I recognized quite some time ago that my movie knowledge is exceptionally spiked – I saw a lot of movies in the early to mid-nineties, but almost nothing post 2000 when I went away to college, and then I had a stretch of not owning a TV nor having any money/desire to see movies in theatres when I went to grad school. So, when the memes started zinging around the office about a movie that came out over a decade ago, I got odd looks – it’s old so I must have seen it… …right?
Well, that’s how I ended up watching Mean Girls over my Christmas holiday.
At first, I’ll admit to not looking forward to this movie – let’s recap: the cover is pink, I’d already read that the film was based on a non-fiction self-help book (remember Adaptation?), the trailers at the front of the DVD were about teenage girl games of the early aughts, and I’m a thirtysomething guy that didn’t think very highly of the high school social experience while this was a teen comedy about 16 year old girls. This seemed like a train wreck that was asking for me to just lie down on the track and hate my life for an hour-and-a-half. The reality was better, such that I actually came away feeling like I had some things to say about the movie.
To start off, I really had to suspend my disbelief for the extremely shallow characterizations of the people in this movie. I’m guessing this was meant to be the “comedy” part of the movie, but it felt more over-stereotypical and one-dimensional than comedic (I would almost go so far as painful at times). At more than one point in the movie, I was asking myself, “what is driving this character to do this?” and the only answer I got was “the plot,” which annoyed me because it felt backward in such a character-focused story.
On the other hand, this movie did execute on the Hero’s Journey particularly well. It hit nearly every phase at just the right time that I was almost able to set my watch by it. This could be taken as a criticism as being “too predictable,” but it actually felt right given source material. First, it makes sense that an adolescent story about a year of high school would seem to be so epic in scope, especially when this is provided in first-person (and we are given more than a few clues that our narrator is unreliable). At a point in life where one is that unstable, this makes sense. Secondly, looking at the material starting as a self-help book, the monomyth provides a narrative that people can relate to (even thirtysomething guys), and helps give some substance to the story (even if the characters flounder).
Overall though, I thought the movie was only okay. It didn’t draw me in, and seemed more keen to push me off (mostly by how the adults, or really any rational actor in this story, was treated). I would attribute this to be more about hitting the target audience than an intentional choice, but it was the case nonetheless. In the end, my rating of the movie is two-and-a-half white gold-plated hoop earrings – startlingly one-dimensional until you look at it from the side, where you see the common loop of the Hero’s Journey; but then, what do you do with half an earring?