Mean Girls


Robin Clifford 
Mean Girls
Laura Clifford 

Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) has spent her formative year living with her naturalist parents in the wilds of Africa. When her mom gets a position teaching at a Midwest college, Cady must move from the safety of wild animals into the real jungle – high school – in “Mean Girls.”

Robin:
We’ve been down this path before. New kid in school wants to fit in but must break into the local chick clique if she is going to be somebody at the institute of learning. “Heathers” and “Clueless” both dealt with the beautiful kids in high school but the former film concentrated on mayhem while the Alicia Silverstone vehicle showed the sweeter side of girl cliques. “Mean Girls” takes a middle ground as it deals with fitting in, making new friends and learning the ropes at school. It also deals with revenge, subterfuge, control and jealousy.

Cady is a well-adjusted young lady, home taught all of her life by her parents. Now, back in “civilization” she must join the ranks of all other American teens and run the gauntlet called high school. As she wanders around trying to find her next class she meets Goth chick Janice Ian (Lizzy Caplan) and her fey best buddy Damian (Daniel Franzese). These two outsiders take Cady under their wings to try to help her adjust to her new environment. That is, until one lunch hour, Cady is invited to sit with “The Plastics” – the bodacious babes led by their queen bee, Regina George (Rachel McAdams).

Cady, at Janice’s insistence in order to get all the dirt and school gossip, joins the Plastics as their latest recruit. She leads a double life as she clicks with the clique during the day and regales Janice and Damian with all the Plastics’ sordid secrets after school. The system works pretty well as Cady deftly walks the line until she spies Aaron (Jonathan Bennet), the hunk who sits in front of her in math class. She sets her cap for the good looking guy only to learn that he used to be Regina’s boyfriend and the queen does not give up anything that she considers “hers.” Cady ignores the warning givens and a Plastics power struggle is in the making.

SNL alumnus Tina Fey adapts author Rosalind Wiseman’s popular guide, “Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence” for the big screen and hits one out of the park. Director Mark S. Waters takes the well-crafted adapted material and, with a terrific cast, provides a briskly paced, well-rounded tale that should hit a bull’s-eye with its teen target audience and beyond.

Lindsay Lohan rebounds from her unfortunate foray into territory best left to Hilary Duff with “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen,” a pathetic piece of work that Lohan should have steered well away from. Luckily, she teams up again with helmer Waters – their earlier collaboration in “Freaky Friday” was a tremendously popular hit – and they, with a little help in front of and behind the camera, done real good.

Lohan is a likable and pretty young actress and she does a fine job as the anchor for “Mean Girls.” But, she is not alone as she is joined with a long list of characters that help make this one very entertaining flick. Tina Fey is believable and three-dimensional as Ms. Norbury, Cady’s math teacher and mentor who encourages the girl to become a member of the Mathletes – the school’s competitive math team. Fey writes credible characters and Norbury is just one of many.

Rachel McAdam is letter perfect as rich bitch alpha Plastic who lauds it over the rest of her clique and holds everyone (except herself) in disdain. McAdam plays ice queen Regina with just the right note of superiority and selfishness that is her comeuppance but is also the catalyst for her next level of evolution in queendom. Her Plastics posse, Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karen (Amanda Seyfried), are both in awe and in fear of their leader as Regina lords over the girls, getting her way with everything. Chabert plays the frightened wannabe bee with a tenuous note as she gives in to any and all demands by the queen. Seyfried is amusing as the ditzy, pretty member of the Plastics who is happy just to be a member.

Usually in a movie like “Mean Girls” short shrift is given to the other supporting characters, but not here. Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzene give full dimension and a lot of humor to their Janice and Damian, the outsider characters – she a Goth chick and he openly gay – that make care about what makes them tick. Tim Meadows, as school principal, Mr. Duvall, is suitably cynical as an educator who has seen and heard it all. Even Regina’s mom (Amy Poehler) gets to shine as she tries to be friends with her daughter and the Plastics. “I’m not a regular mom. I’m a cool mom,” she explains to Cady. Even little roles, like to members of the student body and the Mathletes, are given weight through Fey’s detailed scribing.

