Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
Cady's parents give her a pep talk on her first day of school. They've homeschooled her for her entire academic career, and they're a little worried about her.
Call To Adventure
Cady bravely enters the world of public school. It's just like the African jungle, but with hall passes.
Refusal Of The Call
Cady's first day of school doesn't go very well. She mistakes a classmate for the teacher. She's not used to adults not trusting her, and she's not used to having zero friends. When she tries to befriend a lunch table full of students and gets shut down, she gives up and eats lunch in a bathroom stall.
Meeting The Mentor
Regina intervenes when Jason harasses Cady in the cafeteria, and invites her to grab a seat at The Plastics' table. Then she interrogates Cady about where she's from and what she's doing at North Shore.
Finally, The Plastics invite Cady to eat lunch with them regularly—provided she observes their rules about what to wear and how often. Janis convinces Cady to do it, so Cady can report back to Janis with all the moronic things The Plastics' say as Regina shows Cady the ins and outs "Girl World."
Crossing The Threshold
Cady crosses the threshold when she sees Regina kiss Aaron. After that happens, her potential friendship with Regina, her mentor, is toast. Cady then plots to destroy Regina's life, formulating a three-part game plan with Janis and Damian.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Cady's allies are Janis and Damian. They plot to take down Regina together—until Cady starts going rogue, that is. Her #1 enemy is Regina, although, to be fair, she's more of a frenemy, a fact that adds an extra level of difficulty to Cady's quest. By her own admission, as much as she wants to take Regina down, she also wants Regina to like her.
Cady faces several tests on her journey. She and Janis try and fail to ruin Regina's appearance, for example, until they land on Kälteen bars that make the queen bee pack on the pounds.
At Christmas, Cady's tasked with cracking Gretchen Wieners, which she pulls off with a candy cane-gram and, well, by being tall. Once Gretchen thinks she's on Regina's bad side, she starts spilling all her secrets to Cady. Cady turns Karen against Regina, too, by harnessing the power of the three-way call attack.
Cady's also tested when it comes to Aaron. She tries, and fails, to get Aaron to catch Regina cheating on him with Shane Oman. Her willingness to degrade herself is also tested when she decides to fail calculus in order to get Aaron to tutor her just so she can talk to him more often.
Approach To The Inmost Cave
This stage in Cady's journey goes down at the huge house party she accidentally throws when her parents are in Madison. Here, her relationships with both her allies and her enemies are fractured. Janis and Damian turn on her because she blew off Janis's art show and didn't invite them to the party. And when Regina walks in on Cady just as she's about to kiss Aaron, she loses it and goes straight home to start her own plan to destroy Cady via Burn Book.
Regina frames Cady, Gretchen, and Karen for the Burn Book and distributes copies all over the school. When the junior girls see what was written about, they go crazy, literally fighting each other in the hallway over secrets shared and rumors spread. Eventually, the faculty breaks things up and tries to get the girls to communicate via workshop and trust exercises, but the damage is already done: Everybody hates Cady.
Then, when Regina flees the workshop and gets his by a bus while chewing out Cady in front of the school, the whole situation goes from bad to worse, as half the student body thinks Cady pushed her.
Reward (Seizing The Sword)
Cady's reward is her humanity. When the Burn Book blows up, she's reached full Plastic status with regard to her appearance, how she talks, and how others view her. She reclaims her sense of self by taking the blame for the Burn Book, and not ratting out Regina, Gretchen, and Karen. "I'm trying this new thing where I don't talk about people behind their backs," she explains to Ms. Norbury.
The Road Back
The major event on Cady's road back from "Girl World" is the Mathletes State Championship. Sure, Ms. Norbury basically made her do it, but her participation in Mathletes, which both Regina and Damian agreed was social suicide, shows that Cady's not the shallow Plastic she once was. She's good at math, and she should flaunt it.
The hero's resurrection is all about purification, and, for Cady, it comes in the form of her totally unrequired Spring Fling Queen "acceptance" speech. There, she addresses her evolution in front of the entire student body. She apologizes all those whose feeling got singed by the Burn Book, and she reminds everybody of what's she learned: that we all have way more in common than we think.
Return With The Elixir
This stage is all about how the hero moves on after they've been changed by their journey. The film's postscript shows us that senior Cady is in a good place—and so is the rest of her class, for that matter. Cady still hangs with Janis, Damian, and Karen (Gretchen seems fine, too, BTW); she's reached a truce with Regina; and she's still dating Aaron who's conveniently attending Northwestern.