“Mean Girls” came out on April 30, 2004 – a full ten years ago. The anniversary gives fans of the film another excuse (as if we need one) to lament Lindsay Lohan’s tragic downfall over the last decade. “'Mean Girls' was awesome!” people say. “Lindsay Lohan was really great in it!” they add. “It’s so sad what happened to her.”
Yes, “Mean Girls” is awesome. Yes, it is so sad what happened to her. But was Lohan that great? Ehhh.
Look: Playing Cady Heron is the best work Lohan has ever done. And, given her many unsuccessful attempts at a comeback, it’s entirely possible it’s the best work she’ll ever do. But she wasn’t great in it. She wasn’t even good. She was fine.
“Mean Girls” succeeded because Tina Fey wrote an incredibly funny, thoughtful, poignant story. It still resonates with teens (who think that the film came out “forever ago”) and adults alike. People still quote lines like “You go, Glen Coco!” and “Her hair is full of secrets!” and “Boo, you whore!” as if they were always a part of our cultural lexicon. “Mean Girls” helped Fey to become the bad-ass boss she is today, and rightfully so.
“Mean Girls” succeeded because of its brilliant supporting cast. Rachel McAdams brought some humanity to the delightfully evil Regina George, Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzese were fantastically weird and delightful as Cady’s best friends Janis Ian and Damian, and Amanda Seyfried and Lacey Chabert displayed surprising comedic chops as vapid Plastics Gretchen and Karen. If you didn’t see yourself in any of these characters, you saw people you knew. You saw your high school experience, even if the “Mean Girls” interpretation was slightly exaggerated (or maybe it was dead on, depending on your adolescence).
But the two best things Lindsay Lohan did for “Mean Girls” was to 1) look very, very pretty, and 2) not completely ruin it with her presence.
Do you remember any particularly stand-out moment for her in “Mean Girls”? Oh, she fell into a garbage can – a well-tread “pretty girls falling over” trope that was already tired by 2004. Oh, she wore an unattractive costume to the Halloween party – the comedy there came from the costume itself, not Lohan.
There just isn’t that much to Cady as a character, which is really the whole point; the audience sees her as their proxy into the story. She’s the Bella Swan of “Mean Girls,” a blank slate that everyone can project their own identities upon.
Lohan did an acceptable job of taking on this role. She said her lines, and I can only assume she memorized them to the satisfaction of her director. She wasn’t unconvincing in the role (although knowing what we know now, her performance in the academic decathlon verges upon science fiction). But did she do anything that interesting with the character? Not really. Cady could have been played by any vaguely teen-ish actress at the time. Lohan just happened to get the part, and the best that can be said about her performance was that she didn’t make the movie worse. As terrible as it is to imagine Lizzy Caplan playing any other part than Janis Ian, imagine what she, or any other actress with range, could have done with the role of Cady.
Because “Mean Girls” was otherwise so well-crafted and achieved so much box office success, people associated much of that success with Lohan. And we know what happened next: “Just My Luck.” “I Know Who Killed Me.” “The Canyons.” Even Lohan’s recent “2 Broke Girls” guest appearance looked like she was trying to race through her lines as quickly as possible so she could go back to avoiding Oprah's camera crew:
“Mean Girls” is a great movie. Lindsay Lohan is not a great actress. Her downward spiral is very, very sad, but it’s not like we lost a great talent to the trappings of Hollywood. Even if Lohan had stayed on the straight and narrow following her success, I suspect that she still would have struggled to impress with any of her subsequent roles.
The best thing we can take from Lohan in “Mean Girls” is that with a really, really, really great script, she’s just… not completely terrible.