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  • Writer's pictureSL Eastwood

Does Mean Girls Save the Cat?

Updated: May 11

Cady might be a big plastic dorkstress but does that mean she can save a cat…?

The 2004 movie Mean Girls, a firm favourite of the 00s, which will be getting a soft reboot as of 2024 as its musical version hits the big screen to commemorate the film’s 20th Anniversary.

If you couldn’t tell from the previous sentence… I’m a big fan of this movie. It’s fun, witty and endlessly quotable, with many a Millennial screaming “SHE DOESN’T EVEN GO HERE!” at any and every opportunity.

So, what exactly is it that makes this movie so likeable? Is it the pitch-perfect script, penned by none other than Tina Fey.

Or is it the delightful performances from powerhouses such as, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Lacey Chabert, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Franzese, Jonathan Bennett, Tim Meadows, Amy Poehler, or who can forget the hysterical Rajiv Surendra as mathlete rapper, Kevin G?

We can all agree that Mean Girls is the sum of its quite spectacular parts and more, but was it pure luck that created such lightening in a bottle, or is there more method to this madness?

As you’ll know, I’ve been breaking movies down to see whether they apply to the well-known story-beat structure known as Save the Cat, devised by the late Blake Snyder.

We all know that Mean Girls is a beloved film, but can that be attributed to using this narrative method or is it purely a fluke?

So, let’s find out… does Mean Girls Save the Cat?

Spoilers graphic

What's the movie about?

Cady Heron is your typical American teenager, apart from the fact she grew up in Africa and was home-schooled. However, when she is enrolled in an American high school, things go awry as the naive Cady is pulled into a scheme to dethrone the most popular girl in school, Regina George.

Cady learns what it means to go from social outcast, to most popular girl in school, to actual real person, as she and her new friends destabilise a social hierarchy from the inside. Whoa, what a ride!

Now, obviously, the overall plot of Mean Girls is much sillier than the above implies, but it teaches us a great message about social dynamics and finding your place in the world.

Which was exactly Tina Fey’s intention, who adapted the movie from the parenting book “Queen Bees and Wannabees” written by Rosalind Wiseman.

How well does Mean Girls Save the Cat?

So, now we know what Mean Girls is all about, let’s take a look at those all important beats...

1.  Opening Image

Cady Heron (Lohan) is a simple, wholesome girl who grew up in Africa and is a bit out of touch with her home country, the USA.


2.  Set-up

Cady returns to the USA when her mother is offered tenure at Northwestern University. Having been homeschool for most of her life, Cady is out of her depth when she is subsequently enrolled at North Shore High School.

Cady is confused by the school’s infantilising rules and her unfriendly classmates, and missing her life in Africa, she finds herself eating lunch alone in the girls bathroom on her first day.

The next day, Cady meets Janis (Caplan) and Damian (Franzese) in class, who seeing that she’s alienated and somewhat clueless, decide to take her under their wing, even agreeing to show her to her next class.


3.  Theme Stated

However, seeing that Cady is very naive, Janis and Damian trick her into skipping class. Despite Cady knowing this is against the rules, she trusts that her new friends have her best interests at heart and goes with them.

During their little ditch session, Janis and Damian give Cady the lay of the land at North Shore, and make sure she understands the rules of the jungle – i.e. the all important clique system.

There is a social hierarchy at this school, and it’s essential to not only observe said hierarchy, but to know ones place within it. Failure to respect the clique system at North Shore can have dire consequences.

Though there are many cliques, the ruler of this fragile social ecosystem is the Plastics, which is made up of the three most popular girls in the junior class – Gretchen Weiners (Chabert), Karen Smith (Seyfried), and their Queen Bee, Regina George (McAdams).

As Janis puts it – these girls are to be avoided at all costs.


4.  Catalyst

One day while minding her own business, Cady is accosted by her classmate, Jason, who begins asking her inappropriate questions.

Seeing Jason hitting on another girl in front of Gretchen, who has a crush on him, Regina verbally assaults him until he leaves Cady alone. She then invites Cady to sit at their table.

The Plastics grill Cady about where she is from and her life story before cordially inviting her to join them for lunch for the rest of the week.

Heeding Janis and Damian’s warning about avoiding the Plastics, Cady is apprehensive about whether she should accept the offer.


5.  Debate

Later, Cady tells Janis and Damian about the offer made by Regina, and Janis insists that Cady should accept so they can make fun of the Plastics. However, Cady is uncertain about it because she claims “Regina seems sweet”.

Janis calls the Regina a “life-ruiner”, with Damian alluding to something she did to Janis in the past, and says messing with them will be giving the Plastics a taste of their own medicine.

