Movies By Matt: Mean Girls

Girls, especially high school and middle school aged girls, are notorious for being venomous social snakes that prey on friends and enemies to achieve a multitude of goals, which usually involve rampant narcissism. That, of course, is prime fodder for dramatists and comedians alike, as girl-clique movies like The Heathers shock and frighten us by exposing us to the sheer hatred behind some girls’ actions while the new release Mean Girls provides us with a sharply satirical but more lighthearted look at “Queen Bees and Wannabes” (the title of the book by Rosalind Wiseman on which the film is based). Written by SNL writer Tina Fey, who plays a math teacher in the movie, the film focuses on Cady Herron (Lindsey Lohan), a girl who, after living her life in Africa with her zoologist parents, is forced to enter the jungle of an American public high school. Melodrama (of the entertaining sort) and hilarity ensue when Cady joins the group of mean popular girls known as “The Plastics”, develops a crush on the ex-boyfriend of the “The Plastics’” leader (Jonathan Bennett) and declares war on that leader, Regina George (Rachel McAdams). Director Mark Waters and Fey, who worked together closely on the project, have crafted a supremely entertaining and witty film, with the subtly incisive script and restrained direction capitalizing perfectly on the absurdity of these girls’ lives. For most of the film, the script intertwines shaky but nonetheless effective plot with scenes of utter comedy, showing the audience all of the dirty tricks these teenage saboteurs use to stab their “friends” squarely in the back. The story is not so much condemning of the girls as society, however, because each character speaks lines with enough charm and humor that the audience laughs almost out of pity for the situation in which the group of friends has found themselves. Fey deftly avoids stooping to levels of dumb comedy or gross-out humor, as many teen movies do, and instead hones in on the reasons these girls want and even need to torture each other. Stock characters (and we’re talking VERY stock, because all of the characters in this film are caricatures) do weaken the film a bit without adding much comedy, but are small enough roles that they never distract from the otherwise-enjoyable central action. The end of the film slips (sadly) into a “be who you want to be” tone of mushy sentimentality and a final scene of the cliques mixing with one another leaves a sour taste in the mouths of filmgoers who desire a realistic satire rather than a moral parable. With Fey’s wit as sharp as we might expect in the rest of the script, one is disappointed by the weak finale she wrote. Waters overemphasizes the jungle-like quality of the school with a few too many heavy-handed brawls, but, for the most part, stays back and lets the charisma of the actors and script shine through. The art direction, costumes, and makeup are what one might expect, are realistic and, most importantly, do not ignore the truth of teenage sexuality. Fey and Waters realize that long-term, innocent love is not at stake here, but a hook-up in the projection room above the auditorium or in some random persons’ bedroom at a house party. This honesty is well-appreciated by an audience rather tired of seeing every teen movie focus on a poorly written, downright crappy, unrealistic love-at-first-sight-let’s-get-married-and-live-as-one-forever storyline. Lohan and McAdams, at the center of the story, are charming, attractive, entertaining, and have great comedic instincts. Each overplays her character enough to elicit a laugh of absurdity but never goes so far that they compromise the realism of the film. Their on-screen chemistry (or, if you like, lack thereof) makes for great tension that perfectly depicts the catty, animalistic hatred of these mean girls, and each seems to relish the meanness, to the audience’s greedy delight. The supporting cast is serviceable but not specifically mentionable, although Fey is particularly acute with her comedy, probably from her experience on SNL. Though light comedic fare, Mean Girls does provide absurdist commentary on the nature of the beast we know as high school, and the girls who maintain the equilibrium of that beast through their complex social actions. The ponderous, subconscious decisions they each character makes may or may not ruin the life of another girl; this makes the audience wonder about modern society and the pressures it puts on high-schoolers, particularly girls, to look and behave a certain way to fit in. It sounds like a tired concept, but with Fey at the helm and young talent riding along, the film succeeds in eliciting two things we don’t often see together at the cinema these days: a laugh and a thought. Overall Grade: 5