Mean Girls (2004) — A vicious comedy classic

“Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!”

Kyle’s rating: How come the mean girls are always the most alluring?

Kyle’s review: I guess I’ve always had a weird relationship with my high school years. Despite growing up with films like Heathers and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and all the other John Hughes and anti-Hughes cinematic highlights, I didn’t assign 9th through 12th grade with any more importance than I did with the first 7 grades (I skipped first grade). I think a lot of that is due to my inherent aloof nature (it’s my favorite Kyle trait!), but also due to the fact that my high school, nestled away in a Denver suburb, was nothing like the emotional war zones that others pass through elsewhere.

Remember: I was popular! I was salutatorian, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, co-president of the Honor Society, and prom royalty. Maybe I was too busy to notice kids getting torn to shreds by bullies and social pitfalls, or maybe I was *ahem* prone to a little bullying of my own. The point is, even though I’m quick to say my college years are much more fun and memorable than my high school years, it’s not because being in high school was the worst time in my life. It’s just that college wins out, due to an overabundance of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and a chance to get really dark and dangerous with my life choices. And once I moved to California, oh boy! I am a Mutant Reviewer, remember: it’s a distinction I’m happy to live up to.

So that weirdness I mentioned earlier comes from hanging out with friends nowadays and having nothing to match up their high school tales of misery, physical pain, and degradation. Keep in mind that a lot of my current crowd either went to California inner-city high schools (which not always but often are scary even to drive by) or to west coastal schools up in Oregon or Washington that rival Los Angeles schools for weapons possession and daily beatings.

It’s pretty whack, listening to all that with my only comparable story being when I almost got suspended when our AP English teacher told us that she thought of all of us as her children and I replied that if we were all her children (there were about 18 of us) she’d probably walk bowlegged. Is that so wrong? My team won the AP Bowl and the prize was dinner at our teacher’s house, and it was there she just threw out “Oh, yeah, I almost had you suspended but then between my husband [my geography instructor] and the principal [who loved me] we all decided to just let it slide. More lasagna?” This was like a minute after she thanked me for being the lone student on the hiring committee who had hired her the previous summer, so it was pretty crazy.

Since I’m into the fifth paragraph, maybe I should start talking about Mean Girls, yeah? But besides bragging, I wanted to show that I had a pretty well-established sense of identity in high school: I was the Venkman-like kid who approached girls and homework and attendance and everything as stuff I could con pretty much anyway I wanted. That sounds really sleazy, but it’s funny, so I’ll leave it in. My friend Kelly once told me I was the only person she knew who could do anything I wanted and get away with it. It’s the Ferris Bueller in me! What can I say: that was one of the greatest compliments anyone ever gave me. I love you, Kelly.

I also love Lindsay Lohan, but in a different way. Lohan portrays Cady Heron (pronounced “Katie Heron”), a rather unique girl who is entering Evanston Township High School as a junior after being home-schooled all her life, which was mostly spent in Africa. Her parents are anthropologists and raised her in the wild, but now her dad’s job has brought them to America and it’s time for Cady to get indoctrinated into American society through high school.

As you might guess, it’s pretty rough for Cady on that first day, since she’s used to wild animals but not as wild as American teenagers (go U.S.A.!). Thankfully, Cady is portrayed by Lohan, who is smokin’ hot, and right after she makes two friends from the outcast crowd Cady gets an ultra-rare invite to lunch with the Plastics, who are the 2004 model of the Heathers, with much more money and an appeal to a wider demographic that includes young children (no suicides or games of strip croquet in Mean Girls, sorry to say). Cady isn’t sure that she wants to go Plastic but her outcast-y friends Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese) decide they can destroy the Plastics from within if Cady will serve as a double-agent, so Cady agrees to go Plastic for nefarious purposes.

But being a Plastic means power and prestige, and that may lure Cady over to the dark side and away from the wholesome home-schooled girl she was before. Meanwhile, adult males who get dragged to Mean Girls but are strong enough to resist the charms of cinematic nubile teenagers get a double entertainment whammy from Tina Fey’s charmingly fun yet wittily caustic script and Fey’s early somewhat-gratuitous but wholly appreciated bra shot. Yeah, that’s how you sell your writing/acting skills to the audience, Tina Fey!

As Roger Ebert noted (go Roger!), Mean Girls is exceptional in the way it hits all the plot points you’d expect (Cady throws a little get-together at her house that blows up out-of-hand, Cady falls for a forbidden guy, the teachers and principal have to get involved in turmoil that occurs and one teacher in particular [go Tina Fey!] has thoughtful and honest words for the girls, Cady wears a tight shirt or ten) but doesn’t necessarily go overboard on selling those formula points as the film’s strengths. Mean Girls progresses along as you might expect, but with a couple curveballs and a resistance to the black-and-white judgments that almost always color high school movies. Friends get betrayed, but they weren’t perfect friends to begin with. Lessons are learned and karmic comeuppance is dished out, but it’s all organically evolved from the plot and much closer to real world occurrences than the usual cinematic staging where a bad guy gets a pie-in-the-face / fill-in-the-blank humiliation while everyone laughs and uplifting music plays.

