Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Complete cinematic critique on the movie Mean Girls

Mean Girls is a brilliant satirical movie that follows a young girl through her transition from homeschooling to public high school. The movie was made in the year 2004 and was directed by Mark Waters. The screenplay was written by comedian Tina Fey and was partially based on the nonfiction book, Queen Bees and Wannabes which was written by Rosalind Wiseman. Through comedic writing and photography, the movie expresses serious issues that face our youth today. Young Cady Heron gets caught up with conformity of her peers and sinks to new lows as she becomes part of the token mean girls group called “The Plastics.” 

Beginning shot, camera angel low to the ground looking up at the parents, making it seem like the main character (Lindsey Lohan) is a little girl but quickly shift upwards to show that she is in fact older than the camera angel made her appear to be. It is part of the comedic structure of the photography. The beginning of the movie her life is summed up using pictures and short clips from her past in order to quickly bring us to the present day where she is no longer home schooled but is attending the local high school. Closeups of the main character’s face the beginning help to express her sheer sense of confusion and disgust for the public high school. 
There is a specific shot towards the beginning of the movie where Cady’s two friends, Janice and Damien, give her a map of the lunchroom which shows what groups sit at what table, and instruct her where to sit. The lunch tables include stereotyping such as, “nerdy Asians, cool Asians, freshmen, jv jocks, varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don’t eat at all, desperate wannabes, burnouts, sexually active band geeks, and ‘The Plastics.’” While Cady is reading the map the camera pans out to actually showing the lunchroom, zooming in on each table as they do actions that live up to their stereotypes. I think that it is brilliant how the director shows the division that is our entire society in one high school lunchroom. The circular and in and out movement of the camera throughout the lunchroom helped create a look that made the lunchroom look bigger than it actually is which helps create the setting for an actual high school lunchroom. 
The camera does a great job of catching Cady’s emotion in her first interaction with “The Plastics” when they invite her to sit at their lunch table with them. As one of the girls, Regina, tell Cady to shut up, meaning that she shocked, Cady actually thinks that they are telling her to shut up and replies, “I didn’t say anything.” This miscommunication is yet another way that the director expressed the cultural differences between the teenagers. The camera then zooms in from behind Regina’s face, whom Cady is looking at, and focuses on Cady’s reaction which is one of sheer confusion. This angle helps show the viewer the same point of view that Regina herself is seeing. 
One shot in particular that was a great use of depth of space was when Cady entered Regina’s house with the rest of the “plastics.” Upon entering they see Regina’s little five year old sister doing slutacious dance moves as she watched a music video which was presumably on a television station like MTV in the background. With her little sister close to the camera you were able to see her dance move quite clearly and see her smile as she turned towards the camera to look at her sister. This cleaver use of photography helped to capture one of the sad but real aspects of our current society and the negative effect of pop culture on our young children. 

