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'Mean Girls' Was Nothing Compared to 'Heathers'

Ten years later,'Mean Girls' is still the tamest of the great teen girl movies.
April 30, 2014, 9:00am

Maybe it's exactly the wrong time to admit this, given that today's the film's tenth anniversary, but the 14-year-old me totally did not "get" Mean Girls. It was less stylized than Clueless, less sophisticated than Heathers, and 100 times less cool than Cruel Intentions. Mean Girls showed up late to the party with its monogrammed tote bag, and expected everybody to quote it to death. And quite a lot of the time, they did. In hindsight—or more importantly, after watching it with a full-blown, adult-sized hangover—it's a different story. But at the time it felt like something relatively unremarkable, with the bonus addition of Lindsay Lohan and huge budget.

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Before Mean Girls, everyone I knew was happy buying into and lusting after the impossible Cruel Intentions idea that you needed a crucifix full of cocaine to be cool. Then along came the Plastics, who merely required you to not be wearing track pants. I don't know about you, but my teen self felt let down. Buffy in a school uniform seducing her step-brother was a whole lot more exciting than a bunch of girls wearing Tiffany's necklaces and Maybelline products. We knew these people already; we went to school with them. Their moms had Mini Coopers with personalized number plates, and they were shitty people. Add that to the fact that Thirteen had come out the previous year—the film made me want to skip out on all the boring high school stuff to take hallucinogens and have my best friend punch me repeatedly in the face—and you can start to see why Mean Girls failed to capture my imagination.

Everything from its villains to its plot was just too normal. Oh, shit, there's a pink book full of not-even-that-offensive stuff about people being fat lesbians? Watch me give a shit about that when I'm blowing up a building containing my first ever (psychopathic) boyfriend and lighting a cigarette off the explosion (Heathers). Regina George might snog her ex in front of Cady on purpose, but Cecile Caldwell is fucking her cello teacher, and she doesn't even care who knows it (Cruel Intentions). No, it's not fair to compare every teen movie ever made with Mean Girls, but I feel like at that age you're pretty much working on a scale of zero to SHOCKING, and to be honest, Regina getting hit by a bus was about equal with Rachael Leigh Cook falling down some stairs (She's All That).

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After a while, I grew out of wearing yellow plaid miniskirts (though I am, weirdly, wearing one right now; sigh… fashion), gave up threatening to pierce my own belly button, and stopped stealing money to fund my burgeoning drug habit. Teen movies that weren’t directed by Judd Apatow went out of fashion, and Mean Girls faded into something that you'd see quoted on a T-shirt on TV, or glimpse peeking out between Sopranos box sets at your parents' house. Now, ten years on, when people are pretending to be excited about the 900th sequel to The Hangover, I’m starting to feel like I owe Mean Girls more than I realize.

The truth is, as disdainful as I might have been at the time, Mean Girls did us all a favor. Not only did it prepare us for a world where you can’t actually make out with your step-brother in a mansion in Beverly Hills (why was there so much of that going on? I really hope we aren’t still harboring it as a sexual fantasy), it gave us the chance not to like something even though we knew we were supposed to. Up to that point, I’d idolized pretty much every character I’d been expected to—from the cheerleaders to the ridiculously beautiful “awkward” art students (a.k.a. the ones wearing glasses), to the goths, to the quiet older sisters (shout-outs to you, Julia Stiles). I never questioned the motives of what was being sold to me. But after Mean Girls, I was officially over it.

Look, I’m not saying it’s not a great movie. It has Amy Poehler playing Rachel McAdams’s hot mom, for goodness sake; it has Lindsay Lohan with her original hair color; it has sexy Halloween party costumes; it has a brilliant, pathetic deconstruction of its queen villain. There are likable characters, great slow-motion shots in school corridors, and more high school stereotypes than you could get drunk and pet heavily in a spare bedroom at some horrible red-cup beer-pong party.

It just didn’t do it for me, which—as it turns out—was perfect. Sometimes you really need something that makes you think all your friends are stupid. At 14, I was absolutely fucking thrilled to have something to bitch about. Finally, I could roll my eyes at something everyone was talking about and toss my hair disdainfully. And for that, Regina George, you deserve major thanks.

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