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Happy Tenth Birthday, 'Mean Girls', You Taught Me So Much

Maybe it's exactly the wrong time to admit this, but the 14-year-old me totally did not "get" Mean Girls.

by Bertie Brandes
30 April 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 stylised than Clueless, less sophisticated than Heathers, and about a hundred 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 a whole lot of budget.

Before Mean Girls, everyone I knew was quite 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 trackpants. 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 necklaces and Maybelline everything. We knew these people already, we went to school with them, their mums had Mini Coopers with personalised number plates, and they were rubbish. Add that to the fact that Thirteen had come out the previous year, which made me want to skip out all the boring high school stuff to take hallucinogens on roundabouts 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 down to its plot were 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 to Mean Girls, but I feel like at that age you're pretty much working on a scale of 0-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).

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 the tube, or glimpse peeking out between Attenborough boxsets 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 realise.

The truth is, as disdainful as I might have been at the time, Mean Girls did us all a favour. Not only did it prepare us for a world where you can’t actually make-out with your stepbrother in a mansion in Beverly Hills (why was there so much of that going on? I really hope we aren’t still harbouring 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 idolised pretty much every character I’d been expected to; from the cheerleaders, to the ridiculously beautiful “awkward” art students (AKA 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 in it playing Rachel McAdams’ hot mum, for goodness sake, it has Lindsay Lohan with her original hair colour, it has sexy Halloween party costumes and it has a brilliant, pathetic deconstruction of its queen villain. There are likeable 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.

@bertiebrandes