The ten-year anniversary of the premiere of Mean Girls was this past April, prompting a slew of Facebook statuses, tweets and blogposts from various millennials waxing poetic, quoting memorable lines and fretting over how “old” they feel.
A decade later, Mean Girls is a pop-culture icon—slightly amazing, considering the over-stimulated world we live in where staying power is difficult to attain. It came out when I was in 7th grade and was especially relevant, as I was spending a lot of time managing an onslaught of backstabbing and nonsensical cruelty that accompanies middle-school “friendships.” It’s remained one of my favorite movies. Fey doesn’t shy away from absurdist humor, with her incredibly witty script, striking a well-toned balance between the ridiculous and the universal.
I’m positive, though, that Mean Girls wouldn’t have been possible without the 1988 movie Heathers. Heathers is Mean Girls dipped in tar. A complete bomb at the box-office, Heathers has since received the warm reception that films like these often get after the fact—but it’s still very much a cult classic.
Many have trouble holding onto anything in Heathers. It’s the definition of a black comedy and while intelligently written and funny as hell, nothing is off limits. In Mean Girls, it almost feels like Fey took everything that worked so well in Heathers and molded it into something people could laugh at and identify with simultaneously.
Without Veronica’s furious vocalized diary entries (which she wrote while sporting a monocle—the fashion in this movie is unquestionably dope) there would likely be no inspiration for Cady’s narration. Veronica’s frantic entry, “Dear Diary, I want to kill—and you have to believe, it’s for more than just selfish reasons, more than just a spoke in my menstrual cycle,” becomes Cady’s much less alarming line, “My stomach felt like it was going to fall out my butt. I had this lump in my throat like after you dry-swallow a big pill. I hated Regina. I hated her!”
In Fey’s 2004 homage—if I may be so bold to call it that, which I will—she dilutes Veronica and JD’s free-for-all murder-fest into Cady, Janis and Damian’s social takedown of Regina, which is a far more relatable plot line. High schoolers are more likely to write mean things about each other in notebooks than fake each other’s suicides.
There’s also something to be said for Mean Girls’ easy comedy. Laughter without the undertone of discomfort goes a long way—and while its script is ripe with excellent one-liners (“Fuck me with a chainsaw, do I look like Mother Theresa to you?”) there are certain scenes in Heathers that might be hard for some to stomach, much less laugh at.
The main difference, though, is that Mean Girls conveys at least a glimmer of hope at the end. It avoids getting preachy, but manages to humanize every character without creating an unrealistic utopia or sacrificing humor. Heather Chandler would be rolling in her grave at the Kumbaya fueled latter half of Mean Girls—Heathers simply doesn’t allow for optimism, and while I love it, the film is a bit of a one-note satire.
Regardless of their differences, Heathers and Mean Girls opened a gate for truly smart comedies about high school, injecting much needed dark irony into a genre previously claimed by more sincere films. Here’s hoping the next ten years brings us more movies like them.