Beginning her first foray into the TV movie world after success-turned-tabloid demise (Life-Size on the Disney Channel aired pre-height of Mean Girls fame), the Lindsay Lohan-starring Labor Pains debuted on, strangely, ABC Family, in July of 2009, five years after Lohan’s breakout role as Cady Heron–mainly as a result of Tina Fey’s writing. At the time, Lohan was playing a high school student (narrowly able to legitimately do so as she was seventeen upon the film’s release). By 2009, she had shed her teen queen cash cow of an image in favor of taking on movies like Chapter 27 and I Know Who Killed Me, incidentally, her grown up version of The Parent Trap. Accordingly, Labor Pains painted her as a mid- to late-twenty-something struggling to support her high school sister, Bridgit Mendler), whom she became responsible for when their parents died in a car accident (yes, it’s very Party of Five).
Working as the assistant to the cantankerous, obsessed with his dog editor, Jerry (30 Rock and therefore Fey alum Chris Parnell), at an L.A.-based publishing company that only puts out books by old white men–seriously, Jerry’s way of shaking things up is to announce a Donald Rumsfeld cookbook release–Thea’s life is far from what she expected it to be. Though, apart from dealing with Jerry’s day-to-day verbal abuse, her job is relatively easy, she has a cohort to talk shit with, Lisa (Cheryl Hines, randomly), and a younger boyfriend, Miles (Aaron Yoo), to presumably keep her sexually satisfied (though Lindsay Lohan with an Asian is as believable as her not calling Paris a cunt), it seems something is missing from Thea’s life. Much in the way it was for Cady when she moved to Illinois and found the friends she had initially made just didn’t come across as glamorously or interestingly when compared to her tenure spent as a “spy” on Regina George (Rachel McAdams).
So it goes that even after initially getting fired from her job for being overheard talking badly about Jerry and then causing his dog some injury by losing track of it long enough after bathing it to let it ingest soap, Thea realizes that, as much as she hates her “profession,” she still needs this shitty job to keep her sister’s educational dreams alive and to afford the alcohol and cigarettes she requires to get through it all in the meantime. It is at the bar, in fact, that her resolution is confessed to Lisa: pretend to be pregnant so she can’t be fired, otherwise, as revealed on a recent Law & Order episode, it will be deemed discrimination. Like Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Cady plotting how they’re going to take down Regina George, so too, do Thea and Lisa strategize how to ruin Jerry’s plan to get rid of her by keeping up the charade of pregnancy until it all “blows over”–yes, the plot is slightly thinner than Mean Girls.
The next few weeks find Nick Steinwald (Luke Kirby), the accountant at the company promoted to being in charge “on account” of being related to Jerry, and suddenly very keen to push his own agenda: to publish a candid book about pregnancy by Suzie Cavandish (Bonnie Somerville). And “expectedly,” he turns to Thea to help him convince Suzie that their stodgy publishing house is the right fit for her book, one that’s intended to be a “real” answer to the classic What To Expect When You’re Expecting. As the Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett) of Thea’s life, her natural inclination is to lie to him and pretend to be something she’s not. And, to prove her point, her lies–or rather, lie–only seem to further entice him.
At the core of what motivates Thea is a desire to fit in and be accepted in the same way Cady wants to be, both girls believing passionately that they need to conceal their true selves in order to be treated the way they want to be. And, like many a Lindsay Lohan film, Mean Girls or not, the third act is intended to imbue the viewer with the sense that you can be as dishonest as you want–this also includes being as embarrassing as you want, i.e. showing up as an “ex-wife” at a Halloween party where every girl is dressed in slut garb or showing up with a balloon as a baby bump in public only for it to pop in front of everyone. All you have to do is have your secrets and deceptions unveiled in the end and make a grandiose public apology, and all will be forgiven–whether on a talk show where Janeane Garofalo grudgingly plays the host or at the prom when you’re crowned queen. Or maybe this is just something that works for the intermingled “earnest” “charm” of Cady and Thea, both morphed into one in this less than masterwork of the Lohan oeuvre. For some, however, the similarities of these characters stem from the assessment, “…[Lohan] plays the same emphysema-voiced version of herself in every damn role she’s cast in.“