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When a movie carries a title like Mean Girls, one has every right to expect a satirical maliciousness to underscore its events. But apart from a few fantasy scenes involving snotty teenage girls and very fast moving busses, Mean Girls is just not mean enough.
Oh, it’s occasionally witty, but then how could it not be? It was, after all, penned by Saturday Night Live scribe and acerbic Weekend Update co-host, Tina Fey. But Mean Girls loses its mettle midway through and, by the end, has evolved into a mushy-gushy pile of sentimental glop. It’s not just a disappointment, it’s a stifling disappointment.
Lindsay Lohan plays Cady Heron, a teenager who’s returned to the states after living in Africa for twelve years. Her parents enroll her in public high school — a tempestuous, hormonally turbulent world that Cady is ill-prepared for — and she immediately makes friends with the resident outcasts, the punkish Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) and the mildly fey Damian (Daniel Franzese), who, notes Janis, is almost too gay to function. ”
The trio hatch a plan for Cady to infiltrate The Plastics, ” a trio of gorgeous, less than intelligent girls Regina (Rachel McAdams) who are treated by the other students with a mixture of fear and awe. “Regina is like the Barbie doll I never had, ” marvels Cady in voice over. “I’d never seen someone so glamorous. ”
Underneath Regina’s outer-luster, however, lurks a poisonous snake. Her venom-laced comments are able to make almost any girl in school crumple in pain and shame. And she is able to snag any boy she targets, including cute Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennet), a handsome hunk with sizeable eyebrows for whom Cady’s gone ga-ga.
Cady, Janis and Damian decide to end Regina’s reign by sabotague and subterfuge. “In girl world, ” says Cady, “all the fighting had to be sneaky. ”
Naturally, relationships are severed, trusts are mislaid, and pandemonium inevitably ensues, culminating in a massive cat fight in the school’s hallways. It’s up to Cady to right her wrongs and reestablish her true friendships.
Mean Girls ought to occupy the same high school satirical genre as Heathers and Election, but it simply lacks the nerve of those films. It reaches the boundaries and then timidly backs off. The movie’s cutting edge is dull, its narrative structure pre-fabricated. Fey’s screenplay has some juicy, laugh-out-loud throwaway lines, but in basing the film on Rosalind Wiseman’s non-fiction social study of teen girl cliques, Queen Bees and Wannabes, Fey has done herself a comic injustice. The serious subtext might illuminate, but it doesn’t make for much fun. Frankly, Mark S. Waters might not have been the best choice for director — his creepingly slow, crystal light style might have suited Freaky Friday, but he lacks a basic feel for dark satire.
On the bright side, the performances are very good. Seventeen-year-old Lohan remains one of the more likable and competent actresses on the horizon, and McAdams perfectly conveys the child’s wading pool that comprises Regina’s personality. Lacy Chabert and Amanda Seyfried are fine as Regina’s fawning attendants, Tim Meadows has a few amusing moments as the beleaguered high school principal, and Fey herself, sporting her by-now fetishist glasses, gives a smartly modulated performance as Cady’s supportive math teacher.
Mean Girls sits before us like a half-baked cake with far too much frosting on top. Its sweetness inevitably leads to a severe toothache.