Last night, writer, director, and producer Garry Marshall died at the age of 81 after complications with pneumonia. He was known for Pretty Woman, Happy Days, and Laverne & Shirley, but to me, a millennial rom-com-obsessed woman, his magnum opus was The Princess Diaries (and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement).
In honor and remembrance of Garry Marshall, I thank him for bringing Mia Thermopolis to the screen, and offer this tribute to the numerous lessons she taught me.
1. It’s perfectly acceptable to talk to your pets
I do it all the time. With my family (and dogs) living 3,000 miles away, FaceTime is the best and easiest way for me to tell my pets just how much I miss them.
Mia loves talking to her giant black cat, Fat Louie. Even though all he can ever do is meow or run away in response, Mia still entrusts Louie with her deepest secrets. While stressed about her own future of being princess and subsequently queen, she tells Louie, “You are so lucky you don’t know who your parents are.”
2. Plebes can wave like royals.
It’s not a flick of the wrist, it’s a sweeping, yet gentle gesture. Queen Clarisse explains that the royal wave says “thank you for being here today” without necessarily having to utter those words. I even waved like that at a bar one time. I felt like the most regal woman there.
3. It hurts to be invisible.
You know that heartbreaking moment when Mia says, “someone sat on me again”? Well, literally that exact same thing has happened to me before.
Coping with the invisibility and anonymity of anywhere — school, New York City — is tough. But Mia coped with the situation gracefully, she got her sweet revenge by splaying ice cream on mean girl Lana’s sweater. We can’t always get revenge by smearing ice cream on someone we don’t like, but Mia proves that we aren’t alone in these lonely moments.
4. Add some fruit to your flower bouquet.
Genovian pears, to be exact. A little flavor never hurt anyone.
5. Never lose sight of yourself.
Mia is such a relatable character because she grapples with high school anxieties, drama, and boys. When Mia ditched Lilly and Michael for Lana and Josh Bryant’s dreamy California blonde hair, she lost those who mattered most to her. Even Louie didn’t want to cuddle with her.
She learned, however, that her truest friends will always stick by her side. Post-radical makeover by Paolo, no one could stop talking about Mia’s new hair and style. One classmate even said it looked like Mia got “a head transplant.” Lilly had her back with the epic line, “Voltaire. Hair. I would personally like to learn about Voltaire.”
Mia and Lilly’s friendship had its ups and downs — Mia missing Lilly’s radio show to hang out with Josh Bryant and temporarily breaking Lilly’s brother Michael’s heart — but Lilly always remained loyal. Mia knew in her heart of hearts what was best for her and her friends.
6. An independent woman doesn’t need a man.
In Princess Diaries 2, Mia gave that powerful speech (that her mother awkwardly missed) about not needing a man by her side to become queen. Queen grandmother Clarisse was autonomous, so why should she require a husband?
She completely bashes those antiquated notions about needing a husband and fellow king to rule. Mia asserts, “I ask the members of Parliament to think about your daughters, your nieces, and sisters, and granddaughters, and ask yourselves: would you force them to do what you’re trying to make me do?”
Mia brought Genovia into the 21st century. Clarisse led the way, but Mia was Genovia’s feminist leader they never knew they needed.
Marshall’s characters — yes, even a teenage princess — were relatable to everyone. In a touching tribute to Marshall, TIME film critic Stephanie Zacharek says it best: “How does anyone become oneself in the face of what society—or our families, our friends, the opposite sex—expects from us? Marshall knew how to make sweet, melodious music from that inherently troubling chord.”
Mia learned how to become herself in the face of society. Her shortcomings as well as her erratic and clumsy moments allowed her to be that real Disney princess we could all believe in. Now that’s a face we want to see on their postage stamp.