Mise En Scene:
As the author of our book did, I will be able to best describe mise en scene by focusing on one specific scene. The scene that I will be focusing on is the scene which Cady is at the mall with the “plastics” and imagines the people sitting by the fountain as being as being a group of wild animals. This is ironic because as the movie progresses, Cady herself becomes just like them and is seemingly just as reckless in her actions.
  1. Dominant: The scene shows Cady is in the foreground but all we can see is her back. The shot is done form behind her in oder to give the viewer the same perspective that she has. 
  2. Lighting key: The lighting is balanced, in a medium key, not to highlight any specific person or movement of the “animals.”
  3. Shot with camera proxemics: As I mentioned above, the camera stands to behind the main characters in order to give the view the same perspective that they have from afar as they overlook the chaos.
  4. Angle: The first angle of the shot is dead on in order to show the eye level perspective of the main characters. The second angle then goes down to the floor so we, the viewers, are able to get a better look of the “animals” as they crawl around on the ground.
  5. Color values: not applicable
  6. Lens/filter/stock: The lens used in this scene is a wide-angle lens in order to fit more into the picture to increase the feeling of intense chaos of the wild “animals”
  7. Subsidiary contracts: The camera move quickly from one person to another crawling on the ground in order to, as I previously mentioned, express the sheer chaos that is happening 
  8. Density: the shot contains a lot of information and people. Not only is it showing these  people turning into wild animals, but it also expresses how Cady sees our society and how she views the sheer animalistic nature of human beings as being apparent through the actions of the people at the mall.
  9. Composition: the picture seemed balance and full of people in the foreground and background. At times is was hard to focus on one specific person because the camera would pan in and would focus on someone else and would then pan back out again with the wide-angled lens to show the chaos in its entirety.
  10. Form: the scene was open form and did not seem very structured in its placement of characters. However, with that being said I do believe that this form helped enhance the integrity of the shot.
  11. Framing: The framing was somewhat tight. As a viewer I was only able to see the people crawling around on the floor and doing animal-like actions like picking each others hair and jumping on each other. I could no focus on anything else in the background. 
  12. Depth: The frame consisted of a foreground, the “plastics” and their point of view, and a background which is actually what we as viewers were suppose to focus on. At times the camera would zoom into one of the “animals” on the floor and that would become our sole view, there was no foreground or background at that time.
  13. Character placement: As I mentioned previously the character placement did not seem calculated and concise but rather random which is a great theme of that scene...chaos.
  14. Staging points: Again, this was not structured and was meant to be more wild and free. 
  15. Character proxemics: This is shown through the interaction of people as they do animal like things such as picking bugs out of each other’s hair and jump on each other in a playful manor. Most everyone is very close to each other, much like a herd of animals.  
In the beginning of the movie it shows the main character (Lindsay Lohan) walking through the front yard at school on her first day and shows her walking in slow motion, signifying her thought process of all of what is going on around her in the chaos that is high school. Every time that Cady is narrating the movement of the camera drastically slows down as to let the viewer slow down with Cady as she collects and expresses her thoughts about the scene and situation. Opposite of that, when the camera is showing chaos as is expressed in Cady’s flashbacks to Africa where see imagines our society as a group of wild animals, the camera moves quickly to keep up with “animals” as they run around frantically.
Aside from the pictures that I mentioned before that help to flash back to the main character’s past which help give us a quick overview of her live prior to going to public high school, the editing also include one on one interviews that last no more than a second with students from the school expressing their love and obsession with one of the popular girls in the school. In one of the short clipped interviews one of the students says, “One time, Regina George punched me in the face...it was awesome.” This ridiculous comment helps explain and set the stage for the degree of popularity that these girls, “The Plastics,” have from the get go. 
As the story progresses we see shots of Cady interacting with the “plastics,” which is immediately cut to a shot of Cady reconvening with her friends Janice and Damien to tell them all about it. The cutting from one scene to another with Cady and her two groups of friends helps portray the two different personalities that Cady must have with her different groups of friends and the abrupt changing of the scene helps to show that her transition between friends is not as smooth and continuous that she would hope. 
As I mention in the section to come (story), the director does a great job of having a scene transition from present day actuality to Cady’s imagination where she sees people in the mall and in the lunchroom turn into the animals that she once saw in Africa and act like they would in the wilderness. This helps express how Cady sees society within her school and how she relates it back to her past in Africa. It’s comedic but sad that Cady sees society as acting like a group of wild animals. 

Introducing the typical pretty but bitchey girls of the high school, collectively claimed “The Plastics,” a rap song comes on which brings an air and attitude of power. Lyrics include “hey hey hey I’m what’s happin.’” Another example of music that is used to express the mode is when Cady is looking at her crush, Regina’s boyfriend Aaron, while he plays soccer. The song is soft and poppy and sings about wonders of love, portraying her feelings of wonder in Aaron. 
As I mentioned in a section before this (photography), as Cady and the “plastics” walked into Regina’s house the camera showed Regina’s little five year old sister dancing inappropriately to a popular music video which had lyrics that said, “my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard and they’re like it’s better than yours, damn right it’s better than yours, I can teach you, but I’ll have to charge.” This comedic scene, as I mentioned earlier, helps express the negative effect of pop culture on impressionably young children in today’s society. 

