Mean Girls Written by Tina Fey Nominee: Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Mean Girls isn’t trying to raise any questions. That’s not me condemning it. Every film is worthy of analysis, and Mean Girls, from analysis, doesn’t have any conscious desire to ask anything. But no film is a perfect summation of its director’s inner thoughts, and the question that Mean Girls does nevertheless raise is this: is George a bad person? I don’t say that from the complexity of her character – Samuels says that George is more upfront about a person’s ability to be both “good” and “bad” – but from the presentation of George’s character.
Our protagonist, Heron, is told by Ian that George is one the “plastics”, people who are fake. And in the process of attempting to subvert George’s social image and reputation, George’s inner self is revealed to both others and the audience. But what we see is the same person in a different situation. Yes, George changes, but she doesn’t transform.
She only changes in terms of the audience’s perception of her, once everyone’s learnt to be themselves. But what George is being by the end is still the same person she’s been for the rest of the film. It’s everyone else that’s changed, and what they think of George is a large part of that. And – let’s be honest – nothing George does is inherently “bad”.
What exactly is the most extreme thing George does? She writes in a “burn book” nasty things about others, but never actually intends for anyone to see it. She only changes her mind toward the end, when she discovers that Heron’s weight loss bars are actually weight gain bars. And Heron only did that because she was convinced to do so by Ian.
In fact, George openly offered a place of friendship for Heron at the beginning. We’re told that everyone hates George because she’s a “plastic”, but we’re not given ourselves any reason to dislike her. George is sociable, aware of how intelligent people around her aren’t and actively tries to maintain a positive aesthetic. Yes, she thinks highly of herself, and sometimes has bigoted resentments toward others, but throughout, we’re told that everyone else is just like her.
George’s flaws are the same flaws inherent in everyone else. And yet, the only reason George has come to be treated as a bad person is because the protagonist thinks she is. Not that Mean Girls pretends that isn’t the case – the whole story is about one person putting someone on a pedestal of evil simply because of what someone else tells her. Which is really kind of the point.
Cliques are a real thing in life everywhere, and they’re one of the most destructive anti-concepts in society. The solution to the story comes about when everyone understands this, and starts believing in themselves, not an ineffective lie that’s formed just because everyone accepts that it has. That’s what makes Mean Girls succeed above other teen dramas – it’s not just set against a teen backdrop, it’s being put under the microscope, diagnosed as a problem and a solution is suggested. The film plays-out like an analysis of “Girl World”, and does so as a microcosmic analogy for larger society as a whole.
And well, the problem is really Ian. She’s the real cause of the conflict. Her feelings about one girl is what lead her to completely demonise her, and the fallout of that on the people that come into contact with both of them was a friction that alighted their entire environment. I’d say the definitive beat of Mean Girls is when Ian finally confesses this to the girls of the school.
Ian is only seen with one person for the entirety of her scenes and she’s the one that creates the way by-which she’ll manipulate another into ruining someone’s life simply because that person is heterosexual. But it’s all resolved by the end. An end which provides a sense of development for all the girls of a school. We’re only introduced to a few, but those few are the selected characters in a story that becomes about all of them.
They’re the disruptive elements of Girl World, and once they’ve calmed, everyone else has calmed too. The complicated relationship between George and Ian – a story told by George, yet which ultimately turns-out to be true – speaks a lot about school life; sometimes, you just don’t tessellate with someone. But that’s okay. Everyone’s a bit of a dick.
Just don’t be the biggest.