Study Guide

Mean Girls Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan)

Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan)

Cady Heron is a stranger in a strange land. Her parents may be the research zoologists in the fam, but she approaches North Shore High School like a scientist herself. To Cady, each clique is a species, and the students are fantastic beasts with their own rituals.

As Cady navigates the treacherous social landscape of North Shore, she's not just trying to figure out what to wear and who to date…she's observing the habits of the elusive American high school student.

When Cady takes her first trip to the mall with Regina, Gretchen, and Karen, for example, she's overwhelmed. This is where the species converge—and where many of their mating rituals take place. As Cady watches her peers mix and mingle and mack on each other around mall fountain, it's a familiar scene, but totally unfamiliar at the same time.

CADY: Being at Old Orchard Mall kind of reminded me of being in Africa, by the watering hole, when the animals are in heat.

This girl understands wildebeests better than she does high school juniors, which not only keeps the plot chugging along, but also allows the audience to see things anew, too. Filtered through Cady's gaze, the ordinary day in and day out of being a high school student seems extraordinary.

The Pull of the Plastics

Then there's The Plastics. Cady is fascinated by Regina and her minions. Okay, so she's fascinated by Regina—Gretchen and Karen, not so much. Regina's species is unlike anything Cady's ever seen, and their rituals are all-consuming, with superficial rules aplenty, right down to how often they can wear ponytails. It's exhausting, and yet by Cady's own admission, dazzling:

CADY: Regina's like the Barbie doll I never had. I'd never seen anybody so glamorous.

It's also ridiculous, and Cady knows it. Take Halloween, for example. Here's how Cady sums up Halloween in Girl World, the nickname she gives to the social niche presided over by queen bee Regina:

CADY (V-O): In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it. The hardcore girls just wear lingerie and some form of animal ears. Unfortunately, no one told me about the slut rule, so I showed up like this.

The "this" in this explanation the "ex-wife" costume Cady wears to a Halloween party. It features a bloody wedding dress, long black wig, and gnarly fake teeth. It's a costume that terrifies the other party-goers and, later, Janis and Damian, a fact that would make you—and Cady—think it's an awesome costume.

As Cady learned roughly 2.4 seconds after walking into the party, it was not. Cady may be a well-traveled math whiz, but when it comes to high school cliques, she has a lot to learn.

Heron…Cady Heron

Because she's such a blank slate, Cady's able to move undetected between the "art freaks," a.k.a. Janis and Damian, and The Plastics in order to enact their revenge plot against Regina. Cady's essentially a secret agent, and being a super-spy is hard work. (Just ask James Bond.)

Both cliques are in a fight for Cady's social soul, and eventually Cady gets so deep undercover with The Plastics that she loses her sense of self. She starts planning Plastic sabotage missions without consulting Janis and Damian. She starts talking like Regina, peppering her speech with irritating "Shut up!"s and "Love ya!"s.

She starts styling herself like a Plastic, too, with more revealing clothes, bigger hair, and tons of makeup. In short, First Day of School Cady would hardly recognize Second Semester Cady, and it's impossible to tell where the revenge mission ends and "real" Cady begins. This loss of identity happens even to the best spies. (Just ask Jason Bourne.)

While Cady doesn't realize that she's losing her sense of self in a fog of volumizing spray, she does retain enough self-awareness to know that she's infatuated with Regina—and that it's kind of annoying:

CADY: I was a woman possessed. I spent about 80% of my time talking about Regina, and the other 20% of the time, I was praying for someone else to bring her up, so I could talk about her more…I could hear people getting bored with me, but I couldn't stop. It just kept coming up like word vomit.

For Cady—and for Gretchen and Karen, and for most of the population at North Shore, come to think of it—Regina's approval means everything because it means popularity. In other words, if the most popular girl in school thinks you're cool enough to talk to or—gasp—hang out with, you're teen royalty.

Cady may be new to the social mores of American teenagers, but she's no dummy:

CADY: The weird thing about hanging out with Regina was that I could hate her and, at the same time, I still wanted her to like me…Same with Gretchen. The meaner Regina was to her, the more Gretchen tried to win Regina back. She knew it was better to be in The Plastics, hating life, than to not be in at all. Because being with The Plastics was like being famous. People looked at you all the time, and everybody just knew stuff about you.

Those shreds of self-awareness are what set Cady apart from most of her peers. On some level, she understands that a person's worth doesn't have anything to do with how shiny their hair is or what kind of car they drive.

The thing is, she's still has to navigate high school five days a week, and being popular makes that a lot easier. Cady's stuck. She's becoming a rotten person, and, at best she's in denial, and, at worst, she's justifying it by her need to fit in.

Rock On, Janis

Then Janis wakes her up. Fundamentally, Cady is caring and introspective. The fight she has with Janis after she blows off Janis's art show to have a house party and try to cozy up to Aaron, is an eye-opener for Cady. A reality check.

Here's what Janis says—after she tells Cady that she's not pretending to be Plastic anymore; she is Plastic:

JANIS: See, that is the thing with you Plastics. You think that everybody is in love with you, when actually, everybody hates you. Like Aaron Samuels, for example. He broke up with Regina and guess what: He still doesn't want you. So why are you still messing with Regina, Cady? I'll tell you why. Because you are a mean girl! You're a b****!

Ouch. Janis's words slice Cady to the bone and help her realize that she's been self-absorbed and shallow and generally lost sight of what's important. In other words, Janis is right: Cady has become a full-fledged Plastic, and cold and shiny isn't a good look for her.

The Evolution of Cady

Cady treats her first taste of socialization like a sampler platter. She starts out as an observer, a friendly, fresh-faced newb on the outside looking in. Then she becomes a Plastic princess and, eventually, someone that half of her peers think capable of pushing someone in front of a bus.

Yeesh.

By the end of the film, however, Cady's become a well-adjusted, level-headed high school senior with friends, a boyfriend, and the ability to wear pink or a ponytail any time she feels like it, thank you very much. Here's how Cady puts it in her own words:

CADY: I had gone from home-schooled jungle freak to shiny Plastic to most hated person in the world to actual human being. All the drama from last year just wasn't important anymore. School used to be like a shark tank, but now I could just float. Finally, Girl World was at peace.

Cady's evolution throughout Mean Girls is more fascinating than watching a herd of hippos play water polo. As a character, she bucks the tired comedic trope that says watching female protagonists get to be selfish for once is hilarious.

Instead, Cady follows a traditionally male comedic arc throughout her junior year at North Shore. She messes up, but then she grows up. She learns to not be a self-centered jerkwad, and she gets the guy in the end.

Grool.

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