Film Reviews

MEAN GIRLS

By • Apr 30th, 2004 •

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Running time — 96 minutes / MPAA rating: PG-13

QUOTE: Ruthlessly on target.

Tina Fey’s sharp-witted screenplay, based on Rosalind Wiseman’s “Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence,” is ruthlessly on target. It is self-assured, clever, and deft at exploiting the insecurities and reality of being a teenage girl.

Beauty is the new money. There will always be a social caste system and Cady (Lindsay Lohan), tutored in Africa by her zoologist parents, quickly finds out her natural attractiveness makes her a candidate to join the alpha chick clique at her new Chicago suburbs high school. “The Plastics,” Queen Bee Regina (Rachel McAdams) and her Sidekicks Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karen (Amanda Seyfried), enthrall their classmates and teachers alike. Regina exercises her power by inviting Cady to join their charmed circle. Cady must follow The Rules, such as, Tuesday they wear pink.

Cady doesn’t know any of the sinister ropes about being popular but she does know the tactics of animals in the wild. Her frame of reference is one of the many treats that makes MEAN GIRLS such a skillful delight. The mall and the lunchroom are metaphors for Cady. Unlike outsiders Janis (Lizzy Caplan), an angry goth artist, and Damian (Daniel Franzese), big and happily gay, Cady is bemused by the sharp delineation of the cliques. Like The Untouchables of India, there are sub-castes and a highly formalized social order. (Imagine being so low in a sub-caste that your shadow can “pollute” passers by, or, sitting with the wrong lunchroom students can result in four years of social ostracism).

Of course, the difference here is that anyone can jump social classes in Western society through cosmetic surgery, dieting, and money. Caste-jumping starts in elementary school.

Even outcasts Janis and Damian warn Cady of the pitfalls of joining the wrong group. It is social suicide to join the Mathletes, the predominantly foreign student Math club. For Cady, this is a problem since she is good at math and her teacher (Tina Fey in a nicely written, understated part) would like to have a girl on the team. Regina has ruined Janis’s life in some way. Janis encourages Cady to “pretend” to join The Plastics and, through her secret knowledge of their inner workings, bring down Regina’s reign.

The Plastics are like movie stars but the truth is they are plagued with self-doubt and insecurities. There is also wry insight into Regina. Her mother, Mrs. George (Amy Poehler), is cosmetically bound to unnatural youthfulness and wants to be a girlfriend instead of a mother. Regina’s neglected young sister is on the teenage stripper fast-track, wiggling to a Kelis video and lifting her shirt to a “Girls Gone Wild” commercial.

Realistically, Cady enjoys being a Plastic. She likes Regina’s ex-boyfriend Chip (Neil Flynn). Through pure meanness on her part, Cady does sabotage Regina and becomes Queen Bee. She is the 800-pound gorilla and she likes it!

While MEAN GIRLS harks back to HEATHERS in delving into the hierarchical dynamics of high school, it addresses many of the problems that popular girls are faced with. Their vulnerability and fears are dominantly on display. Unlike 13 GOING ON 30, this is real smart comedy. Tina Fey’s dialogue and attention to all the supporting characters has now set the bar a lot higher for teen comedies.


Credits:
Director: Mark Waters
Screenwriter: Tina Fey
Based on the book by: Rosalind Wiseman
Producer: Lorne Michaels
Executive producer: Jill Messick
Director of photography: Daryn Okada
Production designer: Cary White
Music: Rolfe Kent
Co-producer: Louise Rosner
Costume designer: Mary Jane Fort
Editor: Wendy Greene Bricmont

Cast:
Cady: Lindsay Lohan
Regina: Rachel McAdams
Ms. Norbury: Tina Fey
Mr. Duvall: Tim Meadows
Mrs. George: Amy Poehler
Betsy: Ana Gasteyer
Gretchen: Lacey Chabert
Janis Ian: Lizzy Caplan
Damian: Daniel Franzese
Chip: Neil Flynn
Aaron: Jonathan Bennett

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