Director Mark Waters is a real ladies' man.
Wait—that sounds wrong. What we're trying to say is, almost all his movies have been anchored by female protagonists. That makes him a rarity in Hollywood.
Waters' filmography is diverse, too. His first film was 1997's The House of Yes, a black comedy starring Parker Posey that he adapted from the play of the same name. Mean Girls marked his second collaboration in a row with Lindsay Lohan. He also directed her in 2003's Freaky Friday remake. In fact, after that film, he knew Lohan absolutely had to star in Mean Girls…as Regina.
"Her energy is a very aggressive, testosterone-laden energy, and that's exactly what I knew I needed for Regina George." (Source)
The problem was, Freaky Friday was a big, fat hit that increased Lohan's profile. The execs at Paramount insisted that she could no longer play the villain in Mean Girls; her fans wouldn't want to see her pounding Kälteen bars and getting hit by a bus. Waters ultimately agreed and broke the news to his star.
Mean Girls follows Waters' modus operandi by featuring a cast that's almost entirely women, who don't spend every waking hour talking about dudes. He also manages to skirt a bucket-load of high school comedy clichés—or at least to skew them a little it. Cady throws a "small get-together" that turns into a monstrous house party, for example, but her classmates don't trash her house.
Similarly, Cady gives a big, heartfelt speech at the end of the film (at the school dance, of course), but it's subverted by Mr. Duvall continually interrupting her to tell her that it's not necessary for her to make a big speech—because it isn't necessary.
That kind of move only happens on the big screen. Taken in tandem with his penchant for making movies about interesting women, Waters' willingness to explode tropes like this makes him not just a formidable comedic director but also an ace disruptor.
Quick! Name another movie based on a self-help book?
See what we mean? This kind of source material is super-rare.
Mean Girls, written by Tina Fey, is based on Rosalind Wiseman's Queen Bees & Wannabes, a self-help book for parents who want to help their teenage daughter deal with bullying. We know, we know: it sounds hilarious.
The thing is, one of the script's greatest strengths is how realistic it is. That's kind of the key to satire: It takes reality and blows it up with riotous hyperbole. Every high school in America has its own Regina George, but we're willing to bet very, very few of them got hit by a bus while dressing down a frenemy.
Mean Girls' biting, clever, and immensely quotable script is the first feature film from Fey, who you probably know best as 30 Rock's night cheese-loving Liz Lemon and the first female head writer of Saturday Night Live.
Fey read Wiseman's book, and thought there was a movie in it. She brought the idea to her boss at SNL, Lorne Michaels, and, according to Fey, he agreed, on one condition:
"When I first pitched it to Lorne, I was thinking I'd like to write a movie about what they call "relational aggression" among girls. He was like, "Okay, but could they also still have cool cars and cool clothes?" And I was like, "Oh, for sure!" (Source)
Fey's script combines cold, hard facts (from Wiseman's book) with sharp characterizations and humor (from Fey's noggin) to create a high school comedy that's closely observed and richly detailed, but still highly accessible and relatable.
It's a study in pop psychology that could happen anywhere, and Cady essentially functions as Fey's stand-in as she studies the vicious social hierarchy of North Shore, often in disbelief.
Of course, Fey herself is in the movie, too. She plays levelheaded, slightly messy math teacher Ms. Norbury. Ms. Norbury may not quite have her life pulled together, but she's still a font of solid advice for Cady. She's the film's voice of reason, the one who directly calls out North Shore's "girl-on-girl crime" and the preposterousness of their cannibalistic social order.
That's what happens when you write a movie—you can give yourself all the good lines.
Mean Girls was distributed by Paramount Pictures, but it was produced by Broadway Video, the entertainment studio founded by Saturday Night Live's head honcho Lorne Michaels, making it the rare SNL-affiliated movie that isn't terrible.
Yeah, we went there.
While Michaels has an unparalleled eye for comedic talent, when it comes to feature films… not so much. For every Wayne's World, there's a Coneheads, a Stuart Saves His Family, and the 1995 Razzie Award Nominee for Worst Motion Picture of the Year, It's Pat.
The big difference here, is that Mean Girls is based on a weightier source text than, say, a sketch about a portly, whiny, gender-ambiguous person that was cringe-worthy in 1995 and is downright offensive by today's standards. Rosalind Wiseman's self-help book Queen Bees and Wannabes grounds the film in truth. When it comes to the cutthroat viciousness of teenage girls, Mean Girls keeps it real.
Maybe a little too real, if you ask the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Paramount Pictures had to fight for Mean Girls' PG-13 rating. Some of The Plastics' insults in the Burn Book, for example, were a little too vulgar for the MPAA board, which initially tried to slap the film with an R rating.
