Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why John Tucker Must Die is Better Than Mean Girls

Yes, I understand that I am making a very strong claim.

And yes, I am going to prove my claim correct.

A lot of people would probably disagree with me on this considering Means Girls (2004) is pretty much the cult classic of my generation and has plenty of quotable lines, but I finally watched John Tucker Must Die (2006) in its entirety on TV like around a month or two ago and it actually is a favorite film of mine now. I even like it more than Mean Girls, which was never entirely up there among my favorite films to begin with, but I do still like that movie as well.

As I watched it, I noticed that it bears a strong resemblance to Mean Girls. Both films portray modern day drama in a cliche high school setting, making me believe that these kinds of films deserve their own genre since there are so many of them out there, but what else do these two films have in common? Without further to do, here is a compare and contrast of Means Girls and John Tucker Must Die.

The Leading Ladies

Lindsay Lohan as "Cady Heron" from Mean Girls and Brittany Snow as "Kate" from John Tucker Must Die

First of all, isn't it kind of ironic how both girls pretty much have the same first name? When I write a screenplay like these, I know what to call my lead girl now. (Sarah, of course.) Maybe that's why the spelling and pronunciation of Cady's name is a running gag throughout her movie. It's poking fun at how common this name is among lead female characters. Though I'm not entirely sure how often this name is used in film in this way...

When we first meet our leading ladies in their voice over opening scenes (Yes, they both have one), both girls are socially awkward and outsiders, though one reason is more understandable than the other. Cady's awkwardness comes from living with her family and being homeschooled in Africa and because of this isn't used to the social setting of high school drama and is sometimes taken advantage of because of it. Kate, on the other hand, throughout her film claims she is "invisible," though we don't really know why or how this happened. Unlike Cady, she is used to the high school setting. According to her hot mama, played by Jenny McCarthy, she chose to be invisible. In fact, a good reason for her invisibility is that she is often hidden in her mother's shadow, considering how attractive her mom is, and the fact that they often move to another location after her single mom breaks up with yet another one of her loser boyfriends, so that could explain why Kate never formed any friendship with others. But still, just how does a teenage girl become invisible to her peers in the first place? We're told that she is in the prologue, but are never given an exact reason. Both Cady and Kate end up befriending the popular students and get more and more invested in the plots these students invent as their respective movies progress, up to the point where their personalities and styles change and they ultimately become the popular, somewhat mean girls themselves.

What's interesting here too is the relationships these girls have with their mothers. Cady's mother is hardly involved and has no idea what antics her daughter is up to half the time. We rarely see her in the film. Kate's mother is more involved with her daughter because she is fully aware of the master plan Kate and her new friends are putting into motion and even tries to talk her daughter out of it at one point. She knows all of this because the girls mainly hang out at Kate's house whereas in Mean Girls the girls mainly hang out at Regina's house.

Cady's and Kate's motivations for actually getting involved differ as well. Cady gets involved mainly because she does not know what else to do when her new friend Janis vows vengeance against Regina because of an eighth grade fallout between the two of them. She just goes along with everything because she is not fully aware of how things work in, as she puts it, "girl world," and she just goes along with things. Cady gets deeply upset when Regina steals Aaron Samuels, Regina's ex-boyfriend, back from Cady and Janis uses Cady's sadness and naivety of being a new girl straight from Africa to her own advantage and Cady becomes her pawn, not necessarily realizing it right away, for she feels that Janis is doing this to help her. Kate, however, throws herself right into the action and implants the idea of getting back at John into the minds of his girlfriends, knowing exactly what she is doing. In a way, Kate is more like Janis because she is the one kind of using the other girls to get back at John because John's actions remind her so much of what her mother's boyfriends would do to her mother, so the motivation for Kate is a lot more personal than it is for Cady. Kate gets involved to avenge her mother's numerous heartbreaks, lashing out at John to do so, and quite possibly to make herself more visible by mingling with the popular girls. Like Janis, these popular girls also use Kate, who is also the new girl in her film, as well. Another difference between Cady and Kate is that Kate normally looks like she's having fun throughout her movie whereas Cady often looks irritated with her agenda.

The Target

Rachel McAdams as "Regina George" from Mean Girls and Jesse Metcalfe as "John Tucker" from John Tucker Must Die

A distinct and very important difference here is gender. Regina George is the ultimate mean girl of her film and she fits her archetype well. She's blonde, she's frightening, she runs the place, she's popular, but nobody really truly likes her. She's the type of girl that makes the lives of those beneath her on the social ladder not so pleasant, so therefore she must be taken down a peg or a million. She represents the typical storyline about how girls have a tendency to clash with one another.

