Millennial nostalgia has arrived in full form, baby. We’ve gained enough distance from the trauma of low-cut flair jeans, the so-called Janet Jackson "Nipplegate," and the second Bush administration that we now look back on the early 2000s as a bygone era so far removed that we don’t hesitate to call it by its adorable-yet-pretentious sounding name: "the aughts."
My sentimental affection was reignited as I fired up my dusty DVD player, spent about 15 minutes re-learning how to use it, and found myself transported via the previews to a tackier but somehow more wholesome place: 2004.
Yes, it’s 2004 on my screen, and now available on DVD is School of Rock, Napoleon Dynamite, and The Prince and Me. Usher’s "Yeah!" bumps as my neighbor rolls by in his ‘91 Corolla, my sister is on the Dell toggling between AIM and her current game of The Sims, and I’m checking my flip phone to see what my friends are doing after youth group tomorrow night. Our favorite movie is Mean Girls, the unexpected box office hit starring a fresh-faced Lindsey Lohan as Cady Heron, the new girl at North Shore High School.
After being homeschooled all her life in Africa by her research zoologist parents (Ana Gasteyer and Neil Flynn), Cady is forced to learn the innerworkings of the adolescent world. She is quickly adopted by "art freak" pariahs Janis and Damian (Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzese), who teach her the golden rule of the school: Stay away from The Plastics.
But Cady is quickly pulled into the Plastic fold by mean girls Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert), and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried) nonetheless. While the three take it upon themselves to teach Cady the ins-and-outs of teen royalty, Cady, Janis, and Damian commence plans to teach a lesson of their own.
It’s been 15 years since Mean Girls showed us how to live, and yet the movie has stood the test of time based on several factors: its iconic script and perfect characters adapted by Tina Fey, its always-relevant lesson that "making Regina George’s life miserable won’t make you any happier," and its longstanding and immovable place in today’s meme culture. It also taught us the rules of feminism: "Ex boyfriends are off limits to friends!"
Thank god Circle Cinema is giving us the opportunity to collectively bask in our aughts nostalgia. They’ll be screening the film May 10-11 at 10 p.m., as part of the Circle Cinema Graveyard Shift series, to mark a decade-and-a-half of "trying to make ‘fetch’ happen."
Mean Girls, which is to my generation what Heathers and Sixteen Candles were to my parents, provided a coming-of-age moment for so many of us. We adopted and internalized its one-liners, using them to keep our friends in their place and to let Sarah know that she "smelled like a baby prostitute" at Homecoming. Its impact on our Millennial psyche stands to this day, as we still pull out the old "you can’t sit with us" line when jokingly hazing a new coworker—for some of us (me), well into our late 20s.
We loved Regina, Gretchen, and Karen because they were the girls we knew in high school, but worse. We were allowed the catharsis of loving hatred with these on-screen stand-ins. It’s impossible not to mourn Lindsey Lohan, immortalized here in her pre-public disintegration glory as the naïve Cady Heron. She is both the wholesome girl next door and the mega-bitch we secretly wanted to be, and the magic of Mean Girls hinges on the charming performance she gave at the young age of 17.
But, to this day, what we love most about Mean Girls is that it didn’t try to teach us anything we didn’t already know. We already knew that Brutus was just as cute as Caeser, that we should keep our burn books to ourselves, and that sinking to the level of our tormentors is an exercise in futility. Joining the mathletes is bad, but slowly becoming a soulless mean girl is the real social suicide.
The movie gave us aughts adolescents the space to see ourselves from a distance, in caricature. It offered respite during a time that often feels deceptively dark and heavy. For young women, it uncovered layers of pain we tried not to acknowledge: the conditional nature of acceptance from our peers, the feeling of being constantly exposed and judged, and a delicate self-worth that hinged on one’s place in the social hierarchy. Mean Girls lightened our adolescent burdens so that we could carry them with humor and grace.
Graveyard Shift: Mean Girls (2004)
Circle Cinema | 10 S. Lewis Ave.
May 10-11, 10 p.m., $10