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Review: “Mean Girls”

Mean GirlsDirected by: Mark Waters
Produced by: Lorne Michaels, Tony Shimkin, Louise Rosner, Jill Messick
Written by: Tina Fey (screenplay)
Edited by: Wendy Greene Bricmont
Cinematography by: Daryn Okada
Music by: Rolfe Kent
Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Franzese, Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried, Jonathan Bennett, Tina Fey, Tim Meadows, Ana Gasteyer, Neil Flynn, Amy Poehler
Based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence by Rosalind Wiseman
Year: 2004

 

Girls are awful. As a guy who had to go through his fair share of teasing from other guys from pretty much kindergarten onward, I can say with all honesty that no matter how mean the guys were, nothing compared to the way I saw my female peers treat one another and the guys they were around. One particular incident in 7th grade, where I had a note asking a particular girl out along with a ribbon rose made my mom in what I thought was the girl’s favorite color, has possibly tainted my romantic life forever thanks to the girls teasing me about getting the color wrong and the girl I was asking out taking until the end of the school year to tell me “Yeah… sorry, no,” after months of her flirting with the guy who picked on me. My sister had it even worse, however, being — well, another girl. The stories I heard from her make my experiences seem like a fairy tale with a happily ever after. The types of girls she dealt with apparently either did not see or understand Carrie – they even pulled the old nominating my sister for homecoming queen trick. Luckily, my sister heard about a scheme and managed to avoid whatever it was they were planning.

Mean Girls - Lindsay Lohan, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Franzese

So, as someone who has come from a line of people who dealt with mean girls (Oh, the stories my mom could tell you, too!), I feel like I can say that Mean Girls is in no way a serious or intensive examination of this phenomenon of some girls’ proclivity for making others’ lives a living hell, nor is it going to satisfy those who are looking for some kind of examination of a more recent hot button topic, bullying. If you want that, there’s a little documentary called Bully that I highly recommend you see (preferably in its unrated version, which doesn’t maddeningly sanitize the plight of actual kids in the name of saving them from witnessing their own experiences). Even if you want a biting satire, why not check out the oft-cited spiritual predecessor, Heathers, which is a bit more deranged with a darker of humor? For what it is, however, Mean Girls remains a fun and entertaining comedy that manages to help the life lessons go down like a pill that’s been crushed and sprinkled throughout some tasty treat – it’s present, but it’s easy to forget it’s there what with all the delightful sugar covering it up.

Mean Girls follows new girl Cady Heron, who has spent her whole life being homeschooled in Africa by her anthropologist parents. For her final two years of high school, however, they move back to America thanks to a career opportunity at a university, resulting in sudden culture shock for Cady as she enters the brave new world of the American public school system – a place where she feels neither trusted nor, initially, particularly liked by anyone.

Mean Girls - Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Seyfried, Lacey Chabert, Rachel McAdams

Of course, that could’ve led to one depressing movie, so, to up the fun, she’s soon adopted by two art crowd kids, Janis and Damian, who happily accept Cady into their group of outcasts and show her the ropes of the school system. (Sound a little familiar?) There are your typical cliques and lunchroom seating arrangements, but there’s pretty much only one big no-no: Do not get mixed up with “the Plastics,” your typical trio of pretty, Barbie-like rich girls who have somehow managed to capture the admiration and fascination of the entire student body – even a few within the faculty, too!

Just as soon as Cady thinks she’s settling in, however, something rather unexpected happens: the Plastics decide to adopt the newcomer into their group (Perhaps because she’s the prettiest redhead in the school, they already have two blondes, and they felt like she completed their ensemble?). Janis, being a sort of benevolent yet evil mastermind, decides that this is the perfect opportunity to get back at the girls for how they treated her several years prior and convinces Cady to become a double agent as they plot to destroy the girls’ lives – primarily that of their leader, Regina George, who once spread a false rumor about her former good friend that destroyed their relationship and ruined Janis’ reputation forever.

Mean girls - Tina Fey

Though the scheming that goes on in the movie is mostly just a silly excuse to string together a lot of clever and often insightful jokes about high school in general, the story (written by Tina Fey, who also co-stars as the math teacher) is conscientious enough to show how powerful the draw is to conform with the cool crowd and get lost in the attention. So often the lines between right and wrong are so clearly drawn in teen dramas that they are rarely as nuanced as what you get in Mean Girls. That, and it’s often just a very funny movie, with plenty of quotable lines (one of my favorites being the unnecessarily vicious comeback, “Boo, you whore!”), and its slightly cartoonish nature allows it to get away with lots of surreal, comical moments, such as when Cady envisions high school as being like on the planes of Africa and all the kids start acting like literal wild animals or the gangster mathlete who performs a filthy rap bragging about his talent for math and pleasing the ladies.

A major part of the reason for the film’s success is also the decision to cast some talented young actors in the roles of the teens, as well, chief among them the two leads. Lindsay Lohan is one of the few former child actor celebs these days to have actually gotten well known for a considerable amount of talent in her job, and in Mean Girls her transitions between different phases in the school year is natural and subtle (given the film’s length) without making you hate Cady when she gives in to the irresistible urge to become a Plastic.

Mean Girls - Halloween

As the film’s villain, Regina, Rachel McAdams has the most impressive performance. Regina’s self-centered egotism and apparently genuine belief that she’s just enforcing the laws of popularity that have been set in place and deemed her worthy of the throne in everybody’s life manages the trick of being both over-the-top hilarious and yet also fairly realistic. There’s a vulnerability present beneath the surface of Regina, informing every snotty remark she makes towards others as she asserts her dominance over them. We’re often told that bullies act the way they are due to some kind of personal issues, and Regina’s attempt to bury them are starting to catch up to her. You can’t help but start to feel a little sorry for her when the protagonists’ continued attacks finally begin to have their intended effect.

The supporting cast is also quite excellent, with Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzese as the outspoken alt-goth (or something) Janis and the “too gay to function” Damian, respectively, and Amanda Seyfried and Lacey Chabert tagging along as Regina’s devoted but not-so-secretly jealous entourage – they back up McAdams’ snotty performance with some of the funniest bits in the movie. You’ll get little glimpses into the lives of several other tertiary characters, too, with fourth wall-breaking talking heads about the recent goings on at the school. Lots of Saturday Night Live alumni (and the janitor from Scrubs) join Tina Fey as many of the adult cast members, including the amusing Tim Meadows as the increasingly jaded principle of the school.

Mean Girls - Tim Meadows

The ending may seem a bit neat and tidy for some, especially if you’re expecting one extreme or another (vicious sendup with a bit of revenge thrown in or social commentary passion project), but Mean Girls earns its pleasant, idealistic ending, which tells girls, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” It remains one of my favorite movies to pop in whenever I need a good laugh (when haven’t seen it in a while). It’s probably not going to change lives or even convince any actual mean girls to repent and turn from their sinful ways (lest ye be banned from the table that week or until approved by a committee of peers). It doesn’t really matter, anyways, since I think most of the actual mean girls don’t even think they are mean girls in the first place (“I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me… but I can’t help it that I’m so popular.”). The film does have a positive message about getting along and such, and, you know, what socially responsible high school teen flick doesn’t have that obligation to bear? My point is, don’t watch it for the moralizing. Come for the comedy. You’ll be far more satisfied and happier for having enjoyed it for what it is, rather than analyzing it to death.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5

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  1. May 31, 2013 at 1:28 am

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