My favourite film aged 12: Mean Girls

Continuing our series in which writers revisit childhood movie passions, we revisit Tina Fey’s endlessly quotable teen comedy – or was it really a horror?

The best arts and entertainment during self-isolation

The thing about being a teenage girl and having a favourite film that’s also about teenage girls is that even if you’re very pretentious (I was) and know that it’s supposed to be pretty ironic (I think I did?), you are, of course, far too close to the subject for it not to be slightly instructional. Mean Girls came out when I was 12, and like Clueless and Heathers had done respectively in the two decades prior, became the knowing, endlessly quotable teen film of the moment, to be watched, rewatched and parroted among young girls across the world for the entirety of high school.

Most of it went swiftly whooshing over our heads: we knew it was a story about a naive young girl who moved from Africa to the US (Lindsay Lohan), and somehow ended up in a group of terrible bullies called the Plastics (helmed by Rachel McAdams’s Regina George), but I think its central girl clique was somehow still aspirational. Which may explain why I ended up the Cady to someone else’s Regina aged 16, assigned to make a list of the least popular people in the year to make sure they didn’t get invited to the next oh-so-exclusive (not) suburban house party. (I declined, and was abruptly dropped.) In fact, a lot of the bullying and hazing that my friends and I endured seemed to have directly plucked out of that world – there was even a “burn book” of rumours doing the rounds for a bit.

And yet, we inhaled it, too, quoting lines like “on Wednesdays we wear pink” and “that’s why her hair is so big, it’s full of secrets” – half-knowingly, half-wanting to fit in with everyone else who’d watched a film about fitting in. Mean Girls was a meme before the word applied almost solely to jokes on Twitter; a set of blond-highlighted, velour-coated signifiers that we could use to try to make sense of our own screwed-up social hierarchy.

Rewatching it at 27, having come back to it every few years since my teens to mine it for jokes – usually on 3 October – it’s clear that we largely missed the point. There’s a scary Stepfordness to the Plastics that hadn’t fully registered before, when we were all still somewhat in their thrall. The idea of a whole year group orbiting one queen bee also made me think of the popular kids from my own schools – the power they once wielded with every “last team pick” they doled out in PE and how inordinately scared of them I’d been. Maybe Mean Girls was … a horror film?

But I was also struck by how funny and warm Mean Girls is, and how Tina Fey’s script still sparkles 16 years later (highlights include a four-way phone conversation between the Plastics, laden with Shakespearean miscommunication, and the cutting but always affectionate barbs traded by Cady’s real mates, Janis – named for the singer Janis Ian – and Damian). Regina’s underlings Gretchen and Karen were also designed to deliver a good amount of pathos, I now realised, not least when Gretchen fears that Regina hates her, and begins spilling all of her secrets to Cady, only to suddenly retreat (“Maybe she feels weird around me because I’m the only person that knows about her nose job. Oh, my god – pretend you didn’t hear that!”).

I also noted the faint hum of a song by Janis’s namesake, At Seventeen, in the background of one of the scenes, its lyrics barely discernible, but a big wink to those who got it the first time round: “To those of us who knew the pain of valentines that never came / And those whose names were never called, when choosing sides for basketball. It was long ago and far away / the world was younger than today.”


Hannah J Davies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
My favourite film aged 12: The Notebook
Continuing our series revisiting childhood movie passions, we look at a romance that could’ve been schlock, if not for Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling’s chemistry

Adrian Horton

01, May, 2020 @9:01 AM

Article image
Happy 10th birthday Mean Girls, Tina Fey's timeless teen comedy

Hannah J Davies: How the film that made Lindsay Lohan a household name skewered the social hierarchies of American high schools and spawned a rabid cult following

Hannah J Davies

19, Apr, 2014 @8:00 AM

Article image
The 10 best Mean Girls quotes
Today’s October 3rd – the closest thing we have to Mean Girls Day. In celebration, we’re counting down the 10 best quotes. That’s like, so fetch

Elena Cresci

03, Oct, 2014 @11:11 AM

Article image
My favourite film aged 12: Bugsy Malone
The musical where cocktail-sipping kids pretend to be adults has a seam of pure feelgood that makes real life feel far away

Elena Angelides

22, May, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
My favourite film aged 12: Bridget Jones's Diary
Garrulous and inappropriate, Renée Zellweger’s heroine drove home the farce of impossible, gendered standards. I couldn’t have had a better guide for my teen years

Laura Snapes

24, Jun, 2020 @6:46 AM

Article image
Five ways Mean Girls could have been a very different film
Priya Elan: A decade after its release, the director has revealed some of the plot twists, casting shockers and zingers that never made it

Priya Elan

16, Apr, 2014 @5:50 PM

Article image
Fetch happens: why Mean Girls is the perfect teen movie
Tina Fey’s gag-filled wheeze is not enamoured with the internal politics of high school, but proves that everyone sucks the same

Sam Wolfson

30, Apr, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
My favourite film aged 12: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python’s chivalric sketch show served up epic amounts of daftness – and any adult reservations about it prove mere flesh wounds

Alfie Packham

23, Jun, 2020 @1:23 PM

Article image
My favourite film aged 12: GoldenEye
The first 12-rated Bond film – and power-thighed assassin Xenia Onatopp in particular – seemed impossibly glamorous if you were just old enough to be admitted to the cinema

Catherine Bray

17, Apr, 2020 @8:51 AM

Article image
My favourite film aged 12: Ghost
Thrillingly, Patrick Swayze’s quest to reach out from the afterlife was rated 15 – an irresistible, illicit mix of sex, death and priapic pottery

Edward Tew

27, May, 2020 @2:11 PM