Mean Girls (2004) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and language
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Jonathan Bennett, Lacey Chabert, Daniel Franzese, Lizzy Kaplan, Courtney Chase, Tina Fey, Tim Meadows, Ana Gasteyer, Rajiv Surenda
Director: Mark S. Waters
Screenplay: Tina Fey (based on the book, "Queen Bees and Wannabes", by Rosalind Wiseman)
Review published May 1, 2004
The ultimate irony of a satire about a good girl who pretends to convert to a bad girl in order to undermine the loathsome "in-crowd" but becoming one of them in the process -- like her, the creators should also not have fallen in love with the intended target. Going into this film, I had heard it compared to Heathers so many times, I was determined not to make the comparison myself, but I would be remiss as a movie reviewer in not drawing the comparisons to the obvious. However, unlike Heathers, Mean Girls doesn't have the voracity to devour its subject. Instead, it likes to chew on it a little, playfully pawing with it, and content to let it loose after having a little fun.
So why would I still recommend a film that doesn't succeed on its own terms as a satire? Because, even if it doesn't acutely disassemble high school cliques and the back-stabbing that makes life so miserable for many teenage girls, it still manages to deliver enough laughs and good performances to entertain for the duration.
Lindsay Lohan (Freaky Friday, The Parent Trap) plays 16-year-old Cady, "home schooled" her whole life while in Africa, but now starting off her junior year in a school here in the United States. Not really part of any clique, or really knowing anything about current trends or teen pop culture, she is an empty slate for others to write on. This immediately makes her attractive to both the social misfits as well as the "plastics", the girls everyone loves and hates because they are beautiful and bitchy.
The misfits befriend her first, showing her how the Plastics are evil and stuck-up, but since she has been courted to being in the inner sanctum of cool, Cody is told that she should get the "Burn Book", which catalogs mean things about almost everyone in the school, to expose these girls for the ugly people they truly are. However, a complication arises in the form of Aaron (Bennett, Bachelor Party Vegas), who used to go out with the Queen Bee of the Plastics, so Cady tries her hardest to adapt to please her new crush, but gets lost in the process.
Mean Girls is the first screenplay (adapted from Rosalind Wiseman's book, "Queen Bees and Wannabes") by "Saturday Night Live" head writer and host of Weekend Update, Tina Fey, who also gives herself a sizable supporting role as the pushy math teacher who tries to keep Cady's head on straight. All-in-all, there are moments of uneasiness, particularly in the tone, but for the most part, Fey's writing is fresh and funny enough to keep the film afloat during the roughest of patches. However, just as Cady feigns struggling in class in order to snare her love interest, so does Fey dumb down her attempt at a scathing satire in order to be likeable, and with director Mark Waters (The House of Yes) just coming off of the Disney film, Freaky Friday, Mean Girls often blurs the line between spoofing and embracing typical teenage fare.
While it does pale in comparison to some of the better films to tread down this path -- such as Clueless, Election, Donnie Darko and the aforementioned Heathers -- Mean Girls is an often funny and creative film about high school life that is worth a viewing even for people who normally eschew adolescent comedies. Refreshing and frustrating at the same time, it's acute enough to know its prey, but Mean Girls is far too nice to go for the kill
©2006 Vince Leo