CORPORATE LINE: Raised in African bush country by her zoologist parents, Cady Heron thinks she knows about “survival of the fittest.” But the law of the jungle takes on a whole new meaning when the home-schooled 15-year-old enters public high school for the first time and encounters the psychological warfare and unwritten social rules that teenage girls face today.
THE GOOD: Think the “teen surviving high school” movie has been run into the ground like a well-worn pair of Uggs? Well, think again. Tina Fey’s first feature film screenplay breathes new life into the exploration of what it’s like to be in high school in 2004. She impressively manages to take the heavy subject matter of “Thirteen” and spin it on its head by infusing the menacing “girl world” of high school with huge doses of dead-on comedy.
Savvy young filmgoers & the older Gen X folks will immediately recognize parallels between Fey’s “Mean Girls” universe and the classic world created in 1989’s “Heathers.” But rather than retrace old roads, Fey’s satirical look at girl-on-girl warfare is brighter and more obvious about its targets of humor as it barrels down its own new path.
In addition, Fey proves she can write more than a few funny sketches with this film – the laughs are consistent. Even towards the end of the film when Fey delivers the lesson of “Mean Girls,” the jokes allow the film to escape what could have simply been a preachy denouement.
Another pleasant surprise is that the young actresses give good performances across the board. Lindsay Lohan manages to shake her Disney image a bit by playing the nice girl who gets a little too cozy with the mean girls. And the mean girls AKA “the Plastics” are well-played by Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert & Amanda Seyfried.
The film leaves few high school stereotypes untouched. Particularly of note is Fey’s treatment of Damian (a “pre-gay” as Fey refers to him) played by Daniel Franzese. He’s neither helpless nor completely sure of himself which feels realistic. It’s refreshing to see stereotypes played up for the joke with a knowing wink. However, the blonde girls may still have a bone to pick after seeing the film. After all, they are portrayed as the villains. The good news is these mean girls are wickedly fun as well.
THE BAD: Originally, an R-rated film, the dialogue was dumbed down to meet a PG-13 audience. One can’t help but wonder if “Mean Girls” couldn’t have been even more edgy if not for the “censors.”
Fey makes a smart move by keeping the adult characters of the film secondary to the girls most of the time. Still, it seems a shame to have Ana Gasteyer & Neil Flynn play it straight when they are such capable comedic actors.
DVD FEATURES: A nice commentary with Fey, Lorne Michaels, and Waters, but nothing toointeresting. “The Politics of Girl World” features a segment with author Wiseman who discusses the book and teen girls. There is another featurette, “Only the Strong Survive,” featuring the actresses talking about how girls act and treat
each other at school. There is a fun gag reel and cut scenes.
FRANKLY: This film plays within the realm of the teen flick, but avoids the predictability so common in the genre. It’s a movie that can appeal to anyone who’s in high school, been there or about to take it on. Best of all, “Mean Girls” is a comedy that will actually make you laugh.
+ Jeffrey Kroitsch