Mean Girls (2004)

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Directed by Mark Waters
Screenplay by Tina Fey

Rated PG-13

Lindsay Lohan as Cady Heron
Rachel McAdams as Regina George
Lacey Chabert as Gretchen Wieners
Amanda Seyfried as Karen Smith
Lizzy Caplan as Janis Ian
Daniel Franzese as Damien
Tina Fey as Miss Sharon Norbury
Tim Meadows as Principal Ron Duvall
Jonathan Bennett as Aaron Samuels
Amy Poehler as Mrs. George
Rajiv Surendra as Kevin Gnapoor
Ana Gasteyer as Betsey Heron
Neil Flynn as Chip Heron
Diego Klattenhoff as Shane Oman
Daniel DeSanto as Jason

This is one smartest, funniest, and most intuitive teen comedies of all time.  It is often quoted, often imitated, and beloved by filmgoers – and for good reason.  It is arguably writer-actress Tina Fey’s finest hour in both roles as writer and actress.  The film is adapted from Rosalind Wiseman’s 2002 self-help book Queen Bees and Wannabes.

Lindsay Lohan gives her best performance (no small feat, since she was great in 2003’s Disney remake of Freaky Friday) as Africa transplant Cady Heron.  Her parents have relocated to the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, and her educational career of being home-schooled has ended.  She’s now about to be “socialized” in the big, bad world of public schools.  Cady is a “regulation hottie,” so the masses are drawn to her.  These include her real friends, artsy outcasts Janis and Damien (Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzese).  Janis and Damien are individuals; Janis is an ostracized cynic, while Damien is “almost too gay to function.”  Meanwhile, Cady also attracts the attention of “teen royalty,” otherwise known as “The Plastics,” led by the ruthless but “fabulous” Regina George (Rachel McAdams, in her breakthrough year – Mean Girls and The Notebook were released within a month of each other). Regina’s minions include Gretchen (Lacey Chabert, little Claudia from television’s Party of Five) and Karen (Amanda Seyfried, now successful for musical films Mamma Mia! and Les Miserables).

Cady is invited to join Regina and company for lunch, and Janis resolves this would be the prime opportunity to expose Regina’s manipulative nature.  Cady reluctantly agrees, but things get complicated when Cady develops a crush on math classmate Aaron (Jonathan Bennett), Regina’s ex-boyfriend.  Gretchen informs Cady “the rules of feminism” dictate Cady may not pursue Aaron, but Gretchen divulges Cady’s crush to Regina nonetheless.

Of course, the claws come out when it comes down to girlfriends vying for the attention of one boy. Cady is innocent, pretty, smart, and centered; but Regina is glamorous, seductive, and a master of her craft: getting what she wants.  Aaron, and the performance by Bennett, is entirely believable, giving us a smart and normal teenage male, recognizing the pros and cons of both options.

The pleasure – and long-lasting appeal of Mean Girls – is the direction of the script.  Fey adapted the nonfiction book without falling victim to contrivances and predictable by-the-numbers anecdotes.  The young actors are perfect in their roles, with Lohan and McAdams terrific as adversaries.  Waters, who directed Lohan in Freaky Friday, is adept at working with actors of various ages.

The key roles of Janis, Damien, and The Plastics are well cast, with Lohan and McAdams effective and plausible in two of the year’s best performances.  Supporting roles by frequent Fey collaborator Amy Poehler, Saturday Night Live alum Tim Meadows, and Diego Klattenhoff (who has since had prominent roles in television hits Homeland and The Blacklist) are exactly as they should be in this film.

Mean Girls was released before the explosion of social media.  There are mobile phones featured in the film, but there is a refreshing omission of Facebook, Twitter, and the rest … I think the absence of the social media aspect makes Mean Girls seem more grounded, even innocent – despite how firmly realistic and credible the film seems.

There are many, many laughs in Mean Girls, but it is also smart and engaging, and it will even move you. It’s a classic that will only endure over time.

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