Mean Girls is one of the most well-constructed, well-paced commercial movies I have ever come across. This movie appeals to such a broad audience; I’ve heard from people -ones who have both studied films for years and people who don’t care about screenplay structure – express their love for this movie. Mean Girls was directed by Mark Waters, written by Tina Fey, and (very, very loosely) based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. It starred Linsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, and Tina Fey. So let’s examine the structure of one of the greatest teen comedies of all time…
Act 1: Set-Up
Cady comes from Africa; she is the outsider looking in. To help viewers understand the world, we see from Cady’s perspective. She could easily come from another state, but to have this character come from the outback’s of Africa completely unattached from American teenage-hood – it’s bigger and louder and works to make the character feel like an outsider.
The bus almost hits Cady! Chekhov’s gun #1; if a gun is shown on the wall in Act 1, then it must be fired in Act 2. So if a bus is shown in Act 1, then it must hit a girl in Act 2. Right?
Character introduction to Janis and Damien; outcasts – the flamboyant Damien and the tough tomboy Janis. They are kind of the “all-knowing-beings” of the school; they know everyone, know the layout of the cafeteria, and of course… the Plastics.
From beta to alpha, we are introduced to each Plastic. The wealthy Gretchen, the vapid Karen, and the fierce Regina George. Regina is a mythic bitch.
The Plastics invite Cady to their table, noticing her potential.
Chekhov’s gun #2: “Your bracelet is so adorable” this will be said by Regina again – but in a different context later.
Act 1: Catalyst
The Plastics invite Cady to hang out with them. Janis and Damien encourage Cady to eat lunch with the Plastics, so Cady can tell Janis and Damien everything.
Act 1: Debate
Character introduction to Aaron Samuels. Infatuated but “he’s off limits” That’s just like… the rules of feminism!
Cady enjoys her time with the Plastics but Cady realizes how ruthless Regina can be with the fake call. A few things to set up Regina as this perfect high school villain…
- She calls a girl’s mom and gets her in trouble
- She gets anything she wants – including her parents master room
- The burn book. Oh, look, one of the most famous movie props ever made. It certainly won’t come back in the climax, will it?
- Cady is set up in a three-way call trap about Aaron.
- AND FINALLY: Regina makes out with Aaron – Regina knowing that Cady likes Aaron
Break into Act 2: Transition to Act 1 to Act 2A
Cady, heartbroken and betrayed, goes to Damien and Janis for comfort. They suggest setting the Plastics up to break them apart.
THIS IS PLOT POINT 1. Plot Point 1 is when the protagonist makes an active decision to answer the call to adventure – and Cady has two choices. She can either stay submissive to Regina, or she could sabotage her (this would be the “call to adventure.)
Act 2A; Fun and Games
Cady sets the plan in motion to sabotage
- Foot cream instead of acne medicine
- Doesn’t work. Try and fail.
- Holes in the chest of Regina’s shirt
- Doesn’t work. Try and fail.
Back story of Janis and Regina. Cady now understands why Janis hates Regina so much.
Chekhov’s Gun #2 FIRED! Regina to a girl in passing: “That skirt is so cute” Regina to Cady about girl; “That is the ugliest effing skirt”
Cady decides to crack Gretchen instead of Regina. Gretchen doesn’t get any candy canes, making it seem like Regina is mad or doesn’t care for Gretchen. The argument before the talent show confirms this. And because of the argument about positions in the dance, it messes up everything. Regina embarrasses Gretchen in front of a group. “Stop trying to make fetch happen. Gretchen Wieners has cracked!!! And reveals a little something about Regina… she cheats on Aaron.
Cady sets up a plan to catch Regina cheating on Aaron. It doesn’t work. Try and fail.
Cady doubts she can do it, but then Cady and co. find out how they can ruin Regina – the Caltean bars. Cady gets caught up in the Plastics life – she’s close to being a plastic; like failing at math so she can get with Aaron.