The MPPA were also freaked out by references to female anatomy. Oh, the horror! That's where Paramount and director Mark Waters drew the line. Waters agreed to revise some of the, uh, coarser disses in the Burn Book, but he refused to give in to the MPAA's misogyny.
Of one contested joke, Waters told the ratings board:
"You're only saying this because it's a girl, and she's talking about a part of her anatomy. There's no sexual context whatsoever, and to say this is restrictive to an audience of girls is demeaning to all women." (Source)
You go, Glenn Coco—er, Mark Waters.
With Mean Girls' riotous, unflinching observation of teenage girlhood, Paramount Pictures and Broadway Video had a bona fide box office smash on their hands, lady parts and all.
Mean Girls is as bright and shiny as the really expensive white gold hoops that Regina forbid Gretchen from wearing—you know, because hoop earrings are "her thing." Its frames are lively and colorful…just like the student body of North Shore High School itself.
Of course, there is no North Shore High School. Mean Girls wasn't even in filmed in Chicagoland. Instead, most of the shoot took place in Toronto. North Shore's exterior, for example, is actually Etobicoke Collegiate Institute. (Source)
The film also isn't afraid of a fantasy sequence here and there. When Cady first lays eyes on her classmates around the fountain at Old Orchard Mall, for example, she imagines them as wild animals, and we see what she sees.
Later, when Regina dangles Aaron in front of her, we see Cady pounce on her frenemy like a jungle cat. At the end of the film, we see the junior Plastics get leveled by a bus, too. They don't happen often, but these fantastical elements help keep Mean Girls hurtling along with all energy of a teenager.
Recipe for Rolfe Kent's Mean Girls Score:
4 cups African tribal beats
a dash of Danny Elfman weirdness
2 cups Music for mischief-making
¼ cup A women's choir
1 tsp. Peppermint foot cream
Add all ingredients to a blender. Pulse for thirty seconds. Serve with a brilliant revenge plan. Or pita chips.
Rolfe Kent's totally Mean music threads Cady's African upbringing through the heartbreaks and hijinks of high school. When things are looking up for our favorite North Shore newb, the score features bouncing tribal rhythms and chanting voices. Tender moments are backed by a subtler soundtrack that often features an oohing and aahing women's choir.
As Cady goes undercover with The Plastics—and tries to survive high school in general—she's frequently caught between worlds, and the score reflects that. There's also a quirkiness to the score, which makes sense: Cady's an outsider, and many of her new classmates' customs and rituals seem thoroughly strange to her.
Kent's filmography as a composer is as diverse as Cady's experiences at North Shore. Legally Blonde, Sideways, Wedding Crashers, Up in the Air—all scored by Kent. He's also a frequent collaborator with Mean Girls' director Mark Waters, having penned the tunes for films such as The House of Yes, Freaky Friday, and Mr. Popper's Penguins.
Guess that makes him the Damian to Mark Waters' Janis—just a couple of "art freaks" making beautiful music together.
Mean Girls is the great unifier. It brings people together, and we're not just talking about popcorn-fueled viewing parties on Mean Girls Day (which is October 3rd because that's the day it was when Cady asked Aaron what day it was).
No, we mean that the film is part of the internet's connective tissue. Take a quote from Mean Girls and slap it on an image of something else, and you have an instant meme. Just ask President Barack Obama, whose most famous use of a Mean Girls quote (yes, there was more than one) saw the White House ordering the Obama's dog, Bo, to stop trying to make fetch happen.
Mean Girls is simultaneously relatable and very, very quotable. As a result, it practically invented the remix culture of the internet that we just described. Add Mean Girls to Mad Men pics, and you've got Mean Mad Men, for example. Mix it with The Hunger Games and you've got Mean Girls of Panem. Add a dash of magic, and you have Where Harry Potter and Mean Girls Collide. It's not just pop culture that's ripe for Mean Girls mash-ups, either; Mean Girls of Capitol Hill skewered American politics, one repurposed quote from North Shore High at a time.
Mean Girls is one of the first online fandoms because it had perfect timing. When ithit multiplexes in 2004, the internet was a way of life for teens and twentysomethings, but it was pre-social media. No Twitter. No Snapchat. No Facebook. If you wanted to communicate with friends, fans, trolls—you name it—message boards were where it was at, and they were the perfect format for memes and gifs.
What's interesting about that isn't that it existed, but that it came out over a decade after the movie was released. That speaks to the power of the Mean Girls' popularity and the sheer number of people who feel about the film the same way that Bethany felt when Regina George punched her in the face one time. In other words, it was awesome.