Mean Girls Review
By Shawn McKenzie 05/02/2004
This has been a sad year so far for comedies, and it has been particularly sad for up-and-coming starlet Lindsay Lohan. After her star-making role in last year’s Freaky Friday, she fell off the mark with Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. I was all prepared to chalk up Freaky as a fluke. I was a little hasty, because her latest film, Mean Girls, is her best one yet. Of course, it helps that a woman I already find hilarious, “Saturday Night Live” head writer Tina Fey, wrote the screenplay.
Cady Heron (Lohan) is a 15-year-old home-schooled teenager who’s going to public school for the first time after living in Africa where her parents worked. Her mom Betsy (Ana Gasteyer) has gotten a position teaching at Northwestern College, so she and Cady’s zoologist dad Chip (Neil Flynn) have packed up and moved Cady to a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. Cady meets North Shore High School Principal Ron Duvall (Tim Meadows) and calculus teacher Ms. Norbury (Fey) first, but her first friends become student outcasts Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan…not the singer herself, though the name is an inside joke) and Damian (Daniel Franzese.) Janis is a Goth girl who everyone thinks is a lesbian, and Damien is, as Janis puts it, “almost too gay to function.” They say that Cady is a “regulation hottie,” and whatever clique she gets into, she should just beware of the Plastics. The Plastics are a group of super-hot, super-snobby popular girls consisting of Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chabert), and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried.) Regina is the leader (or “Queen Bee”) who is a genius at teenage manipulation; Gretchen is a spoiled brat gossip living off her family’s fortune (her dad invented toaster pastries); and Karen is a cute blonde idiot (she thinks that her breasts can predict the weather.) Regina’s family is odd too. Her mother (Amy Poehler) is way too permissive in her attempt to be a “hip mom,” and her sister Kylie (Nicole Crimi) mirrors everything she sees on MTV. Cady had originally intended to join Ms. Norbury’s Mathletes team, which includes an Indian math geek named Kevin Gnapoor (Rajiv Surendra) who thinks that he is a smooth player, but instead gets sucked into the world of the Plastics when Regina takes a liking to her and invites her to eat with them in the cafeteria. Instead of trying to talk Cady out of joining the Plastics, Janis and Damien look at it as a way to infiltrate the Plastics’ world and find out all of their secrets. They convince Cady to become a Plastic and report back to them. Cady finds out things like Regina’s “burn book,” that includes mean, nasty observations about most everyone at the school, along with their pictures. She also learns that they aren’t allowed to wear the same hairstyle two weeks in a row, and that ex-boyfriends are off-limits, like Regina’s ex Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett), a boy she met in her math class. When Regina finds out about Cady’s attraction to Aaron, she decides to mess with her by making her think that she has a chance with him. After Regina’s betrayal, Cady becomes determined to not only spy on the Plastics, but to take them down as well. The more she does mean things to the Plastics, the more she starts becoming similar to them. Her new mean-spiritedness not only affects the Plastics, but Janis and Damien as well, and Ms. Norbury, who is accused of being a drug dealer. If the girls can’t get a handle on their cruel actions, Principal Duvall might cancel the Spring Fling…and nobody wants that.
Before I go into everything wonderful about this flick, let me get the obligatory comparisons out of the way. Yes, this movie is Heathers-lite. I’ve also seen it compared to Clueless, but aside from seeing it mentioned several times in other reviews, that classic Alicia Silverstone flick never entered my head while watching this one. It is like Heathers in that they are both exaggerated in their portrayal of high school cliques. While every smartly written high school comedy will be forever compared to that dark 1989 Winona Ryder/Christian Slater film, this one has an even closer connection. The director of this film, Mark S. Waters, is the younger brother of Daniel Waters, the screenwriter of Heathers. It isn’t as dark or violent (except for one memorable scene involving a bus), but I’d almost say it was funnier.
This is not only Lohan’s best movie yet, but it is the funniest movie of the year so far. Waters also directed Lohan in Freaky, which may have something to do with it, but I think that it is the great script, adapted from a non-fiction book by Rosalind Wiseman called Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence, that made it side-splitting. Fey, otherwise known to TV geeks as one of the hottest funny gals on television (a note to all Fey worshippers: you see her in her bra in her first scene in this movie), has written a great first screenplay, and I can’t wait to see her next one. It was also the performances as well, some of the best being the smaller roles. Scene-stealers included Meadows as a Joe Clark (from Lean on Me) like principal, Poehler as a mother trying to stay young by letting Regina get away with anything, and Surendra as a math geek so confident in his studliness that he has business cards that label him as a “Math Enthusiast/Bad A** MC.”
The visual gags were creative as well. The main gag was when Cady would visualize the interaction between the students in the same vein as the wild animals in Africa. The tight, MTV-style editing was cool too. The best scene was near the beginning when Janis was listing off the different cliques in the school (my favorite clique was the shout-out to American Pie with the “sexually active band geeks”) and the camera was panning along in a fast and slow style amongst the cliques in the cafeteria.
I will warn parents that Mean Girls is highly politically incorrect, but very funny and honest, though in an exaggerated way. It makes fun of racism, homophobia, and many other things, but never in an especially cruel way. If you want to get an idea of what your teenage daughter goes through in high school, especially if she is amongst the popular girls, check this flick out. As for Lohan, I guess I will have to judge her on her next film (that being Dramarama, tentatively scheduled to be released later this year) to see if she can make a good one not helmed by Waters. She may surprise me yet again.
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