Though she is still not convinced about it, Cady hesitantly agrees to have lunch with the Plastics.


7.  B-Story

During her senior calculus class, which is taught by Miss Norbury, high school heartthrob, Aaron Samuels (Bennett), asks Cady for a pen and she becomes instantly smitten with him.

This is the first crush she’s had since she was five years old, so it’s kind of a big deal.

However, at lunch Gretchen, the bearer of secrets, grills Cady about whether she has a boyfriend and Cady quite innocently tells her about Aaron.

Gretchen and Karen warn Cady off Aaron, telling her that he is Regina’s ex-boyfriend who broke her heart, meaning he is officially off-limits.


6.  Break into Two

Disappointed, Cady decides she won’t pursue Aaron, however, she tries to make up excuses to speak to him, although they don’t really go to plan.

One night Cady receives a call from Regina telling her that Gretchen told her about Cady liking Aaron, however, surprisingly Regina isn’t mad about it and actually wants to help her. However, Cady lets her guard down and is tricked into badmouthing Gretchen, who is also on the call.

Cady’s plan eventually pays off when Aaron asks her to a Halloween party and tells her that she shouldn’t bring another guy. At the party, things seem to be going well with Aaron, until Regina goes to talk to him on Cady’s behalf, but instead tries to embarrass Cady to put him off.

However, after learning that Aaron is actually into Cady, Regina kisses him right in front of her in an attempt to rekindle the relationship and steal him out from under Cady.

Devastated, Cady leaves to tell Janis and Damian what Regina has done. Janis is happy that Cady finally sees through Regina’s charms to the “scum-sucking road-whore” she actually is. The group decide it’s time to teach Regina and her minions a lesson.

Using Cady’s ability to infiltrate the Plastics, they devise a plan to destroy Regina by taking away her three powers – her “technically” good physique, Man Candy (Aaron Samuels), and her Army of Skanks (the Plastics). The game is officially on.


8.  Fun & Games

The next day at school, Gretchen apologises to Cady on Regina’s behalf, claiming Aaron was only interested in getting back with Regina. Cady pretends to be completely fine with this outcome in order to lay the groundwork for their sabotage.

As expected, Regina dangles Aaron in front of Cady at every opportunity, while Cady, Janis and Damian try to dream up ways to sabotage Regina, including trying to get Aaron to catch her cheating on him with Shane Oman.

While hanging out with Janis at work, the gang run into Miss Norbury who tells Cady she should consider joining the Mathletes, but Janis and Damian tell her it is social suicide.

Realising she is running out of ways to talk to Aaron, Cady pretends to be bad at Math so he’ll help her. When this doesn’t work Cady actually begins doing badly in Math class to convince Aaron to tutor her, as a means try to drive a wedge between him and Regina.

After a month the gang have achieved little more than making Regina’s “face smell like a foot”, coming to the conclusion that her popularity might just be impossible to destroy. All the while Cady is becoming deeper entrenched within the Plastics, as her obsession with toppling Regina grows.

During this time, Cady learns about the “Burn Book”, which the Plastics put together with pictures of every girl in their grade along with a mean comment about them. They come across a photo of Damian and Cady recalls Janis’s quip about him being “almost too gay to function”, which Regina then adds to the book.

One day while hanging out with Cady, they strike gold when Damian asks Cady about some Swedish nutrition bars that her mum used in Africa to help the children gain weight, which gives them an evil idea. Knowing that Regina is trying to lose 5lbs, they trick her into eating the bars so that she’ll inadvertently gain weight.

Things are starting to come together as fractures appear within the Plastics, as a scorned Gretchen begins spilling secrets about Regina, while Cady let’s slip to Aaron that Regina is cheating on him, leading to their break up.

However, Cady is surprised when Aaron doesn’t immediately ask her out.


9.  Midpoint

In order to really stick it to Regina, and sow discord within the Plastics, the group hatch a plan to fix the Spring Fling nominations so that both Gretchen and Karen will also be in the running. Unfortunately, things go askew when Cady is also nominated, for real, with Damian also adding Janis into the mix for good measure.

This, of course, derails Regina and causes a fracture within the Plastics, with Regina becoming more hostile, particularly to Gretchen, which Cady uses to her advantage. One day after class, Miss Norbury pulls Cady aside to tell her that she is failing Math, and she’ll need to get her test signed by her parents.

Miss Norbury gives Cady a lecture about not dumbing herself down to attract boys, which Cady takes offence to and later rants about to the Plastics. She’s particularly stuck on the phrase “I’m a pusher, Cady”, which the Plastics twist to mean Norbury is a “drug pusher”, and immortalise the rumour within the Burn Book.

