(director/writer: Mark S. Waters; screenwriters: Tina Fey/based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman; cinematographer: Daryn Okada; editor: Wendy Greene Bricmont; music: Rolfe Kent; cast: Lindsay Lohan (Cady Heron), Tina Fey (Ms. Norbury), Lizzy Caplan (Janis Ian), Rachel McAdams (Regina George), Lacey Chabert (Gretchen Weiners), Daniel Franzese (Damian), Tim Meadows (Mr. Duvall), Jonathan Bennett (Aaron Samuels), Amanda Seyfried (Karen Smith), Daniel DeSanto (Jason Mandino), Amy Poehler (Mrs. George), Ana Gasteyer (Betsy Heron), Neil Flynn (Chip Heron); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Lorne Michaels; Paramount Pictures; 2004)
“An inoffensive chick flick with an intelligent sense of humor.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Mark Walters (“Freaky Friday”) directs a high school satire that sweetly turns into a morality play before the school lets out for the summer break. Mean Girls is an inoffensive chick flick with an intelligent sense of humor, that makes the most of its TV-like comedy sketches before it turns preachy and clears up the adorable little mess it made. It’s adapted by SNL’s Tina Fey from professional youth counselor Rosalind Wiseman’s bestseller Queen Bees and Wannabes; Tina also plays an upstanding divorced math teacher named Ms. Norbury. Mean Girls casts Lohan as the 16-year-old Cady Heron, a brilliant math student and a bright-eyed innocent transplanted from the African bush to an upscale suburban Illinois high school, where the daughter of zoologists (Gasteyer & Flynn) completes her senior year in a public high school after a lifetime of being home-schooled and desperately tries to fit into her new “girl world” environment.
Cady in her first day in school has to deal with the political dynamics of the school’s hierarchy of social order, its various cliques ranging from jocks to nerds, and the cafeteria status seating system as arranged by clearly divided territories, and is rejected by everyone until two outsiders, Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese), adopt her. Janis is the angry artsy punk with a permanent scowl, while Damian is the overweight gay guy who is said to be “almost too gay to function.” Cady observes after her first day of school, the connection between her public high school and the animal kingdom’s rule of the jungle law–where it’s a matter of survival of the fittest.
Janis spots Cady chatting in the school cafeteria with the “Plastics,” a shallow popular trio of Barbie doll appearing bitches led by the queen bee Regina (Rachel McAdams), who glories in her beauty and power and nasty streak, and her two obedient followers, rich girl Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and dumb girl Karen (Amanda Seyfried). This gives Janis an idea how she could get revenge on the Plastics for spreading the social-damaging rumor back in middle school that she’s a dyke, as she has Cady accept their invitation to join the group but to act as a spy reporting back to her all their secrets. The mean-spirit of Regina is exhibited when Cady develops a crush on Aaron (Jonathan Bennett), a charming handsome athlete scholar in her calculus class. He was Regina’s boyfriend until she ditched him, but now that she observes that Cady likes him she underhandedly schemes to get him back. Things get dirty, gossipy, bitchy, and backstabbing words are the weapons of choice as the girls deviously go on the warpath. The angelic Cady soon loses her glow and succumbs to also becoming a Plastic, using their unethical methods of character assassin to gain popularity and to win Aaron back from Regina. It concludes with the math teacher, as the voice of reason, giving all the girls gathered together in the gym after a nasty gossip book is distributed throughout the school a speech about life, as she tells them: “Calling somebody else fat will not make you any thinner. Calling somebody stupid will not make you any smarter. And you’ve got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it all right for the guys to call you that.” Mean Girls’ life lesson sinks in that being a bitch is no way to raise one’s self-esteem.
The supporting cast are fellow SNL players Amy Poehler, Ana Gasteyer, and Tim Meadows, who all contribute greatly to the comedy.
By showing all the insecurities eating away at the teens that drives them to do dumb acts at times, Walters brings home the point that school is not all books and grades and learning but a large part of the process is a social experience. The heroine was a gifted student when home-schooled but is nearly destroyed by peer pressure even though she’s in a good public school, which is about as deep as this comedy is willing to cut (which I might add is deeper than most such cutesy teen films). Its most telling scene had the aggravated Cady taking her lunch alone in a bathroom stall rather than face the hostile music in the school cafeteria. A problem that is probably not that uncommon among high school students, and should ring a true note with many of the viewers.
REVIEWED ON 5/4/2004 GRADE: B