Techs are straightforward and solid.

“Mean Girls” is a lot of fun and entertaining even for an old curmudgeon like me. I give it a B.

Laura:
Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan, "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen") has had an exotic upbringing in Africa, but never encounters the jungle until she enters an American high school for her senior year of schooling.  After becoming friendly with some of the weaker of the species, Cady is convinced to infiltrate the cattiest clique in the kingdom, but she waivers maintaining her own unfanged nature when she becomes one of the "Mean Girls."

2003's "Freaky Friday" reteaming of director Mark S. Waters and star Lohan scores again with "Mean Girls.  Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update anchor Tina Fey has chosen well in adapting Rosalind Wiseman's "Queen Bees and Wannabes," observing high school societal behavior through a big game hunter's scope.  This deliciously twisted teen comedy crosses the cliques and makeovers of "Clueless" with the politics of "Heathers.'

Naive Cady's school challenges begin when she's almost hit by a bus before she's even entered the building.  She learns the ropes from Janis (Lizzy Caplan, TV's "The Pitts"), a goth outsider rumored to be a lesbian, and Damian (Daniel Franzese, "Party Monster"), Janis's overweight friend whom even she calls 'almost too gay to function.'  Janis (the character's last name is Ian, a jokey reference to the lesbian folk singer of "Seventeen" fame) is particularly disdainful of 'the plastics,' the schools three most popular girls, but she stops Damian from telling Cady just why she hates them so.  When Cady is invited to sit at the imperial lunch table by Regina (Rachel McAdams, "The Hot Chick"), the trio's leader, she's curious and joins them.  Janis spies an opportunity for inside dope, but the naturally open Cady finds herself liking hanging with rich girl Regina, gossipy Gretchen (Lacey Chabert, "Daddy Day Care," "Lost in Space") and clueless Karen (Amanda Seyfried, TV's "All My Children").  The new plastics begin to disintegrate, however, when Cady is attracted to Regina's ex, Aaron (Jonathan Bennett, TV's "All My Children").  As new alliances form within the upper social strata, Cady is disowned by the original friends who sent her within their midst.  Backstabbing reaches its peak when Regina's revelation of her own vile secrets incriminates Cady as the girl with the school's sharpest claws.

"Mean Girls" is a refreshingly honest look at the dynamics of negotiating the minefields of high school.  Tina Fey, who also makes her big screen debut as the amusing, no-nonsense teacher Ms. Norbury, has done a terrific job dissecting teen behavior without succumbing to stereotype. The jungle metaphors are funny, first seen through Cady's eyes when a mall fountain turns into a watering hole, and not overused.  Fads and pack behavior are addressed, in one instance by Gretchen's attempts to turn the word 'fetch' into an adjective.

The bevy of young actresses all play their parts convincingly.  Under Waters's direction, Lohan displays none of the shrill hyperactivity that permeated "Confessions."  Instead, she's convincing with her fresh-faced naivete.  The character morphs ever so slightly into something she shouldn't be without becoming unlikable.  Jonathan Bennett is appealing as the hunky guy who unwittingly causes female infighting and McAdams does a nice job as the shallow self-preservationist. Lacey Chabert is also quite good as the girl who needs a trend setter to follow.  Amanda Seyfried has the least to do in the dumb bunny Tara Reid role, but she gives good bubblehead.  Besides Fey's tart turn, the adult standouts include two other SNL alumni.  Amy Poehler ("Envy") is hilarious as Regina's mom, a woman looking to her daughter's pals for vindication of her own youth and coolness and school principal Tim Meadows ("The Ladies Man") has an air of calm, unbelieving acceptance.  As Regina's little sister Kylie, Nicole Crimi has the same creepy, entitled blissfulness exhibited by "Welcome to the Dollhouse's" ballerina Missy, Daria Kalinina.

While the final act of the film doesn't quite live up to what has come before (not too mention a sudden shock stolen from the "Final Destination" flicks), Waters rebounds with a coda that doesn't feel preachy.  Young girls may just stop to examine their behavior after having a good laugh watching these "Mean Girls."

B

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