Eventually things come to a fever pitch when Karen and Gretchen, both annoyed by Regina’s hostile behaviour, disinvite her to sit with them because she isn’t following the group rules. It looks like the evil plan is finally working, with Regina having been stripped of her three pillars of popularity.


10.  Bad Guys Close In

Janis invites Cady to go to her art show, but Cady says she can’t because she is meant to be going to Madison with her parents. Janis and Damian learn that Cady has gone rogue, having started sabotaging Regina without them.

After ousting Regina, Cady has become the new defacto leader of the Plastics, meaning it falls to Cady to come up with weekend plans for her hopeless sheep, Gretchen and Karen. Despite her plans with her parents, Cady agrees to throw a party instead of heading to Madison, using Janis’s art show as an excuse.

Cady realises this is an opportunity to hook up with her crush, Aaron Samuels. Still being Cady, she prepares for what she believes will be a small gathering, only for her disciples to escalate the event to a full blown rager inviting half of their class.

The party goes ahead and mayhem ensues, but all Cady is interested in is hooking up with Aaron, but when things don’t quite go to plan she starts drinking… a lot.


11.  All is Lost

Enraged that she was not invited to the party, Regina storms the castle with her boyfriend, Shane Oman, but she is unable to find Cady. Aaron, who’s also unable to find Cady, runs into her in her bedroom after she goes there to seek solace from the party that she is quickly losing control of.

Aaron and Cady talk, but due to her new Plastic persona, she says the wrong thing and a disgusted Aaron calls her a “clone of Regina”. Cady tries to defend herself only to accidentally throw up all over Aaron, causing him to leave the party.

When Cady is chasing Aaron out, she runs into Janis and Damian, who are on the way back from the art show. Janis and Damian are hurt that they weren’t invited to the party and that Cady missed the art show.

They argue as Cady again tries to defend herself saying that she had to pretend to be Plastic, but Janis tells her that she is no longer pretending and that she is now just as bad as Regina.

Next Cady commits the cardinal sin of claiming Janis is controlling and “obsessed” with her, an insult Regina used on Janis way back when. Janis and Damian drive away calling Cady a “mean girl” and it appears their friendship might be over.

As Regina is leaving the party, she begins eating one of the Swedish nutrition bars only to learn from Shane that they are intended to make people gain weight, not lose it.

Realising she has been tricked, Regina flies into a rage and runs home with a devious scheme to add one final entry to the Burn Book – her own.

The next day, Regina hands the Burn Book over to Principal Duvall (Meadows), claiming to have found it in the school bathroom, blaming its origin on Cady, Gretchen and Karen, since they are the only girls not in it.

While Duvall is interviewing the girls about the book, Regina spreads photocopies from the book all over the school halls so that the other girls in their grade will find them.

An all our battle between the junior girls breaks out, as they argue with one another regarding the rumours written in the Burn Book, until Mr Duvall is forced to turn on the fire alarm and corral all of the junior girls into the gym.

Miss Norbury then spends the afternoon trying to help the girls learn to be better towards one another, which ends with them reading apologies to the girls they have hurt and jumping backwards, in hopes they will catch them.

When Cady jumps to the back of the line, concerned the other girls will drop her like they did with Gretchen, Janis jumps to the front of the line to give her apology. However, when she hears Regina make a crack about Janis being a lesbian, Janis instead decides to direct her apology to Regina, letting her know all about their sabotage plan.

Upset, Regina storms out of the gym, but Cady follows her in an attempt to apologise. However, Regina doesn’t want to hear it and tells Cady that she is a poor imitation of her, but in the process ends up being hit by a bus.

Despite surviving, Regina is badly injured, and worse, there is a rumour going around that Cady pushed her in front of the bus. Cady’s mum is mad at her because of the incident, despite Cady’s protests, while her dad tries to console her about being a social outcast by saying “at least you’re still doing well in school”.

In the spirit of confession, Cady choses this moment to tell her dad she is failing Math and he grounds her.


12.  Dark Night of the Soul

Cady remains a social outcast, and once again finds herself eating alone in the girls bathroom at lunch.

However, when she arrives at Calculus, she is concerned to find Miss Norbury absent, as Mr Duvall and two police question the class about the rumour in the Burn Book.

Apparently, because an allegation made against their Gym Teacher turned out to be true, Miss Norbury is now being investigated by police in regards to selling drugs.


13.  Break into Three

Unfortunately, the only way to clear Miss Norbury’s name is for Cady to confess that she made up the rumour, but doing so will mean she might get blamed for the whole Burn Book.

