She’s the Man is Better Than Mean Girls. Change My Mind.
You heard me.
This entire controversy was sparked by an innocent post on Twitter asking for controversial movie opinions. I took a deep breath and decided now was the time to come clean: in my personal opinion, She’s the Man is a better movie than Mean Girls.
When my coworker saw this admission, needless to say, my day was derailed. A heated debate arose in the office, but much to my surprise, I wasn’t alone in my stance. There was a solid 50/50 split in the office and the longer we debated the better-ness of both movies, the more I realized the similarities that made both great, but the differences that set She’s the Man apart from Mean Girls for me.
Lastly, before I go any further, let’s get one thing straight — I love both movies very much. Each came out while I was in high school and I can vividly remember where I was when I saw both in theaters. I know people are going to aggressively disagree with this take, and that’s your prerogative, but I’m willing to die on this hill.
Let’s get into it.
Mean Girls (inspired by Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes) follows Cady Heron as she transfers to North Shore High School after years of home schooling, encountering cliques and struggling with peer pressure while staying true to herself. She’s the Man (based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night) shows star soccer player Viola Hastings take her twin brother’s place at Illyria Academy when her school cuts their women’s team, refusing to let the girls try out for the boys’.
And this is where Mean Girls fails a bit for me. The girl-on-girl crimes and misdemeanors is a regular and well-worn Hollywood trope, making the premise entirely unoriginal. The qualities within and execution are different than other films of the same premise, but it’s so played out for me.
She’s the Man is, yes, based on a Shakespearean play, which is not entirely unoriginal (see 10 Things I Hate About You, The Lion King, West Side Story, etc.). But Twelfth Night is one of his least-sourced plays, and the premise provides a level of originality that just isn’t present in Mean Girls. Putting modern day lens on a centuries-old text — keeping the original’s integrity while making it enjoyable for today’s audiences — is no small feat. Some have tried and failed, but She’s the Man absolutely nails it.
Amanda Bynes and Lindsay Lohan were at their best in both movies. No denying that. Each were at their height of both celebrity and talent, and I cannot imagine who else could have played either role.
While executed differently, both movies are true comedies with light touches on drama and romance (though I’d argue Mean Girls has more true drama). For our purposes, we’re focusing solely on the comedy of it all, which is why Amanda Bynes takes this category without question. Lindsay Lohan can play at funny, but the comedy of Mean Girls comes from its supporting case — more on that later. Amanda Bynes was the best young comedienne of our generation getting her start on All That and The Amanda Show. She has true comedy chops and is without a doubt the funniest part of the movie, playing Viola with heart and sincerity and her brother Sebastian at the appropriate level of campy to make each character likable and fun.
This one is no contest. Yes, Jonathan Bennett was the picture of everything I loved in high school. The hair, the height, everything. But he’s up against Channing Tatum pre-Step Up and in his first true, leading, big movie role. Showing he’s more than just a plot device, he demonstrates his comedic chops and willingness to look like a dope to move the movie forward. And here we are over 10 years later still enjoying his wonderful self. Love you long time, Jonathan, but Channing is my guy.
Overall Supporting Cast
I have to give special kudos to Eunice, Principal Gold, and Daphne (Viola’s mom) — they made this decision tough. If we’re speaking in The Rewatchables terms, Julie Hagerty’s Daphne wins the Dion Waiters Award for best heat check performance by a role player. She’s iconic in every way and absolutely steals every scene she’s in.
Ultimately, this is where things get tricky for She’s the Man — as much as I love and adore every character, the strength of Mean Girls is built on its ensemble. Everyone from the Plastics and Bethany Byrd to Coach Carr and Miss Norbury hold their own and make Mean Girls what it is today. Each character has a starring moment, and there’s no weak link in the bunch. I’d be lying if I said She’s the Man wins this round, because there’s just no comparison.
Quotability and Immersion in the Cultural Zeitgeist
Once again, I have to tip my cap and bow my head to Mean Girls. There’s no denying its immersion in our culture, best exemplified in its quotability. I maintain that She’s the Man is infinitely quotable with gems like, “Oh for the love of God! It burns!” and “Do you…like…cheese?” But unlike Mean Girls, you very likely won’t catch the reference unless you’ve seen it. It is so engrained in the zeitgeist that even the most novice movie fans know exactly what you’re referencing when shouting “You go, Glen Coco!” or calling something fetch. She’s the Man simply cannot compete with Tina Fey. She serves up joke after joke like batting cage pitching machine, each ball straight down the middle of the plate. She’s the Michelangelo of comedy writers, and Mean Girls is her Sistine Chapel.
This might be my most controversial take of the bunch. She’s the Man is more re-watchable than Mean Girls. Hear me out — I never said Mean Girls isn’t re-watchable, but it hits a slight skid on the back half of the film and slows down its breakneck comedic pace. Most great comedies do this; it’s not a unique problem. But that causes me to lose some interest and ruins its overall re-watchability.
She’s the Man maintains a steady pace of comedy, action, and sincerity that makes it a reliable and consistent re-watchable. It never slows down, and that’s what sets it above Mean Girls.
Best Use of an Early-00s Chick Rock Song
This is the most self-indulgent category of the bunch. “Forever” by The Veronicas vs. “Overdrive” by Katy Rose. The Veronicas win by a landslide. It’s just a banger of a song and every time Viola hops into that tilt-a-whirl then hits a climax right as she smacks her shitty ex-boyfriend in the face. It’s beyond satisfactory and the perfect selection.
I’m just going to cut to the chase — both have phenomenal morals and I fully support them. She’s the Man just takes the cake for me. I was an athlete growing up, and played baseball on a boy’s team for a long time. But as I got older, my coach told me to move to play softball because I “wouldn’t be able to keep up with the boys.” And while there are fundamental differences between men and women, hearing that comment at a young age made me want to try even harder to prove my abilities and worth alongside men, which continues to this day. Gender equality is immensely important, and while the same goes for women supporting women versus tearing each other down, that particular fight is ever-present in society.
Final Score: She’s the Man — 6, Mean Girls — 2
In conclusion, and speaking as a completely objective third-party outsider with absolutely no personal interest in the matter, She’s the Man wins in a head-to-head battle. We can agree to disagree, and I believe you’re all badass hunky dudes. The limit does not exist for how much I love both films. But my favorite will always be She’s the Man. Also gouda.