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Mean Girls Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

It’s easy to mentally section Mean Girls off as teen rag drivel, especially when it stars former "drama queen" Lindsay Lohan and opens the week before the Olsen twin’s minute-long vehicle. But don’t write this film off too quickly because below the surface of the teenage pink and paisley beats a really intelligent script that is hilarious without being tasteless or trite.

Is that even possible anymore since the American Pie bawdiness has been swept away by this peculiar renaissance of retooled Cinderella stories? Perhaps in the hands of a lesser writer/director/producer, Means Girls could have been less complex and darkly humorous, but the mind who adapts the book (a very non-fiction "Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence.") to screen also pens the sketches for the equally complex and dark "Saturday Night Live."

It’s almost tempting to say that Mean Girls is just another "SNL" vanity project with the "godfather," Lorne Michaels at the helm and other familiar faces like Amy Poehler, Tim Meadows and Tina Fey (the mind and screenwriter), but it’s not. The "SNL" regulars don’t recreate their TV characters onscreen (are you listening, Jimmy Fallon?), they blend into the story like clear scotch tape.

And that’s the very essence of high school, isn’t it? Blending is a key to survival, according to the film. But it’s not easy for flame-hair Cady Heron (Lohan), who up until this point, had been home-schooled by her zoologist parents in an African bush country, and then dumped into the social jungle of high school like a lamb to the slaughter.

Immediately, Cady realizes that there are strict social stratas in high school and the film is even so kind as to dissect a few categories beyond the usual jocks, freaks and geeks: there is the exquisitely malicious group of beautiful girls called the Plastics, the good-looking Black girls and even the nerdy and pretty Asians.

Of course, the group of interest is the "Plastics" comprised of Stepford Wives-in-training: Regina (Rachel McAdams), Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chabert) and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried). And unlike wild animals that hunt in allied packs and attack enemies, these girls prey on each other through veiled strikes at each other’s deepest insecurities.

They are obsessed with the usual teenage girl things like hair and make-up, but Regina, the Plastics ringleader, is also intent on controlling and dominating everyone by any means possible. They even have a "Slam Book" where they hurl insults freely in writing next to a victim’s picture. What starts out as just fun nearly tears the school apart when the slam book mysteriously goes public.

These girls, Cady’s new friends Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese) warn, make William Golding’s "Lord of the Flies" boys look like amateurs. And as easily as the Plastics weave a trap then the unsuspecting victim, Cady, falls into Regina’s venom. After confiding in Regina that she likes Aaron (Jonathan Bennett), the cute boy in Ms. Norbury’s (Fey) math class, Cady is ultimately betrayed when her "friend" decides to keep Aaron for herself.

From then on, Cady launches a meticulous plan to infiltrate the Plastics and break them up from within, but not without getting caught up in the drunken power of being pretty in high school.

As required in these types of film there are some overly-sentimental scenes with moralistic overtones-Cady is named dance queen and instead of basking in her own glory, she breaks off pieces of the crown to share with other girls, because, after all, every girl deserves it and Ms. Norbury gives a gym-full of bickering girls a monologue about self-respect. But because the film is so well-paced and developed, we are willing to swallow this little bit of bitterness for the bigger picture.

What isn’t typical of a teenage drama is Cady’s complex internal monologue. Lohan, fresh off of the most vapid role of the year in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, shows more depth and range with Fey’s sharp script. In this film, Lohan is completely devoid of the squeaking and whining that so defined her prior characters. Which shows that with a good script and a decent director (Mark Waters of Freaky Friday and The House of Yes) can eke out a decent performance from even the more limited actress.

The "SNL" cast creates some of the movie’s best scenes. Especially Meadows as the strangely virile principal, Mr. Duvall. Not surprisingly, the highlight performance is given by Fey, who brings her fascinating mix of vulnerability and strength to the big screen.

Mark Waters, the brother of Heathers’ Daniel Waters, follows in the family footstep with a sharp, witty and dark film about evil girls, but Mean Girls isn’t as psychological or heavy-it’s just fun watching girls deconstruct one another. Just watch out for those runaway buses.

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