Saturday 5 March 2016

Movie Review: Mean Girls (2004)

A high-school comedy about girls fitting in, Mean Girls brings plenty of edgy attitude and delivers a funny, uncompromised story about the perils of the pack.

Sixteen year old Cady (Lindsay Lohan) has been home-schooled all her life, Now her parents have relocated from Africa to Evanston, Illinois, and Cady has to face the wilderness that is her local high school. She meets two happy independent-minded students in semi-Gothic Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and openly gay Damian (Daniel Franzese), but Cady is soon exposed to the most envied girl trio in the school: the pretty, fashionable, cool and snooty Plastics. Their queen bee is Regina (Rachel McAdams), and her clique consists of the submissive Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and the quite dense Karen (Amanda Seyfried).

Regina sizes up Cady and gives her a chance to join the troop. Janis seizes the opportunity to use Cady as an informant to reveal the secrets of the Plastics. Cady starts to develop a crush on classmate Aaron (Jonathan Bennett), but learns that he's off limits because he was Regina's former boyfriend. It does not take long for Cady to be both horrified and seduced by the mean-spirited behaviour of the Plastics, and to learn that belonging means making difficult choices.

Directed by Mark Waters and written by Tina Fey (who gives herself a small but shiny role as a teacher with problems of her own), Mean Girls pulls no punches. Life in suburbia is portrayed as a hazardous jungle with the animals barely concealed beneath a veneer of civility, and Cady's challenge is to adapt to her new environment or be eaten alive. Waters keeps the laughs coming in a compact 97 minute package, and the humour is continuously juiced with the poison spewed by teenagers defining their turf and individuality to scare away the perceived competition.

Without fully escaping the limitations of the high school comedy genre, Mean Girls manages to stretch. Cady makes every mistake in the book, attempting to be nice, having a foot in a couple of camps, and trying to join the Plastics while simultaneously spying on them. She is of course doomed to fail in the most spectacular way, and Mean Girls gets the environment right: the long-established rules of place will dominate the individual, redefining social norms is bound to fail, and belonging to competing herds is not smart: it is treason.

Cady flirts with the dark side and demonstrates to herself how easy it is to transition from eager wannabe to a broadly despised pretender. To regain her balance she will need to learn to carve out her own niche, rather than try to change the evolutionary order. Fey does struggle a bit with the final chapter, as Cady's attempts at atonement are clumsily (and literally) run over by a bus.

Before Lindsay Lohan embarked on her career-destroying lifestyle, she was one of Hollywood's most promising young actresses, and here she proves why. Lohan finds the space for Cady to be both the smart outsider and the eager wannabe, grounded by a stable family-oriented upbringing but not immune to the seductive forces of cheap popularity. In contrast Rachel McAdams did use early roles like Regina as fuel for a successful career, and here she goes all-in as the embodiment of haughty entitlement. Regina has the perfect role model in her mom (Amy Poehler), a woman with all the money she needs to not care about what it means to be a parent.

Mean Girls is smart, sassy, real, rude, and often, a riot of laughs.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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