Paramount // 2004 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Diane Wild (Retired) // October 11th, 2004
Watch your back.
It's no surprise to any of us who remember high school that girls can be mean. Thankfully, in real life most don't reach the depths of the divas in Mean Girls. Loosely based on a parental self-help book called "Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence," the comedy Mean Girls is not quite the same expose on the subject.
Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan, Freaky Friday) is a modern-day Mowgli. You know, if Mowgli was a girl with great stage presence. Raised and home schooled in Africa by her zoologist parents, Cady lands in Illinois completely naïve to the cliques and rules of high school.
Her new social instructors include her outcast friends, goth girl Janis (Lizzie Caplan, Orange County) and "too gay to function" Damian (Daniel Franzese, Party Monster). They send her undercover to infiltrate The Plastics -- the ultra-popular glamazons who rule the school -- in order to plot revenge for years of accumulated meanness.
The oh-so-fabulous Regina (Rachel McAdams, The Notebook) is the Queen Bee, and her minions are rich girl Gretchen (Lacey Chabert, Lost in Space) and dumber-than-a-dumb-blonde Karen (Amanda Seyfried). Cady learns her Plastics lesson well. Too well. She starts to become a Plastic herself.
But when she starts to fall for Aaron (Jonathan Bennett), Regina's ex-boyfriend, and her cover is blown, none of Cady's experience with lions and tigers prepares her for the viciousness of the mean girls. Luckily she's been learning from the pros, and has some revenge fantasies of her own.
Okay, to be clear: the teens are the stars of this movie. But to this non-teen viewer, Mean Girls is like a Saturday Night Live reunion with kids getting in the way. SNL producer Lorne Michaels produced it. SNL writer and Weekend Update anchor Tina Fey wrote it and has a supporting role as Cady's klutzy but sympathetic math teacher. SNL alums Tim Meadows, Ana Gasteyer, and Amy Poehler also appear. And in some ways, Mean Girls is kinda like an episode of Saturday Night Live: often funny, often lame, but with enough laughs to keep you watching for an hour and a half.
Let's forget about SNL now, because the humor is not very similar -- but that's not necessarily a criticism. Fey writes some sharp, laugh-out-loud dialogue. Some examples? Karen has some of the best dumb blonde jokes this side of Legally Blonde, like when says she's psychic -- "I have ESPN or something." And Coach Carr, the health instructor, teaches abstinence using the aversion method: "Don't have sex. Because you will get pregnant...and die!"
Fey writes a little too much life-affirming dialogue, like Cady's narration that unnecessarily (and unfunnily) summarizes the point of the movie: "Calling somebody else fat won't make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn't make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George's life definitely didn't make me any happier." And we've all learned a valuable lesson, yadda yadda yadda. Problem is, we got it before the monologue told us, which makes it extraneous sappiness.
Mean Girls plays up Cady's transition from the animal world to Girl World, with hysterical scenes of her imagining her fellow students as jungle creatures fighting and mating. But her transition from naïve to beyotch happens far too quickly. Character development in general is sacrificed to one-liners and platitudes.
Lohan is a likeable actress, and probably deserves a perch above the other perky teen thespians out there. She has a blend of sweetness and spark that provides a nicely layered performance, convincingly playing a cohesive character who is by turns naïve, conniving, bitchy, and contrite. The Plastics are beautifully cast, too. McAdams is regal while managing to show some vulnerability, Seyfried is the perfect dumb girl, and Chabert is hilarious as a desperate wannabe who fails miserably trying to create some hip new slang: "that's so fetch."
One giant problem with the film is the character of Aaron, the object of Cady's desire. Jonathan Bennett does nothing with the role, but to be fair, it's pitifully underwritten. It's hard to feel sympathy for Cady's heartbreak when she's fallen for the blandest boy in school and pretends she's even dumber than he is in order to capture his interest. Fey herself seems slightly miscast, as she plays it mostly straight in a role that gives her little to do.
Speaking of little to do...considering the comedic talent sitting behind the mike, the commentary by Fey, Michaels, and director Mark Waters (Freaky Friday) is surprisingly boring. There is a lot of talk about casting -- one semi-interesting tidbit is that Seyfried originally auditioned for Queen Bee Regina -- but there's too much silence and raving about how wonderful everyone was in the movie.
The only featurette I found enjoyable was "The Politics of Girl World," which had the author of the "Queen Bee" book, Rosalind Wiseman, talking about real-life mean girls. "Only the Strong Survive" is your basic publicity reel that covers a lot of the same ground as the commentary and tries to turn Mean Girls into a moral lesson. "Plastic Fashion" talks about the clothes featured in the movie, but I'm afraid I may have dozed off when the costume designer began to describe how she attached the faux fur to The Plastics' Santa girl outfits.
The deleted scenes are worth a watch, but as usual, there's a reason they were left on the cutting room floor. There is one scene that adds another dimension to Aaron's character. Or should I say, it adds a dimension to his character. The bloopers reel is mercifully short and not even moderately funny.
The DVD transfer, presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, is quite nice, with some edge enhancement and some grain but overall satisfactory. A separate full-screen version of the DVD also exists, but of course I'm not going to recommend that you hunt it down. Most of the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is focused on the front, but the dialogue and background music is clear and there are nice instances of actual surround sound.
Knowing that the witty Tina Fey wrote it, I wanted Mean Girls to be something that it wasn't -- a biting comment on Girl World. It's too watered down to succeed at that, but judging it for what it is, the movie rises far above the average comedy and is decent entertainment for adults and teens alike.
Are you kidding me? Not guilty. I don't want these bitches after me.
Review content copyright © 2004 Diane Wild; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Commentary by director Mark Waters, writer Tina Fey, and producer Lorne Michaels
* Featurette: "Only the Strong Survive"
* Featurette: "The Politics of Girl World"
* Featurette: "Plastic Fashion"
* Blooper reel
* Deleted scenes
* Official Site