We’ve all got a Mean Girl in our lives. We’ve either suffered them or been one.
A staple of teenagedom and teen movies alike, she is the force that sets the plot in motion, the antagonist feared by every clique, the villain who must be taken down by our protagonist. The cruelty of girlworld is excellent fodder for teen movies, and the Mean Girl is particularly venomous towards other girls. She is designed to be hated.
The Mean Girl as a character has undergone a gentle evolution from the background meanie in teen classics like Pretty in Pink (1986) to lead character of some pretty toxic depths.
In Heathers, Daniel Waters’ and Michael Lehmann’s Kubrickian epic about the poisonous politics of high school, a string of murders is committed by a handsome sociopath with a god complex. Heathers shows teenagers who are victims of a toxic hierarchical environment. The powerful clique of mean girls, The Heathers (named so because they’re all named Heather, except Winona Ryder’s character, Veronica), are each riddled with insecurities, suffering from eating disorders and with such a low image of themselves, they push each other into their worst impulses.
Heathers gave interiority to a trope, and its influence can be felt on Jawbreaker (1999), Mean Girls (2004) and Sex Education (2019-), to name a few.
In Darren Stein’s 1999 masterpiece of nasty one-liners and colour blocking, Jawbreaker, everyone is a Mean Girl. Heavily inspired by Heathers (1988) but dripping in a distinctive Gen-X brand of bile, in this world, some girls are designated to be mean because they’re too hot to be anything else.