Waters, who in the ensuing decade has directed or produced seven films, including "500 Days of Summer," "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," and "Vampire Academy," told Moviefone that he thinks the reason "Mean Girls" still resonates with audiences is that essentially the high-school experience is the same one generation to the next. "The big theme of 'Mean Girls' is that in high school you feel like you're in a battle you have to survive every single day," Waters said. "It only takes a year or two to realize that's not the way life actually is, but while you're in it, it's a deadly, overwhelming feeling."
But of course, that battleground mentality is just a metaphor, because if you depict high school life too earnestly, it will backfire, Waters says, recalling how many teen-targeted movies (particularly adaptations) have failed, "because they suffer from that dreadful sincerity and taking themselves too seriously."
Part of an elite slate of high-school comedies that have gone the distance ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Clueless," "Heathers," "The Breakfast Club"), "Mean Girls" isn't a shallow raunch-fest about losing your virginity or scoring booze for party or a cliché melodrama about all the feels of an angst-ridden junior year. "Mean Girls" is as smart as it is funny, with subversive and feminist commentary that demands multiple viewings to fully appreciate (I for one, think the Calculus scene between Cady and Aaron -- "Wrong, wrong, so wrong... Thanks, I get it now" -- should be required viewing for intelligent girls who feel the need to "dumb it down" for a guy).
Waters admits that, of course, the movie has (slightly) exaggerated representations of high-school life, like the cliques ("if you break the rules, you can't sit with us anymore") and the cafeteria's social hierarchy (JV Jocks, Asian Nerds, Cool Asians, Varsity Jocks, Unfriendly Black Hotties, Sexually Active Band Geeks, etc.) and the whole "Girlworld" idea of Halloween ("lingerie and some sort of animal ears"). But Waters wisely concludes that that's part of the "Mean Girls" legacy: "It's very stylized, over-the-top humor, but that's the enduring appeal: audiences know -- or remember -- that this is exactly how high school goes down. It's turbulent and exciting, while you're in it."
It's easy to look back and examine why "Mean Girls" is better than the countless forgettable teen comedies that come and go each year (OK, we'll give you "Easy A," but you won't find a critical mass quoting "Fun Size" or "The Virginity Hit" or "Geography Club" any time soon... or ever), but back in 2004, Waters insists that he and Fey had no idea "Mean Girls" was going to be such a huge hit for a subsequent generation of audiences. "We honestly just wanted to make something that was for us and weren't trying to please anyone else but ourselves," he said. "But I love that it's this emblematic movie that speaks to anyone who remembers the sting of high school... and can laugh about it."
The authenticity, the performances, the witty dialogue, the well-developed secondary characters -- there are so many reasons to love "Mean Girls." But we hope in 2024, there will be another Big Teen Comedy to commemorate. That would be Fetch.