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Oct 19 2017

Blueprints: "Mean Girls"

Hi everyone,Jorgehere.Welcome to the first installment ofBlueprints,a new weekly serieswhere we'll discuss the relationship between the pages of a script and the finalized cinematic products.To start things off,an audience-favorite and one of the most quotable films of all time.

Tina Fey's cult-classic satire on teenage girlhood,cliques,and cheese fries has quickly become an indispensable presence inside the ranks of Most Quotable Films lists.Behind-the-scenes recognition has fallen more on the writer than on director Mark Waters (brother ofHeathers'helmer Daniel Waters;for those keeping tabs on your clique movies).Almost every single line has become a chant for people to drop on each other,so much that Quote-Along screenings of the film have become widely popular.

But what is it aboutMean Girlsthat made it not only memorable,but practically irresistible to mouth along to?

Mean GirlsWritten by: Tina Fey
Based on:Queen Bees and Wannabesby Rosalind Wiseman

[You can read the full scripthere.I will be talking aboutthese pagesandthis scene.]

The script most widely available online (which I'm using as a basis) is a very early draft of the movie.It is dated June 3,2003;almost a year before the movie opened on April 30,2004.Some sequences are completely different than the final product.For literal starters,this script opens with Cady sleeping as opposed to her parents sending her off to school:

Some of the most memorable lines are not even on this draft:


"Is butter a carb?","Her hair is full of secrets…."?They're not here.Perhaps those lines were improvised on spot or (most likely) added onto future drafts;there's no way to know for sure.

But let's focus on a single scene: Gretchen Weiner's infamous Caesar monologue.

Unlike many other "quotable"moments in the movie,this is not just a clever line of dialogue.This scene is a pivotal turning point for Gretchen.And while we can see that sharper dialogue can be added later,these types of moments have to emerge from the page.

In this scene (which you can read in full above),there is not a lot of description in the action lines.Fey uses words like "elated"and "playfully"to guide the actors,but she isn't ultra-specific about how they should act;the finished performances are a collaboration between director and actors.

The most explanatory line comes when she writes that "Gretchen's face twists up in a frighteningly hateful expression."The fact that the very next scene (after an abrupt CUT TO),starts "With the same hateful expression on her face"is an indication that Fey wanted to emphasize the importance of staying with her.And editor Wendy Greene took up on her cue.The finished transition is a fade through Gretchen's expression.

Gretchen's monologue is all in the page.However,there is no indication (except for that very important "hateful"adjective) of how it is to be performed.Fey charges the words with sentiment,but it was up to Lacey Chabert to interpret that sentiment.And that's when a good piece of writing becomes a quotable piece of writing: when it is put through the filter of a well-aligned performance.

Chabert infuses those ten lines of dialogue with an impressive combination of overflowing and boiling hate,anxiety,and pain.It is never stated in the script,but Movie Gretchen (an evolved version of Script Gretchen) is having a full-on emotional meltdown.

The final scene even has an additional line ("People totally like Brutus just as much as they like Caesar"),which actually saysso muchabout her character;it informs how Gretchen views herself in relation to Regina.

There's no denying that the script forMean Girlsis an ingenious package of quick-witted dialogue,memorable characters,and a well-layered and structured plot.However,the brilliance of a script will stay buried on a page unless helped by others in the filmmaking process.

So why isMean Girlsone of the most quotable films of all time?Because Tina Fey laid down the words,but every other collaborator in the film (the director,the editor,the actors) lifted them and took them from the page to a fully realized cinematic satire;to an all-time classic that has penetrated popular slang like few others.

And that issofetch.

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Reader Comments (7)

I love this.That Brutus line is so incisive.I can't believe Fey missed an Oscar nomination for this.I mean,I can but it makes me so crazy.

October 19,2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

"She doesn't even go here"

haha so many AMAZING lines in this film.LOVE LOVE LOVE it to pieces.So Robbed of an Oscar nom!!

October 19,2017 | Unregistered CommenterDAVID

Is Mean Girls really considered a "cult classic"?It was,after all,super popular on initial release (both critically and at the box office) and only has grown in esteem in the 13 years (!!!) since,so I think it's just a stone-cold aughts and comedy classic at this point.

October 19,2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

The Brutus monologue should've totally gotten Charbet in the Oscar conversation.Same with McAdams with most of her scenes.So brilliant!

October 19,2017 | Unregistered CommenterCal

Love the idea for this series!What a great idea.Can't wait to see more.

October 19,2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

So glad that you chose this scene - Chabert is my MVP in the cast,which I always assumed was a little-shared opinion.

She really deserved the same career boost as her co-stars...

October 19,2017 | Unregistered Commenterkermit_the_frog

I was in a web series called "Distilled"where five of us had to discuss our favorite comedies.Mine was Mean Girls.I think it's one of the greatest screenplays of our time.

Fey optioned a non-fiction book and made us feel like we were in that universe.There were over 90 speaking parts to be cast,and the whole movie feels authentic.The movie takes place over an entire school year,yet the pace is breezy.

And,yes,Chabert absolutely nailed this character.As Jorge reminds us,right before this is at the Jingle ball when she is scolded for trying to make fetch happen (one of the film's MANY quotable lines).The look on her face is of defeated heartbreak.The build-up to this meltdown,in both the script and performance,is masterful.

I saw from the outtakes that some of this was shot in front of a green screen (maybe for the background dissolves?).I wonder if Chabert had to do both the Brutus speech and the breakdown in the bathroom together.

Now all together now: WE SHOULD ALL JUST STAB CAESAR!!

October 19,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

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