I liked high school.
I didn't love it or anything, but it was generally an agreeable time of my life, when I wasn't stressing over GPAs and SAT scores. See, my high school was the largest in the state of Connecticut, and at one point while I was a student there, our ethnic make-up mirrored that of the United States exactly - it was literally a microcosm of the world we lived in. I had my group of friends, and all of us were able to go through our day without being bothered by bullies - the bullies being too busy hanging with their friends and/or getting into gang fights (on and off school grounds) to bother with us.
I was one of those kids who always genuinely liked going to school, which made me extremely uncool for a long period of my youth, but in high school, all of my classes were with kids who also liked school, or at least who took it seriously, so I was good. I was never popular, but I did the annual school musical, was in the band for one year, and was also on the mock trial team, the literary magazine, and the yearbook staff (I was Editor-in-Chief my senior year - which means absolutely nothing now but I still love to brag about it), so I knew a lot of people who mostly seemed to like me. Oh, I'm sure some people said mean things behind my back, because I was that type of kid, but all the mean girls and boys were too focused on other things to waste time taunting me to my face.
While I liked The Breakfast Club and Heathers and Clueless as much as anyone else, but I never felt like any of those movies really got what high school was to me. And when Mean Girls came out in 2004, when I was in college, I was expecting another Hollywood High School Movie. One that didn't match my experience of high school at all. I did not expect it to hit home, but the first half of it did. BIG TIME. And not in the way I expected.
Because, you see, middle school?
Middle school, for me, was AWFUL.
And the worst part of middle school was lunch. I didn't really have friends in middle school, so on the all-important first day of each year, I would always try to be among the first in the cafeteria so I could stake a claim to a table and not be subjected to the awful, awful sensation of standing all alone and asking people who either didn't like me or whom I didn't know if I could sit with them - and then have the possibility of being rejected, not just for that day, but for an entire year.
It was THE WORST.
But, a few months into every year, a sort of reprieve would come. In sixth grade I was accepted into our middle school's steel drum band. (What, your school didn't have one?) Since it was an after-school thing, the band director would allow us to get the key to the steel drum room (what, your school didn't have one?) so we could practice during our lunch period. I liked it in the steel drum room. It was big and quiet, and I could do pretty much whatever I liked. But mostly, I liked it because I didn't have to be around other people who might tease me for forty-five minutes, or interact with people for long periods of time when all I wanted to do was read. I could be by myself and eat my lunch in peace. Sometimes, those were my favorite lunch periods in middle school. Other times, they were the worst, because it just reinforced my feelings as a loser who was all alone and had no friends.
So imagine my shock when in the first reel of Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan can't find a place to sit in the cafeteria, and instead eats lunch in a bathroom stall.
This has always been my favorite part of Mean Girls, moreso than the incredible, iconic comic lines and performances, because I so get what that feels like. But what's even better than that first scene, is this later one, my pick for Best Shot, which has actually accrued more meaning over time as we've watched what has happened to the actress it contains:
Cady was popular, until she wasn't. And all the pretty clothes, hair products, and makeup in the world couldn't cover up the fact that she was still "Africa" - the girl who had been raised and educated by her parents in a non-social setting. And so when everyone has turned on her, where does she go to eat lunch? Back to the bathroom stall. It's crushing. And the shot is perfectly designed. between the blue walls and the blue lunch tray, Cady is almost completely boxed in. Add in the blues in her shirt and it makes an already cramped space downright claustrophobic. And Lindsay, at the peak of her talents, lets out the most perfect sigh - she is scared, sad, lonely, nauseous... and maybe even a tiny bit relieved.
It used to be that Lindsay was too cool for us - we couldn't sit with her. But now, in one of those weird twists of schadenfreude that seemingly only happens to female former child stars, she's the one who can't sit with us. Looking at Lindsay now, I bet that at her best, most insightful moment (which I admit might not ever occur), she would also pick this as the Best Shot in Mean Girls. She might even look at this shot and feel the same way I do - that it speaks to that awkward, lonely teenager inside us better than any other moment of any other Hollywood High School film.