Maybe nowadays everyone, even kids in high school, know that high school isn’t and shouldn’t be the highlight of your life (unless you’re a really attractive high school quarterback or cheerleader!) so high school movies don’t have to present themselves as treatises on life. It’s just four years that usually occur during the transition from childhood to adulthood, where a lot of stuff is changing and everyone is trying to find their identity in an atmosphere that seems to equate signs of vulnerability with skin diseases: if you’ve got ‘em, you keep your mouth shut about it.

I highly recommend Mean Girls. I’m a fan of Lohan (as an actress; get your mind out of the gutter, please) so I felt guilty about skipping Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, though I was just too busy with school and odd dates to hit the theaters. But Mean Girls came out at a time when all my big projects were pretty much done so I could go check it out, and I’m very glad I did. Mean Girls is pretty versatile: It can either serve as slight but rewarding entertainment or you can really think about all the character relationships and motivations and bask in the glory of a thoughtful script that got treated respectfully on the way to becoming a thoughtful movie. And it’s always great to see Tim Meadows being funny.

Go if you want to see what I think is as close to an updated version of the great ’80s high school films as we’re going to get; go if you want some sophisticated laughs within a familiar yet pleasantly-skewed story; go if you want to check out Hollywood’s idea of hot high school girls. No matter what sort of high school experience you had (or are having), Mean Girls is just plain fun. And if I picked on you in high school, I’m sorry. Wanna buy a pizza?

Clare’s rating: This movie could have easily been called Bitches, but I’m willing to bet the marketing department at Paramount wasn’t down with that idea.

Clare’s review: I rented Mean Girls one afternoon recently with my sister when we decided we were more than overdue for a girly movie extravaganza. There are certain movies we both, as card-carrying, non-girly girls, are loath to admit we actually want to see. Thusly, about twice a year, we scurry to the video store in clever disguises and hang our heads in shame while the hipster indie video store clerk, who usually can’t stand the sight of us anyway, works double time not to actually spit on us for having such bad taste. You should have seen him the time we stumbled in after getting our courage up with a couple of margaritas to try and rent Dirty Dancing.

I was sick AND on vacation last week (such GREAT timing) so my sister and I convened and determined that the only thing that would make me feel better was girls-only cheesy movie day and a lot of leftovers from Thanksgiving. We rented Mean Girls, 13 Going on 30 and Before Sunset. I’ve rented Before Sunset four times now on various occasions and have yet to actually watch it. I think I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I clearly don’t really want to see it. We got 13 Going on 30 because I love Mark Ruffalo and because, well, we’ve both been 13 before and I’m about to be 30, so what the hell? Mark Ruffalo was superb. The rest of the movie? Not so much.

But we rented Mean Girls because we’d actually both heard from a couple of different places (including Kyle’s surprisingly glowing review here) that, for a teen movie about popular high school girls, it wasn’t altogether that horrible. And when I found out that Tina Fey (who I love on Saturday Night Live) wrote the screenplay based on a book about the horror of being a teenaged girl that’s actually written for parents, we threw caution to the wind and picked it up.

I remember being a teenager. And I can’t imagine it’s gotten anything other than MORE horrifying since my time in high school. I think if I were still a teenaged girl I would have really loved this movie. Because it speaks to some really heinous crap that we (the women folk that is) put each other through year after arduous high school year. I certainly won’t pretend I was somehow more evolved than my classmates at the time I was experiencing all the insecurities and horrendous self doubt that goes along with puberty and dating and grades and whatever other drama one might have thrown at them in those years. I wasn’t popular by any stretch. But I still hated other girls. And still talked sh** about them with my friends. Even though I hated that they were doing the EXACT SAME THING to me. It’s a vicious cycle I tell you. And one that appears to be inevitable. So it was certainly refreshing to see the entire phenomenon broken down and examined like an anthropological study in human cruelty.

There are a few moments in the movie where the story veers from smart and clever into contrived and dumb. And there are a few parts that I thought were pretty shabbily thrown together. By for the most part, I really enjoyed it. Enough to even admit that I rented it and to tell anyone who I think might listen to me that it’s actually worth seeing. It’s not as great as Heathers or as realistic as Say Anything, but it’s still solid entertainment about what it’s like to be an American teenager in our wacky and wonderful public school system. Worth a gander.

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