You might be hard-pressed to remember, but there was a time when Tina Fey wasn’t a household name. This was when a New York Times review of her first produced screenplay would introduce her simply as the woman who does the satirical newscast on Saturday Night Live.
But with Mean Girls, Fey rose to another level. In just a few short years, she’d be the biggest female name (and one of the biggest names, period) in all of comedy. It’s nearly been 10 years since Mean Girls stormed the box office, first on the appeal of its not-yet-a-train-wreck star Lindsay Lohan, then on the strength of the film’s outrageously funny take on high school life. This past decade has seen the movie find the sort of status few teen-centric films have achieved since John Hughes was in his prime.
While Mean Girls strays from reality in a number of instances — there is no principal as insane as the one Tim Meadows portrays — the film is very much grounded in the brutal actuality of the modern high school. Most don’t realize that Fey based her script in part on a nonfiction book by Rosalind Wiseman called Queen Bees & Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Adolescence. Knowing that Fey was able to adapt a parenting book into a comedic romp (with some stylistic help from director Mark Waters) makes Mean Girls all the more remarkable because it works as a what-not-to-do guide for being a teenager (or dealing with teenagers).
In the decade to come, the sort of bullying and underhandedness we see Lohan’s Cady both endure and practice, as she navigates the social landscape of a school that’s been all but hijacked by a trio of self-proclaimed “Plastics,” would only amplify. The “burn book” the girls in the film use to defame their classmates went digital and made life a living hell for a lot of kids.
Tina Fey has never claimed to be a moralist, but the monologue her character delivers near the film’s climax should serve as a lesson in getting along to high school classes for years to come. Don’t get me wrong; the film is very, very funny, as it was always intended to be, but there’s more to it — just as there was always more to Fey than the woman who did the fake news on SNL. ♦
Suds and Cinema: Mean Girls • Thu, Feb. 13 • Beer flows at 7 pm, movie at 8 • Bing Crosby Theater • 901 W. Sprague • $4 admission, $4 beers from Selkirk Abbey (with ID) • All-ages