With the violation of the votes, some of the plastics, along with Regina, are nominated.
Regina doesn’t fit into her dress for the Spring Fling because of the bars.
Frustrated at her math teacher, Cady puts false rumors into the burn book.
After the four-way call with Regina, the plastics start to turn on Regina. Regina violates one of her own rules at the lunch table- she is kicked out of the plastics. Now, Karen and Gretchen turn to Cady as the new alpha.
Act 2A-Act 2B Transition: The Mid-point
Cady is now the new Regina – this is the “switch” that needs to happen in the screenplay. She throws a party with her parents out of town. This is an example of the plot now switching – In Act 1 and Act 2A, we saw that Cady was being part of the plastics both to make fun or them and to sabotage them. Now, Cady has BECOME one of the plastics – she’s not pretending anymore. And she doesn’t even invite Janis or Damien!
Act 2B: Tensions Rise
When Cady throws the party, a few things get out of hand. Let’s break down what happens and why it’s important. Cady tries to talk to Aaron, but after Aaron sees through Cady, he rejects her. To make matters worse, Cady vomits on him. The relationship between Cady and Aaron is at a low. Janis and Damien drive by Cady’s house and realize she’s throwing a party without them. Cady says it was to keep up the appearance of being plastic, but Janis calls bullshit.
“You are a mean girl!” Janis yells at Cady.
Regina also drives by and sees the party, and after she realizes that the Caltean bars make her gain weight, she becomes so enraged that she sets up Cady, Karen, and Gretchen – making it look like they wrote the burn book. She then distributes copies to all of the junior girls, and gives the Burn Book to the principal.
Regina watches the chaos as the girls fight each other. Mrs. Norbarry has been accused of selling drugs, too. As the teachers gather the girls in the gym, Mrs. Norbarry helps the junior girls resolve their problems after talking and trust falling exercises.
Regina expresses her disapproval about the exercises but is put in her place when everyone states that they were bullied by her. When it’s Janis’ turn, Regina makes fun of her. Janis then reveals her and Cady’s plan to sabotage Regina. Out of anger, Regina flees.
Cady follows after Regina, Cady now recognizing her horrible actions toward Regina. Regina then gets hit by a bus – Chekhov’s Gun #1 is fired!
Act 2 Ends, Act 3 Begins
After Regina is hit, her parents are made about the Burn Book, and she reveals her bad grades to her parents, Cady realizes that she needs to change. This is the protagonist making an active decision to right her wrongs – it’s Plot Point 2!
Cady is at a low point, thus finding herself without the Plastics, and without Janis and Damien, AND without Aaron.
But then, Cady decides to start writing her wrongs and confesses to writing the rumor about her teacher.
Cady then delivers flowers to Regina, who is recovering.
Cady and Mrs. Norbarry make up and Cady agrees to help the Mathletes during the Spring Fling – finally embracing who she is.
Cady and Carolyn Craft go against each other in the final death round of the competition. Facing each other, Cady immediately thinks negatively about Carolyn’s appearance. But then, a breakthrough happens in Cady while figuring out the math equation;
“That’s when I realized. Making fun of Carolyn Craft wouldn’t stop her from beating me in this contest. Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.”
Cady wins the competition by literally solving the problem in front of her – by focusing on herself, she won.
But she’s not finished. Cady goes to the Spring Fling and accepts the crown. She starts to make a speech, apologizing to the entire school and breaking the crown and passing out pieces of it.
Cady and the supporting characters make up.
Act 3: Epilogue
Everyone finds their own place in the groups in high school, but their school remains peaceful. As a group of freshmen plastics passes, Cady promises that they knew how to take care of it.
Overview: “There are two people in this world; people who do evil things and people who see evil things being done and don’t stop them.” The characters need to sabotage the Mean Girls to prove that they are in the right turns into a mean-spirited effort that shows that one cannot fight fire with fire. The message is; focus on improving yourself over tearing others down. Calling someone a bad writer won’t make you a better one!