Sunday, December 03, 2006

Christmas Scenes: Mean Girls

Day 2 of the TCR Christmas Extravaganza:

The concept of this post (review of a scene encapsulating as the review of a movie) is a direct ripoff of the Stylus feature called Scenes. But nonetheless I'm going to go forward with it anyways; when I think of "teen films" and "Christmas" this is the first thing that immediately comes to my mind.

Mean Girls

The Movie: Her parents being zoologists, Cady Heron has never known what "high school" truly meant. She lived her first 15 years in the African jungle, home-schooled, living life with only her parents and the animals of the wilderness, knowing all of the rules of survival. However, when she moves out of Africa, she has to learn the rules of high school, a jungle in itself. She instantly makes friends with two sweet teenagers, Damian and Janis, who, in the terms of the high school, were in the "out crowd." Soon she meets the Plastics, the three crude, beautiful, popular girls, consisting of Regina, the unofficial leader, Gretchen, Regina's full-time follower, and Karen, "one of the dumbest people you will ever meet." They immediately let her into their group, but Cady, wanting to keep her first friends, is unsure. The two convince Cady to keep her relationship with the Plastics, only so that they can know their dark secrets. However, events turn for the worse when Cady falls for Regina's ex-boyfriend, Aaron Samuels. When Regina finds out, she seeks revenge of Cady by taking Aaron back. When Cady finds out, what began as a game to discover secrets turns into a plan to destroy Regina. Now, Cady, Janis, and Damian plot together to bring Regina's status down. However, as Cady spends more time with the Plastics, she, too, begins to become one. [attribution due, as always, to IMDB.]

The Scene: Occurring midway through the movie is a scene that on its surface seems rather odd. Having successfully infiltrated the plastics, Cady plots to bring them down by exploiting the insecurities of Gretchen (Lacey Chabert, in an excellent performance). It starts to come to a head when Cady agrees to do the Christmas talent show with the Plastics. They do the same routine ever year, a dance to "Jingle Bell Rock" whilst wearing rather slinky Santa Claus outfits (as depicted above). Right when the dance is starting Regina pulls rank and insists that Gretchen switch with Cady in order to make the height symmetric, which puts her on Regina's right and makes the whole dance backwards for her. They then show the entire dance scene, wherein Gretchen screws up and destroys the stereo which is playing the song. Cady leads the whole of the crowd in a singalong, they finish their dance routine, and all are happy because Cady has saved the day. All throughout the scene, you can see Regina's mom (clearly re-living her past through Regina) rather pathetically doing the dance along with the Plastics. Cady's parents are in the crowd too and clearly unhappy with the whole spectacle. At the end, they are all congratulating each other, Aaron goes in to kiss Regina and she recoils so as not to screw up her lip gloss. The whole scene is viewable here.

Review/Comments: At first it's easy to dismiss this odd scene as a little throwaway for all the lusting men who are watching the movie. After all, what's the point of showing the entire dance, which has rather sexy moves and slinky costumes, when all of the women doing it are clearly attractive. Nevertheless, upon inspection it becomes clear that the scene rather geniusly encapsulates the relationships of all of the plastics to Regina in one few minute package.

Gretchen is immediately bossed around by Regina, who is clearly showing absolutely no regard for her feelings at all. As Gretchen is embarrassing herself by messing up the steps (which keep in mind is mostly Regina's fault anyways, since she did change everything at the last minute), Regina feels no sympathy for Gretchen at all, only sheer rage. You can see it in her facial expressions. Even once it's over, you can get the palpable sense that she is on the outside looking in, that Cady has replaced her as Regina's favorite. You can sense that Gretchen is legitimately hurt by the whole affair, and it makes all of Gretchen's actions later a lot more understandable.

Cady meanwhile is quite pleased over her ingenuity, you can see her and Karen squealing and hugging at the end. Her parents in the audience, visibily disgusted by the whole "thigh slap" move are starting to see what nobody else has yet realized, that she is in fact becoming one of the Plastics. For all she SAYS she's only taking them down, she clearly cares about being accepted by Regina. She seems to be completely delighted by this, but why? It seems to me that its because this really crystallizes that she is one of "them". Well done. She'll pay lip service later to how she's not one of the Plastics, really, but this scene speaks otherwise. Then she's quickly brought back to earth afterwards by seeing Regina treat Aaron like dirt again at the end of the scene, knowing that Aaron would be happier with her, Cady.

Karen, as always, is not completely understanding the situation and smiling dumbly the whole time. Nevertheless she's the most happy of anybody at the conclusion of the dance. Her real moment in this scene is looking at her in the background as Gretchen is being chewed out by Regina at the beginning of the scene. Look at her facial expression, she knows that something bad is going down here. I get the real sense that she knows that Regina is screwing over Gretchen and wants to stop it, but like everybody doesn't have near enough nerve to actually stand up to Regina. Really interesting work by the acress who plays Karen in this scene.

Regina is calm, cool and collected throughout the whole thing. She doesn't allow herself to smile at all throughout the performance or after, except for a forced smile at the audience's reaction at the very end of the dance. While everybody else's reaction to the performance (all of the plastics plus Aaron) can be described as jubilant and excited, Regina's reaction is clearly more along the lines of "pissed". She likes being loved by everybody, but is clearly a perfectionist here, and seems to be geniunely upset by the screw ups in the performance. A half hearted smile to Aaron at the end, then the recoiling rejection, end scene. Regina's a great character. Her mom in the audience provides a lot of comic relief, but really summarizes how messed up Regina's home life must be. Sure Regina is a bitch, but with her mom living vicariously through her like that, forcing her to do these things, does she really have a choice? Nature vs nurture!

Look at their facial expressions while doing the actual dance too: Regina with her fake, plastered on smile giving way to her geniunely pissed expression after Gretchen screws up; Karen with a goofy and dumb grin; Gretchen clearly trying her hardest, hapless and embarrassed, half-heartedly attempting to smile; Cady nervous at first, trying not to mess up the steps, but slowly giving way to geniune jubilation.

The relationships between these four girls are what really gives this movie its heart, beyond all of the comedy in the movie. And all in all this scene neatly summarizes all of the characters relationships with each other, and all of their basic natures in one two minute scene. The choreography is (presumably intentionally) lame and the song is my least favorite Christmas song ever. But the imagery is iconic, and the scene is extremely memorable and instantly makes a mark on the viewer. Probably my favorite scene in the movie.



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