However, seeing the harm she is causing to Miss Norbury, and how upset her class is because of it, Cady decides to do the right thing and confess to making up the rumour.

She knows this will likely mean she loses Aaron, as well as any friends she thought she had, but she knows it’s the right thing to do. Without hesitation, Cady confesses in front of her whole Calculus class and is taken away by Mr Duvall to be disciplined.


14.  Finale

Cady decides in order to repent, she has to fix all the things she broke, which includes making things up to Regina, who is laid out in bed with a spinal halo and still surrounded by her adoring public.

Cady starts doing better in Math and just decides to keep her head down for the time being. One day, Cady takes her pop quiz to Miss Norbury to be graded, who makes a quip about whether Cady would like to buy some drugs.

Cady takes this in stride and uses it as an opportunity to apologise to Norbury in person, Norbury graciously accepts the apology, and learns that Cady took responsibility for her role in the Burn Book without throwing Gretchen, Karen or Regina under the bus. Quite a classy move.

However, as her own “personal form of punishment” Norbury forces Cady to join the Mathletes, which have a meet coming up and Cady agrees. Cady gets a great score on her pop quiz, and having overheard their conversation, Aaron breaks his freeze out and talks to Cady. Things seems like they’re getting back on track.

On the day of the Spring Fling, Cady attends the Mathletes meet and has an epiphany about how stupid social hierarchies are and how no one is better than anyone else. North Shore win the meet, and riding high, the group decide to head to the Spring Fling.

Cady, who is back to her normal self, tells the group that she can’t go because she is grounded. However, with Norbury’s say so she agrees to head to the dance with her team.

They arrive at the dance just as they are announcing Spring Fling Queen, when Cady sees her parents, who have come to the dance to take her home. However, everyone is surprised when Cady is announced the Queen, and she heads up to stage to collect her crown.

Cady gives a speech recounting all of the lessons she has learned, and apologising to everyone who was hurt by the Burn Book, before she shares the crown with all the girls in her grade.

Cady then makes up with Janis and Damian, before she dances with Aaron, who is there as a representative for the senior class. It seems like everything has worked out and Cady is forgiven for her sins.


15.  Final Image

Northridge returns to a status quo with the Plastics disbanded, and Regina and Cady having formed a respectful truce. The Seniors have grown out of all the silliness, paving the way for a new group of Plastics to take the crown.


How Well Did it Save the Cat?

As I would have for a mainstream comedy, Mean Girls has successfully covered all the beats in the Save the Cat over the course of its 97 minute runtime.

However, there is a minor deviation on beats 6 and 7, which have been reversed, although it does fly surprising close to Snyder’s format.

However, it is safe to assume that Mean Girls doesn’t abide by the exact run times that Snyder lays out in his book, since some beats comprise of multiple longer sequences, while others are addressed in one of two scenes.

However, I don’t personally subscribe to Snyder’s strict page numbers as I find this unnecessarily formulaic. Considering Mean Girls can be confirmed to be a Save the Cat certified screenplay, let’s dive into the critical response for further analysis.

Critical Reception & Analysis

Obviously, Mean Girls had a strong critical reception, particularly among the Millennial demographic and is easily one of the most quoted movies of the early 00s, if not of all time. So, how did it perform?

Mean Girls made $86.1M at the Domestic Box Office and $43M from the rest of the world – grossing a whopping $129M, smashing its $18M budget.

For critical reception, Mean Girls has an 84% critical score and 66% audience score on, which I am surprised by considering how well-received the film appeared to be, at least anecdotally.

The film also only 66 on Metacritic and 7.1/10 on IMDB, giving Mean Girls an average critical score of 71.75% in total. That is a very respectable score, beating out Legally Blonde, which scored 66.5%.


So, putting all of that together, how does Mean Girls rank in the Save the Cat leaderboard?

The movie earned a total of 15 points for the Save the Cat beats, as listed above, however, I will give this a 2% penalty due to the fact that not all the beats occurred in order. That gives Mean Girls a beat sheet score of 98%.

When that is averaged against its 71.75% average critical score, Mean Girls gets a Save the Cat score of 84.88% in total. A very respectable score.

Save the Cat leaderboard 2
Made by me using

That puts Mean Girls currently in 1st place on the leaderboard, beating Legally Blonde by almost 5%.

I hope you enjoyed this entry into the Save the Cat series, and that it gave you a good insight into how this beat method words. Make sure to keep an eye out of future instalments of this series.


Thank you for reading. Make sure to leave a comment and share this with other writers.

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