On the other hand, John Tucker is well loved by everyone in his school and never really gives any of the characters reason to hate him except for when his girlfriends Heather, Beth, and Carrie realize he is dating all of them at once unbeknownst to them. One of the reasons why I like John Tucker Must Die is because the concept is different and has never been done before. Normally in this situation the girls would always fight each other and never include the guy on the battlefield to let him play a part. Even in Mean Girls Cady and Regina fight over the same guy, but the guy is never involved with the actual impact. Here, John is, and he's not just involved in the fight. He's the enemy. Not the other women. Him. What we have here is somewhat a battle of the sexes whereas in Mean Girls the battle is one-sided, within one gender. However, the difference between him and Regina is that Regina is a rotten female we love to hate whereas John is a guy we just love to mock and watch suffer, and under the tactics of women no less. There's just something about guys getting the brunt of attacks that makes it a lot more hilarious than girls getting it. Maybe it's because we as a society associate goofiness and hilarity with men more than women. Kate and the other girls may look like they are having more fun with their antics in their film because men are a lot more fun to mess with whereas there is more anxiety involved with messing with girls. Guys are more laid back whereas girls are more vicious. It's always fun to watch an arrogant guy get his just desserts but arrogant girls have a tendency to just be annoying.

Their offenders target them out of revenge to ruin their lives and ironically both films use voice overs dictating warfare terminology to describe their techniques of defeating their enemy. Some of these techniques somewhat resemble each other between films, the offenders continuously coming up with more and more material to incorporate into their plan.

Stereotypes...Or Not...

Some of the many stereotypical and not-so-stereotypical characters of Mean Girls and John Tucker Must Die

First, let's look at Janis and Damian, Cady's first friends when she goes to high school. They are the outsiders of their high school setting and stereotyped as such. One is a chubby homosexual guy and the other is an emo-styled girl whose sexuality is actually questioned. In addition to them, all of the students of the Mean Girls high school are stereotyped from the beginning of the film. They are literally introduced that way. Perhaps this is a ploy to show that Mean Girls is not necessarily meant to be taken seriously but rather is a parody of most high school scenarios, so this is the film's way of mocking how people are automatically labeled.

Now let's look at some black characters from John Tucker Must Die. Normally, when there is a black character among white characters, that black character is mainly there to serve the black person stereotype. The same goes for a white character in an all black character setting. However, Heather from John Tucker Must Die, played by singer Ashanti, doesn't exactly do this. First of all, she's the cheerleader captain for the school. When was the last time we saw a black cheerleader captain in a high school drama or comedy? Normally when one thinks about the popular cheerleader captains, we think of someone that resembles Regina George. Not in this case and it is very refreshing.

The thing with Heather is that she doesn't stand out as the token black girl but rather meshes in well with the white girls. Now, it can be argued that this isn't necessarily a good thing because black people have a tendency to feel like they have to mold themselves to fit the white person persona in order to be accepted into society, but I don't really think that is what they are trying to prove here.

Another black character from John Tucker Must Die is John's friend Tommy, who is on the basketball team as a water boy I believe. Not only is Tommy black, but he is chubby as well. Now John Tucker is THE top jock at the high school. He is a young, attractive, well built, white teenage guy who is popular with everyone. He is what one would expect him to be as the "Don Juan" character. The only difference is he's not a jerk, which is another trait these types of guys normally showcase, but he is actually a pretty friendly guy. Well, he does do certain things to anger the girls, but this is the point I am trying to make: He still associates himself with a chubby black guy like Tommy all the time. You never really see that in film or TV, especially with a character like him.

The Popular Girls

"Gretchen Wieners" and "Karen Smith" from Mean Girls and "Heather," "Beth," and "Carrie" from John Tucker Must Die

There's this ongoing stereotype that women aren't funny. Mean Girls and John Tucker Must Die prove this theory wrong. However, both sets of female characters are funny in different ways and the ladies of John Tucker Must Die are a tad bit funnier.

Karen and Gretchen are two of the crowd pleasers of Mean Girls due to their funny one liners and wit. Interestingly, even though they are members of "The Plastics" along with Regina, neither of them are very mean, which is something I realized when I watched the movie for the first time. Even if they do say mean things, their comments aren't meant to intentionally hurt, unlike Regina's. These two fit the stereotype of the tag-along dumb white girls in a typical high school mean girl clique. Sure they're funny, but they're funny because they are the stereotypical tag-along dumb white girls in a high school mean girl clique. We've seen these characters before and they for some reason have always been funny so therefore Gretchen and Karen are funny. Whenever they or Regina utter an insult, it's funny because it is so offensive and mean and audiences laugh out of shock. Mean Girls makes this funny on purpose because it is a parody of the mean high school girl lifestyle. We laugh because we know girls can be very cruel. It's all too real for us. Gretchen and Karen are there to serve the dumb clique white girl stereotype, but yet they are also there to make fun of this stereotype.

