Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mean Girls (2004)

Lindsay Lohan, the actress, I miss you.

I saw Lohan's film debut, The Parent Trap (1998), on the big screen in 1998. Then, she was 12 and showed great promise as an actress.

Mean Girls, which followed six years later, is another career highlight before Lohan hit tough times starting in 2007. Driving under the influence, several stints in rehab, brushes with the law. Lindsay, what went wrong? Were your friends a bad influence? Friendship gets put under the microscope in Mean Girls.

The film has a neat premise. Take a girl, Lohan's Cady Heron, who has been home schooled while her parents worked in Africa. There, Heron learned about how to survive in the wild.

Then, she starts high school.

Heron soon learns all kinds of cliques exist at her place of learning. Only one - outcasts Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese) offer her a friendly welcome. The Plastic Girls - Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert) and Amanda Seyfried (Karen Smith) are tops. Well, most of that honour belongs to Regina. She's the Queen Bee, the beautiful blond everyone else wants to be.

Bad blood between former friends George and Ian prompts the latter to hatch a plan. Heron will befriend Regina and her crew with dreams of revenge for a past wrong. Trouble is, Cady finds she starts to like being part of a group everyone else follows religiously. A gifted student, she opts to go the dumb route in math and her average falls - dramatically. She dreams of Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett), the nice, good-looking guy who sits in front of her in math. Too bad he's the ex-boyfriend of Regina. The Queen Bee doesn't take kindly to Heron's interest in her past beau.

Mean Girls is several films rolled into one. It's, at times, a gross out comedy with nods to flatulence and breast augmentation. Mean Girls can be a sharply written and wise comedy from Tina Fey, who also appears as math teacher Ms. Newbury.

"Moderately priced soaps are my calling," Janis suggests at the retail store she works at. "In girl world all the fighting had to be sneaky," Cady learns. "You smell like a baby prostitute," Janis suggests when Heron dabs the perfume a little too eagerly. "She knew it was better to be in the Plastics hating life than not to be in at all," Cady observes when plans to topple the group begin working.

Mean Girls can also be very, very funny - if over-the-top, when students learn of the contents of Regina's Burn Book, a catty tome filled with rumours and secrets of all the other girls at the high school. It's during this scene I wondered if Mean Girls was trying to give nods to other teen or education-related films. Is that a hint of Carrie when Regina smiles at all the fights her comments cause? Isn't that a reference to Lean on Me when principal Mr. Duvall (Tim Meadows) grabs a baseball bat when the mayhem starts? And could that be a suggestion to Heathers when it's suggested several nasty ladies are killed by a passing school bus? Readers, please weigh in.

There's also a very funny reference to group bonding activities when all the girls must apologize to someone they've wronged before falling backwards to be caught by a crowd of classmates. Smart stuff.

Finally, how about Mean Girls' nod to complicit parents who don't lay the law down at home? Regina talks her parents out of their master bedroom. Her younger sister watches wildly improper sex-related videos on television. One, a nod to Girls Gone Wild, is a little uncomfortable to watch. Mrs. George (Amy Poehler) wants to be a friend, not a guiding force who lays down the law when needed.

If this is what life is really like for girls in high school, ouch. Back stabbing and trash talking. Yikes. But, to echo a comment I believe the late Roger Ebert made many years ago, why are these kids so old?

Rachel McAdams was in her mid-twenties when Mean Girls was shot in Toronto and New Jersey, same with Daniel Franzese. At least Lindsay Lohan was still in her late teens. Why aren't younger actors used?

Lindsay, you're a fine actress. You're great to watch here as the new kid trying to get the lay of the land in a savage world. Get yourself cleaned up and start to get people talking about your work on the big screen again. Thanks.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Junior Plastics made a brief appearance at the film's end. Megan Millington and Shannon Todd have done little else. Tara Shelley has 10 screen credits.

Nice touch. A remake of Blondie's Rip Her to Shreds helps open the film.

Wow. Tim Meadows played Sammy Davis, Jr., in Wayne's World 2. Saw the film, didn't remember his appearance as the Candy Man.

Lohan's first credit was as a trick or treater dressed as garbage on David Letterman's talk show in 1992.

Director Mark Waters also guided Lohan through another early career highlight, the remake of Freaky Friday 2003.

No comments: