Though the year has already seen a record number of smart and entertaining teen comedies (2) and an identical number of smart and entertaining teen comedy flops (2), they just keep on coming. Add Mean Girls to the first list and probably after this weekend to the second list as well.
Mean Girls works because it was written by “Saturday Night Live’s” Tina Fey and for no other reason. Her trademark dry sarcasm drips all over it like a speed skating Hitler in front of the hallowed “Update” desk. Fey actually plays a fairly thankless bit role in the film, but whether or not she’s actually on screen, the movie is just mouthing her words.
It opens on the new girl and her first day of school. Cady (Lindsay Lohan) has been living in Africa, which as we all know is really a much more sanitized version of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Now her family has moved back to America and she’s forced to make the transition from lifelong home schooling to a public high school riddled with cliques and teenager cliché’s. At first she’s ostracized and thus makes friends with a pair of castoffs who’ve fallen prey to the school’s most powerful clique, “The Plastics”. “The Plastics” are shallow hot chicks who follow the lead of the sexiest and bitchiest girl in school, Regina George (Rachel McAdams).
But Cady is pretty, which of course means life is easy for her, and soon she’s sitting at the Plastic table under the guise of getting even for all her castoff, less pretty friends who’ve been ground under the very spiked heels of Regina George. Soon she starts to like her newfound popularity power and Cady isn’t just undercover, she’s a full on Plastic, complete with burn out grades and enjoyably short skirts. This sets off a bitter power struggle between Regina and Cady, in which the object is humiliations galore.
Mean Girls is a movie viciously poking fun at teen cliché’s in the most obvious ways possible. The popular kids are always the prettiest and because they are pretty they are all of course bitches. High School is more of a Lord of the Flies social club than a place where people actually go to learn and parents are terminally oblivious, either bent on being best friends with their kids or too innocent to possibly comprehend their world. But somewhere in there Mean Girls is still brilliant, showcasing outlandish and insanely sarcastic humor, the type that might slip out the corner of your mouth when no one else is looking. The jokes are random and unpredictable; the story itself, while wrapped in cliché seems to be more interested in making fun of itself than fully exploring those.
Paired up again with director Mark S. Waters, Lindsay Lohan is likable and solid as a fairly blank and innocent young thing, bouncing about playing both smart and sweet. She was only 17 when they filmed this, so I suppose she ought to have a pretty good idea of what Tina Fey’s script was going for. She’s been nailing the “charming teen” thing since Freaky Friday (also directed by Mark S. Waters) and not much more is required from her here. Worth noting is Tim Meadows, who is funny for the first time in his career as a baseball bat wielding principal uncomfortable with discussing his female students’ periods, but unaware that it may be inappropriate to hit on his female teachers in front of their class.
This is a movie so packed with offhand jokes and quick hits that it’s impossible not to miss at least some of them. While I’m not sure Fey’s script ever totally transcends the Clueless-like genre into which it dips, it gives great belly laughs on the sly. Fey really is one of the most original comedy writers working today. Her humor is biting and sharp, enough to make Mean Girls stand tall in an already comedically strong movie year. Yet I can’t totally shake the feeling that had it not been at least marginally targeted towards teenage girls the cruelty could have been taken further. Still, if you’ve endured the first half of Saturday Night Live just to make it through to “Weekend Update”, then you’re bound to enjoy what light insanity Mean Girls offers.