Remember Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion? The cult comedy turns 20 this month, which makes me stop in my tracks firstly because it just doesn’t feel two decades old (look at that on-trend 90s fashion) and secondly because this is the same year my own 10-year reunion should have taken place. It was a film I watched repeatedly as a teen, starring Mira Sorvino (who had just won an Oscar for Mighty Aphrodite) and Friends star Lisa Kudrow as two best friends in LA who travel back to their hometown of Tucson, to try to impress those (mostly spiteful “popular” girls) who were mean to them in high school.
When I watched it as an impressionable youngster, the main thing I longed for was to be able to go my school debs dressed as Madonna (I chickened out and went with the safe option, decidedly un-Madonna-like) but now I see that it wasn’t just a hugely watchable movie about two best friends giving school bullies the middle finger. The reason it has endured and remains as relevant as ever is because it aimed to teach every woman watching something about life. Thing they could take with them and remember when life got tough. Here are some of the standout lessons it taught me:
It’s okay to change your life plan
Romy and Michele were happy enough with their lot in life until the reunion loomed, then they decided to change tactics rapidly – okay, yes it was under the guise of making a good impression – but it reinforced that it was okay to re-think your priorities. The girls set out to get acquainted with their Post-it business instincts, better boyfriends, better jobs and get in shape in hopes of feeling good about themselves and impressing schoolmates. And ultimately, they not only got their own back but realised that it was okay to change priorities so long as it made them happy.
Mean Girls never win
Ten years on, when Romy and Michele, having always felt like awkward misfits at school, face the group of women they so desperately want to get approval from, look what they find. Women that are as cold and bleak on the inside as their hideous same-girl outfits. They soon realise that these people no longer matter because their blackened souls will never see the light of day. And at the end, everyone else knows it too. Bullies don’t matter. Bullies never win and impressing a bully will never make you happy. Be yourself and shine on is the film’s uplifting message and this always stayed with me.
You don’t always have to be The Best at everything
The thing about Romy and Michele was that their concerns were small (okay, and a little shallow). They wanted to be liked and admired, but they weren’t going to always be The Best at everything in life. And that was more than okay. Striving to be The Best all the time is both impossible and exhausting. They were lovably ditzy but that didn’t matter. The film set out to make the point that you don’t have to feel any less because you’re not a scientist or a businesswoman. You can be the heroes of women the world over just by being yourself. And that’s enough and equally important.
Having a plus one isn’t the be-all and end-all
I was always struck by the way by the casual way Romy and Michele spoke of “getting boyfriends.” As if a plus one was something they thought they needed to have in their lives but they never thought it any deeper than that because they had other priorities. And these didn’t end up being alongside a man. It was refreshing and empowering then, and in a time where single women remain vilified by society, it’s even more empowering now. Getting a man didn’t make them feel fulfilled but finally feeling they could be themselves did. They had each other, and that was more important.
Real friendship overcomes all the bad moments
That moves us swiftly on to the film’s overriding theme of female friendship. They have each other’s backs and even take their high-school yearbook photo together – the most adorable thing ever. They know their bond is a unique one – “we were really in our own group,” – and even when times get tough, they fight and for a while don’t speak, this only solidifies their bond. Nothing is worth losing their friendship over. Friends may argue, but best friends stay around long after.
Set your own sartorial trends
Their style wasn’t for everyone, but they played by their rules. And you know what? It worked. When they walked into a room, all eyes were on them – everyone else looked bland. I love everything about how they dress, right down to their commitment to wearing heels, even while on a treadmill. The pair makes their own clothes, has fun with style and always look like they enjoy wearing the outfits – they wear the clothes instead of it being the other way around. They set trends. So much so, that they end up with their own boutique on Rodeo Drive at the end of the film.
Defy the haters
Romy and Michele is a film about women – made for women – attempting to impress other women, and what becomes of those niggling insecurities when you fail to be the adult you thought you’d become. But it’s also about being yourself and feeling empowered when you finally realise that it’s this action alone that will defy any haters in life. And this is its greatest life lesson of all.
Now go fourth, and channel your inner Romy and Michele and strut – in a room and in life – like you mean it.