In one of the opening scenes the principle tells the teacher that there is a new student that is from Africa that will be in the class. The teacher immediately looks at the one african american girl in the class and says, “Welcome,” the girl, looking confused replies that she is from Michigan, and then the main character who is white explains that she was the one who was from Africa. This, in a comedic way, helps express a serious issue of stereotypes and judgements. Cady (Lindsay Lohan) is befriended by two outcasts: Janice who take on a gothic look, and Damian who is “too gay to function,” as Janice tells everyone. These two outcasts are presumably each others only friends. These two people, until it takes a turn for the worse, direct Cady and teach her the ins and outs of the school. 
There are three girls that are in “The Plastics” and each of them are implemented into the story for different reasons. Each girl also has a facet of their personality that can be seen from the very beginning of the movie when they are introduced to Cady by her friends Damien and Janice while the girls are in their gym class. Gretchen Wieners is first shown talking on her cell phone as she walks, in a slow motion camera view, across the field until she get hit in the head with a football which knocks her over. Gretchen is seen as easy to mold, a lemming by nature, and rich because her dad invented the toaster strudel. Karen is another one of the “plastics,”  and is simply a pretty face. Karen is portrayed as the stereotypical “dumb blonde” and has nothing to contribute to the movie except for funny comments that can be attributed to her low IQ. Finally, the last member of the “Plastics” is Regina George (Amy Adams) who is the ringleader of the lemmings. She is the conniving planner behind the girls and is the preverbal neck that controls the head. She is by far the meanest of the three. 
The clothing of each character helps to express their personality, as it does in real life. Janice, who is seen as a darker character who hold a grudge towards Regina more than anyone else in the movie, always wears black and ripped up t-shirts. The “plastics” all wear skimpy outfits implying that they are sexually driven which helps build their popularity. Clothing also helps show the development of the main character Cady, as she transforms from an introverted homeschool girl who, at the beginning of the movie dressed very conservatively but as the movie progresses, dresses more and more like the “plastics” that she becomes apart of. 
A specific scene where clothing helps to show the differences between Cady’s culture back in Africa and the culture of the high school that she is currently at is when she attends a Halloween party. Cady, thinking that Halloween is a time to scare people, dresses up as a scary corp’s bride while her “friends” the “plastics” dress up in skimpy little lingerie outfits and pretend that they are cute little buddies, mice, and cats. Cady’s outfit at the Halloween party represents her ignorance of the culture that she has been placed in but later conforms to like the other lemmings in the “plastics.” 
The story is easy to follow and is accompanied by frequent flashbacks of Cady’s life back in Africa and her inter monologue. One scene in particular that I found interesting and comedic is when Cady is at the mall with the “plastics.” She mentions to the view through her monologue that the mall reminded her of being home in Africa by the watering hole when animals are in heat. The camera then focuses on the people that were sitting around the large fountain in the mall which quickly turned into chaos and the people were acting as if they were monkeys, running around i a squatted position making monkey noises and picking things out of each other’s hair. This shot in the current scene helped express thoughts of her pass and how she associates her past with her present and how she interprets the culture that she’s in. This type of flashback is again seen when she gets angry at Regina for flaunting her boyfriend in front of her. The camera moved from the scene with the two girls standing face to face to a quick chaotic burst of energy where the girls lunged at each other in something that Cady referred to the animal world. Again she used her past interactions with animals in Africa to translate how she perceived the culture in her new american high school.
The burn book symbolizes much more than a book of rumors. The burn book is a common motif throughout the film that expressed the power of words. The burn book is a book that has a picture of a student on each page with negative comments written by their face. Throughout the movie we see the girls writing in this book multiple times and ultimately causes the downfall of Cady and creates chaos as each of the pages gets out around school. Unfortunately this book represented all the bulling that this one group of girls did that targeted nearly every single person in the school, including teachers. The book provide a comical method of getting across the very serious issue that is bulling. 


Sabotage is a common theme throughout the movie. Janice, Damien, and Cady create a plan to ruin Regina’s life and dismantle the “plastics” but in doing so Cady becomes so attached to the plan that she herself becomes a “plastic” and we see her ideologies change. As this occurs, Cady sabotages her own integrity and character as well as her friendship with Janice and Damien. On her quest to bring down Regina, Cady manages to sabotage the relationship between Gretchen and Regina which is seemingly the glue that held the “plastics” together. Another aspect of sabotage is when Cady spreads a rumor that her teacher sells crack. This is a perfect example of the fragility of reputations in high school and how quickly your character can be seemingly compromised. 

The writing of this movie was based off of the screen play that was written by comedian Tina Fey. The writing has a very comedic flare to it as it serves as satire and social critique of today’s high school social dynamic and hierarchy. The writing is very clever in that it covers a vast range of social issues in today’s society including stereotyping, the influence of pop culture, and the power of bullying. 

At the beginning of the movie the main character was conservative in her thinking and actions because of her sheltered life that she had been living with her parents in Africa. As the movie progresses and Cady becomes more comfortable in her new high school and with her new friends, her attitude and actions begin to change as she quickly develops in the girls that she makes fun of behind their backs. This is seen not only though the obvious change in her actions and attitudes throughout the movie but is also see from her change in relationships with other characters as well we her change in dress style. As I mentioned in a previous section (Drama), as Cady develops as a character we are able to see her clothing change from a more conservative style to one that is more revealing. Her relationship with other characters in the movie also change as she becomes more keniving and more confrontational. 

The movie was a great box office hit and received multiple awards including, MTV movie awards and Teen Choice awards. The movie, although comedic, held a deeper meaning that was essentially a social critique of our day. The film holds much influence in pop culture of today and expresses the unfortunate truth that lays in high school and its social hierarchy. The movie was accurately filmed and had very good technical characteristics such as camera angles and writing. The movie remains to be popular with today’s generation and the analysis that I provided you with only covers a few of the countless reasons of why the movie was so successful. If you have not seen this movie I certainly recommend it. 

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