Friday, October 19, 2012

"Mean Girls" (2004)

Starring Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams and Tina Fey
Written by Tina Fey
Directed by Mark Waters
Rated PG-13 - Language, teen drinking, sexual themes
Running Time: 96 Minutes

Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) is a young girl who for most of her life was home-schooled by her parents, (Neil Flynn and Ana Gasteyer) who were zoologists working in Africa.  Now that they have returned to the United States, they've decided that it's time Cady went to high school and had a social life. So Cady enrolls at North Shore High and instantly has no idea how to deal with people.

She soon falls in with outcasts Janice (Lizzy Caplan) and Damien (Daniel Franzese).  They inform her about the various cliques in the school, including "The Plastics" - the ultimate queen bitches who rule North Shore with an iron fist.  First is Karen (Amanda Seyfried), the dumb blond.  Second is Gretchen (Lacey Chabert), the suck-up.  And finally, Regina (Rachel McAdams), the leader.

When Janice learns that the Plastics have taken an interest in Cady, she convinces Cady to join them in order to get dirt on them.  Cady develops a crush on Aaron (Jonathan Bennett) who just happens to be Regina's ex.  When Regina finds out, she sabotages things between Cady and Aaron, taking Aaron for herself.  Cady and Janice concoct a plan for revenge, but unfortunately, Cady has begun to go native.  She's spent so much time undercover amongst the Plastics, that she's actually become one of them, and starts hurting everyone around her.

As things get worse and worse, the entire school begins to turn against Cady and against each other.  Without her friends and her family, Cady has no idea how to fix things.  Unfortunately for her, Regina isn't going to take her humiliation sitting down, and her revenge could tear the entire school apart.

My, what a few years does.  Before she became a tabloid joke, Lindsay Lohan was a promising young actress with a career that was about to take off.  If we can separate ourselves from the knowledge of what's transpired since, Lohan is still a watchable, talented young woman in "Mean Girls."

Lohan ably inhabits the intelligent but socially awkward Cady (so often referred to as "caddy" by the film's other characters) and has solid comedic timing to deliver the script's many funny lines.  Looking back, Cady seems to almost be a sort of milder, younger version of Tina Fey's Liz Lemon "30 Rock" character, with a similar manner and way of speaking at times.  Lohan functions best in Cady's more innocent phases, but she doesn't quite sell Cady's bitchier "Plastic" self.  The script requires that this version of the character be believable, since the people around her need to believe it, but some of Lohan's line readings don't work.

Thankfully, in the moments where Lohan's performance isn't quite up to snuff, the talented supporting cast are there to fix things.  The other members of the Plastics are all superbly cast.  While Amanda Seyfried is criminally underutilized as Karen, Lacey Chabert and Rachel McAdams get big laughs.  Chabert is the ultimate bronzed ditz, innocent but so stupid as to say she can't help it for being so popular during a scene in which the characters must apologize to those they've wronged.  McAdams, on the other hand, is an interesting character because while her character shares some of the ditzy characteristics of the others, her methods of revenge are clever and devious, showing she does have some intelligence - she just happens to, mostly, be a pretty vain bitch.  But even she isn't above redemption in the end.

Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzese make a lovable pair.  Caplan's trademark sarcasm is on full display, and the script throws her some great lines.  Better still, she sometimes merely appears in the background and makes funny gestures, and those are just as funny.  Franzese, playing Caplan's very, very gay friend, is also great.  The script lets him be extremely effeminate, but it doesn't mock him at all.  In fact, he might be one of the film's most endearing characters.  A scene in which Janice and Cady argue while Damien slowly circles the street in his car, begging to be allowed to drive home, is a riot.

The adults in the film are all played by recognizable TV comedians, including Neil Flynn and Ana Gasteyer as Cady's parents.  They get limited screen time, far less than Tim Meadows and Tina Fey as the school's principal and Cady's math teacher.  But they all get at least a few good moments in, and their presence helps anchor the film.

But "Mean Girls" is far from perfect.  There are jokes that fall flat, and as I mentioned before, Lohan's performance is good but not flawless.  It occasionally feels like a couple of scenes could be tucked and trimmed here or there to make things go a little smoother, and I wanted more from Amanda Seyfried.  Mark Waters' direction isn't exactly artful, but he gets the job done.  The film is breezy and lightly colored, which softens the script's pointed satire of high school cliques.  I'm not sure "Mean Girls" would have benefited from a tighter, more vicious director since that might sacrifice some of its watchability.  As an adult, it's easy to look at "Mean Girls" and recognize a lot of the things it has to say about the nature of high school and teenage social behavior.

And, as an adult, it's probably pretty easy to write off "Mean Girls" as that one movie that Lindsay Lohan was known for before she went nuts.  But you probably shouldn't - it's a good, funny film.