“Why should Caesar just get to stomp around like a giant, while the rest of us try not to get smushed under his big feet? Brutus is just as cute as Caesar. Right? Brutus is just as smart as Caesar. People totally like Brutus just as much as they like Caesar. And when did it become okay for one person to be the boss of everybody? Because that’s not what Rome is about! We should totally just STAB CAESAR!”
The year is 2015. I’m in my sophomore year in college. I sit somewhere in the league of the back rows, navigating the field of vision of my teacher and the position of my cell phone with professional precision. That is when I hear it. “I really need to lose, like, 2 kgs. It’s the only way I’ll fit into XYZ’s bandage dress for ABC’s party,” a voice whispered in equal parts frustration and earnest. “Are you kidding? Shut up! You’re disappearing!,” retorted another voice, dressed with rehearsed pointedness. Some works of art mirror life, my friends. But some of them? They are life.
“Mean Girls”. I can all but hear the judgement running through your well-versed and well-punctuated head. A “teenage” movie. A “chick flick”. A “disgrace to the art of cinema”. Having heard all of that and worse, I can safely but surely postulate two things: one, “Aap Ka Suroor” is a disgrace to the art of cinema; two, there is a lot more than what meets the biased eye. Paramount’s 2004 satire of the high school hierarchy is a classic in its own right. You read right: “classic”. Cries of protest mean nothing as this piece of work has been analysed, and reanalysed countless times in the past decade since it first graced the world eleven years ago. This film is more than the average teen-demographic comedy, since it was intended to be. Tina Fey, comedienne and writer extraordinaire, drew inspiration from Rosalind Wiseman’s 2002 self-help book, “Queen Bees and Wannabes”, which aimed to help “your daughter survive” the jungle that is high school. Fey buried herself in understanding the x’s and o’s that make up the adolescent experience of a teenage girl in school, and soon enough, found herself writing a critique of the unwritten system of the hierarchy of, namely, “Girl World”. Why did “Mean Girls” withstand the test of time, when other such high school opuses faded into oblivion? The answer lies in its authenticity, and how it spoke of deep-set problems in Girl World in a sensitive yet hysterical manner. Basically, the only manner that resonates.
The plot begins with Average Girl Cady Heron (played by the Lindsay Lohan who was untainted by the realities of life), who becomes our narrator and guide into the uncertain kingdom of a suburban high school. Having moved from Africa and been home-schooled throughout her life, Cady becomes the perfect clean slate for the other characters to spill over, making her the only unbiased character in the story. Kind of like the audience. She is dumbfounded in finding herself in a position where adults don’t trust her (no lavatory pass at will), where no one wants to speak to her, and where no one really seems to care about the actual academics part. Having to resort to eating lunch in the toilet by herself, Cady is disillusioned by it all, and it hasn’t even been 24 hours. She meets the only two people willing to be her friends and seizes the opportunity. Damian (played by Daniel Franzese) and Janis (brought to life by the exceptional Lizzy Caplan) look at Cady like a specimen in a lab, and take it upon themselves to teach her the laws of the land. Unimportant class schedules and tour aside, they get down to the real deal: where to and not to sit in the cafeteria. They demarcate the area with a skilful map of the place, marking each table with its stereotypical herd occupants (preps, jocks, cool Asians, girls who eat their feelings, et al), and breeze through it all with nonchalance. They, of course, save the most important table for last: the Plastics. A trio of skinny, attractive females who preside over the rest of the cafeteria as they do the school – from the centre. Janis and Damian ask Cady to “beware” of them, sparking her curiosity of this sick version of the Forbidden Fruit. Karen, the girl dumb enough to not know how to spell “orange” (portrayed by “Les Miserables” star Amanda Seyfried) and Gretchen, whose dad invented the Toaster Strudel (Lacey Chabert at, sadly, her best) are reigned over by one Regina George (Rachel McAdams from, yes, that season of “True Detective”). Damian speaks of their status best when he says, “If North Shore High were Us Weekly, they’d always be on the cover.” The three of them are the validation of anything that is “in” and the first ones to critique anything that is not. What follows is Cady’s downward spiral as she becomes one of the Plastics and loses Janis and Damian, only to resurface from a sea of materialism and power play, enlightened. Like the Pope.
We can owe the success of this film mainly to its dialogue and actually get away with it. Such is the sharpness with which the subject matter is dealt, every line uttered by these very talented performers can be heard being quoted and misquoted on numerous occasions, across generations. The wit is common and evident throughout all of the characters, and yet one could pinpoint exactly who would say what in an instant. Tina Fey and Co. created perfect three-dimensional characters who were driven by core elements. Cady’s Average Girl, the outsider who got in only to want to get out (Dan Humphrey, anyone?), has the infamous final speech about breaking the crown into pieces and sharing it. Regina George personifies vanity and power (“Is butter a carb?”/“Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen”) with the ease of a tiger in its natural habitat. Karen and Gretchen are polar opposites: the latter cares too much, and the former not at all. As for Janis and Damian, their too-cool-to-care attitude is what they pride themselves on, as they do their mutual hatred for Regina (“She’s a life ruiner. She ruins people’s lives”). Intertwined with these five characters is the Helen of Troy for Cady and Regina: Aaron Samuels. Tina Fey reduces one of the few male characters to a two-dimensional eye-candy state, showing exactly how much men matter when swords are drawn on both ends by women. Aaron Samuels’ intellect or emotional capacity is not mentioned in anything more than passing, making the idea of him more important to the plot than the man himself. He is a thing to be possessed, and he is. His character sees no growth whatsoever, other than moving on from Regina to Cady. What Fey subtly points out? No one calls him out for it. He is not a slut or a home-wrecker, but only a guy who may do as he pleases. Which brings us to the two main themes of the film which make it out to be a classic: power and gender. The plot feeds on the idea of power and makes it larger than life (which is exactly what it is), by making it very clear about Regina’s status in the beginning and by also showing just how replaceable she is. Cody loses focus of the plan because she gets caught up in the whirlwind of the consequences of being popular, something sought after by everyone. The idea of gender comes into the equation because, frankly, Girl World seems like a nastier place than the rest of the co-ed world. Men rarely duel with each other’s emotions, but women do just that and succeed time and again. Fey criticises the treatment of women by their worst enemy: women. Quoting her character’s line, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” This just goes to show how ruthless intra-gender politics can be with women involved. The Plastics are three girls ruling high school, something Fey doesn’t gloss over. Of course, women are ruling the system. What she wants to highlight is the inability of the fairer sex to fight fair. We look out for each other in times of crises that affect the whole gender. But, let’s face it. “Mean Girls” very clearly showed that while women may be the stronger sex collectively, supporting each other through difficult times, we are also the most likely to make no bones about tearing each other down individually. All’s fair in love and Girl World, and a movie about teenaged girls 10 years ago called it first. And it had Lindsay Lohan in it.