Mean Girls, Nice Comedy
Truth be told, I wasn't sure how to approach the Lindsay Lohan starrer Mean Girls. The story of a teenage girl experiencing the harsh world of high school cliques for the first time isn't something I can relate to. And the last Lohan vehicle I saw, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, still remains the worst movie of 2004. However, I'm happy to report that Mean Girls casts a bright and comedic light upon the subject of high school social hierarchy. It resembles a lighter version of Heathers and is alive with the same wit that fueled the '80s cult classic.
Were it not for the occasional nudge and wink from Saturday Night Live cast member Tina Fey's screenplay, Mean Girls might be a by-the-numbers teen flick. Instead, it's too smart to repeat most of the mistakes and regurgitate the cliches of other genre efforts.
Lohan plays Cady Heron, a girl who, until her 16th birthday, has always been home-schooled in Africa by anthropologist parents. But now she must plunge into that most deadly of jungles: high school. Cady gets lost in this strange new environment quickly, until a Goth girl (Lizzy Caplan) and a gay student (Daniel Franzese) pull her aside and fill her in on how to survive on campus. Cady gets the lowdown on all the little groups and cliques that populate the school, culminating with a trio of popular girls known as the Plastics: rich girl Gretchen (Lacey Chabert), ditzy Karen (Amanda Seyfried), and their leader, the "queen bee," Regina (Rachel McAdams).
Seeing Cady's innocence as something to use for their advantage, Cady's new friends convince her to infiltrate the Plastics, do some reconnaissance work, and plot to take down the mean girl clique from the inside. But what Cady doesn't count on is becoming so involved with the Plastics lifestyle that she could lose her personality and her mission while ascending the social ladder.
I admit having a hard time getting into most teen movies because it's not easy for me to identify with the characters and their situations. In my high school days, there were definitely certain groups of kids who sat together on a consistent basis, but it never got to the point where the pseudo-cliques received officially-sanctioned names. Nevertheless, what makes Mean Girls come together is that the movie is just as entertaining for someone who hasn't experienced such feelings as overwhelming dread when trying to decide where to sit in the cafeteria as it is for those who have.
Mean Girls also emerges as a sharp send-up of those teen makeover movies where the "ugly duckling" (i.e. making a gorgeous actress "ugly" by messing up her hair and slapping on some glasses) gets to be one of the popular kids. It shows that popularity has a price, that it's a dangerous area to venture into. My apologies for making this flick seem like a heavy-handed afterschool special, because it's too witty and funny to be put in that category...for a while, at least.
For most of its running time, Mean Girls takes on its targets with plenty of bite and energy, turning Cady's study of the Plastics into more of a military operation than simply the curiosity of a new high school student. Director Mark S. Waters (who helmed Lohan in the Freaky Friday remake) and screenwriter Fey (who also has a supporting role as Cady's math teacher) do a nice job of transforming Cady's high school into a jungle with dangers all its own. Lohan turns in a good, solid performance as a fresh-faced innocent who steps into a new world; McAdams is appropriately bitchy as the head mean girl; Caplan and Franzese provide funny and likable performances; and SNL alum Tim Meadows adds his comic flair to the mix as the school's sick-of-it-all principal.
Unfortunately, Chabert and Seyfried seem left out of the action, given less juicy parts than the others (then again, perhaps it was the aim of Fey's script to portray these characters as drones who follow all of their leader's commands without question), and as Mean Girls starts to wrap up, it loses a little of the edge that makes it a biting joy during the rest of the film.
Whether you've encountered examples of the title bullies in your own life or not, Mean Girls offers you a colorful and amusing comedy with well-supported characters. Audiences may enjoy the fluffy, bubblegum fun of 13 Going on 30, but Mean Girls is an even tastier treat.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by Paramount and rated "PG-13" for sexual content, language and some teen partying.)
Review also posted at www.ajhakari.com.