ was inescapable in the best way possible. While not the best role models for young girls, mean queens The Plastics informed so much of the decade’s culture that, even 15 years later, no one even bats an eyelid when a GIF or quote from the film makes its way across social media. Its impact has reached so far and wide that it inspired a sequel, Broadway adaptation, and branded make-up products. The 3rd of October has been coined as an international Mean Girls Day, celebrating the scene in which protagonist Cady’s crush asks her what day it is. It was even parodied by Ariana Grande in her music video for 'Thank U, Next', which at the time held the record for the most viewed video on YouTube in its first 24 hours of release. So how has ‘Mean Girls’ managed to maintain its status as a teen classic?
One of the major reasons for the film’s success is the multitude of talent it boasts, both in front of and behind the camera. The film marked the graduation of lead star Lindsay Lohan (‘The Parent Trap’) from Disney films to more mature roles, cementing her status as a 2000s teen idol. Her starring role as Cady, a teenager from Africa who has to assimilate into “girl world” at her new high school in America and navigate a completely new social landscape, saw a refreshing take on the teen film genre. Told through Cady’s eyes, scenes often turn fantastical with her peers mimicking animals in the wild, helping her dovetail this scary new experience with what she is familiar with. Her innocence and lack of social awareness makes for some of the film's funniest moments, and makes the manipulation from her peers feel all the more cruel.
The film was also considered the breakout roles for each of The Plastics; doe-eyed and harebrained Karen (Amanda Seyfried, the ‘Mamma Mia!’ series), submissive and neurotic Gretchen (Lacey Chabert, ‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’), and vindictive head bitch Regina George (‘Spotlight’, ‘Game Night’). The film was written by ‘Saturday Night Live’ alum Tina Fey, based on the self-help book ‘Queen Bees and Wannabes’ and punctuated with real life experiences from Fey’s teen years. For director Mark Waters however, it seems that lightning rarely strikes twice in the same spot; obviously in an attempt to recreate his ‘Mean Girls’ success, he was tapped as the director for YA novel adaptation ‘Vampire Academy’, and the film bombed both commercially and with critics. The magic of ‘Mean Girls’, it seems, was not something that could be replicated easily.
It would be remiss to discuss the impact of 'Mean Girls' and not touch on the way it has permanently influenced millennial jargon (before writing this piece I had the idea of listing and analysing the film’s best quotes, before realising I would’ve had to break down most of the film’s script). The term “fetch” has become so ingrained into everyday vernacular that it's hard to remember a time when it wasn’t the go-to word for describing something great – even if Regina spends the film's run time insisting to its creator, Gretchen, that the word would never “happen”. These days, a flaky friend can simply be combatted with GIF of Regina snarking “Boo, you whore” to a shocked Karen. Instagram posts struggling for a caption will forever be grateful for the line “On Wednesdays, we wear pink”, a quote which has been remoulded for every colour and every day of the week. Part of the allure of The Plastics is their flawless, powerful facade, and such perfection should obviously be matched with similarly iconic one-liners.
‘Mean Girls’ has reached the heights of pop culture impact most teen films can only dream of.
The students of North Shore High School are shown in multiple montages relaying stories and rumours about The Plastics, particularly Regina; her word and her wardrobe is gospel, and audiences have treated her the same way. More importantly, the film’s jokes are actually funny. Uninhibited by constant name-checking or references to other pop culture artefacts, the film has managed to age spectacularly well. This is a quality other teen films could learn a lesson or two from. In recent times, teen films such as ‘The DUFF’, while still enjoyable, have developed a history of shooting themselves in the foot by date-stamping with one too many relevant-at-the-time pop culture references, typically in the form of name-checking apps and shortening their shelf life. I doubt anyone will be laughing about Tinder references in ten years’ time, but they will almost definitely still be laughing at ‘Mean Girls’.
Perhaps, above all, the greatest reason ‘Mean Girls’ remains a staple in popular culture to this day is just how realistic, relevant and authentic it makes the high school experience seem. The film uses its source material and Fey’s own real-life experiences to fashion a biting critique on how popularity and the desire to find a sense of identity in school can be damaging to young girls. Sure, none of us may have had a high school bully pretend to be from Planned Parenthood and call our mother for revenge, but the desire to fit in is a universal feeling irrevocably paired with adolescence and the high school experience. The students of North Shore High School use each other and words as weapons, and the iconic shot of Regina standing over her hysterical classmates as pages from her Burn Book line the floor is a perfect visual representation of both the power she holds and the damage she causes. It’s no surprise that Janice and Damian, through exploiting Cady to seek revenge on The Plastics, are just as bad as Regina herself. In a school ruled by the worst, there’s no reason to rise above and be the bigger person. Even the film’s more problematic aspects of homophobia are sadly still prevalent in 2019; teenagers can be vindictive, using whatever weapons they need to invalidate and humiliate one another. ‘Mean Girls’ succeeds at being a very real representation of this.
‘Mean Girls’ has reached the heights of pop culture impact that most teen films can only dream of; to be described in a review as “the next ‘Mean Girls’” has become a mark of quality over the years, given to such popular films that have had their own unique cultural impact as ‘Pitch Perfect’ and ‘Easy A’. This is a level of popularity that the Plastics would be proud of.