Even though Heather blends in with the white girls in her movie, she is still an individual because the white girls are individuals as well. Unlike Gretchen and Karen, who sometimes blend in together from time to time and more or less serve the same function, these girls each stand out because they have such differing personality traits and these are all brought to the table for their mission to succeed. Beth is an activist and Carrie is a broadcaster, and their distinct personalities play throughout the film and even set up a few jokes. Remember what I said about men being goofier than women? Well, there is this stereotype that guys are always in trouble as they try to pull off their plans so the women wouldn't find out and we laugh at their mishaps and women are the straight characters who are always the voice of reason that ultimately catch the men in the act. Watch TV. This practically happens in every comedy. In John Tucker Must Die, however, the girls are the ones always in trouble and enduring mishaps as they try to pull off their plans. Heather, Beth, and Carrie prove that women too can also be a little immature and goofy.

The best thing about the girls in John Tucker Must Die is that they aren't very mean. To each other, I mean. You think they are possibly going to be a problem for Kate eventually but this never really occurs. Well, they start off mean to each other and Kate because they are all in different cliques that oppose each other, unlike Regina who gives Cady a false sense of security at first. In Mean Girls, the girls automatically turn on each other because of a guy and that sets off the fireworks for the rest of the film, but in John Tucker Must Die, after some brief typical cattiness, the girls band together towards the beginning of the film and turn on the true problem: John Tucker. They actually form a friendship over their animosity towards this guy. They bond together as strong women instead of being divided because of a guy, which is what often happens in fiction and in real life. You never see a bond like this in any love triangle in TV or film where the women are fighting over the men, so that is why I feel like John Tucker Must Die took this idea and made it fresh and new, making it a feminist film. I'll even go as far as saying that Kate, Heather, Beth, and Carrie using their skills to defeat John Tucker (and for Kate, her mother's boyfriends as well) is symbolic of how women should come together instead of being catty towards one another in order to smash patriarchy.

Well, you can say that Mean Girls echoes this sentiment in the scenes where the female students are given pep talks in the gym and participate in improvement exercises, but these scenes don't really seem to solve anything and are done because their male principal had enough of their shenanigans. They are lectured here to be better women whereas in John Tucker Must Die the girls do their thing because they see how men sometimes mistreat women and want to put a stop to it. To put it simply, like most activists, they see an injustice and want to change things, their actions somewhat protesting tactics. In Mean Girls they don't necessarily see the problem of how women mistreat one another and have to be told that there is one.

It seems as though Mean Girls is a representation of girl warfare meant to expose both this concept and cliche film technique, whereas John Tucker Must Die takes itself more seriously with the points it tries to get across and the fact that it is different.

4 comments:

  1. Hi, I'm the guy who wrote John Tucker Must Die. Just one point of information: it was a script I wrote in 1999, long before Mean Girls. It took awhile to get made, but we didn't borrow from that (great) movie.

    Jeff

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jeff!

      I appreciate that clarification and I apologize for getting that piece of information incorrect. I was just speculating.

      I don't think people are fully aware sometimes, perhaps myself included, that scripts are written (and rewritten) years before production (this goes for theater scripts as well) and I should have taken that into consideration.

      I am so honored that you found my blog and commented on my post! I'm an aspiring screenwriter myself (among other things) so it is great to hear from you! I was in shock when I saw this.

      However, given that this exchange is happening randomly over the Internet, is there some way that you can prove to me that you are truly Jeff Lowell, the writer of this movie, and not somebody pretending to be him? I know that this is a bit of a stretch and you are probably who you say you are, but I would like to confirm it. Like a website, e-mail address, etc.? Given that we are both writers and you are experienced in the field I would like to develop a rapport with you, if that's alright.

      Thank you,

      Stef

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  2. omg, wow!

    I just watched this movie (for the 2nd or 3rd time, still loving it as much as I did back then) and I did a google search for the script - THAT'S how great I think this movie is...

    And honestly I don't think I've ever been so upset about *movie reviews* before in my entire life...

    I was so incensed I wrote this on rotten tomatoes:

    ===========================================================

    WHAT MOVIE DID YOU GUYS WATCH?

    Reading the reviews I'm flabbergasted..shocked..incredulous. Did you all not watch the same movie I just did (again, loving it just as much as I did 5 years ago)?

    TIGHT comedy script, just fantastic escalation of plot, emotional investment - every single plot line as crazy as it is, is totally JUSTIFIED within the movie - not an easy task considering the crazy plot lines that it takes us through...I mean I was seriously IMPRESSED with this movie & script and I laughed all the way through it.

    I am a 30-something intelligent woman, by the way..but comedy is comedy people. And high quality is high quality. For what is it, this movie is freaking brilliant!

    ========================================================

    For the record, I loved Mean Girls. I also love 30 Rock, Seinfeld, Arrested Development (so you get a sense of
    what I find hilarious) and if you like this kind of humor - John Tucker Must Die isn't exactly the same type of humor
    but it freakin holds its own.

    Seriously...I'm amazed this hasn't gotten more fantastic reviews..IT'S SO DAMN GOOD!

    Phew...cathartic rant over.

    John Lowell, and everyone else involved with that move, I hope you see this.

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