Mean Girls Movie Review

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The stinging wit of first-time screenwriter Tina Fey -- acerbic co-host of Weekend Update on "Saturday Night Live," and the show's head writer -- gives "Mean Girls" a zest and zing few high school comedies ever muster.

An outwardly stereotypical teen movie about the new girl in school (Lindsay Lohan) being torn between arty out-crowd real friends who initially welcome her and the catty, curvy, callous queen bees of the campus, who covet her knockout looks to bolster their ranks, it's a flick with a surprisingly subversive nature: Cady (Lohan) begins socially canoodling with the elitist "plastics" not because she wants to be popular, but because she wants to help bring them down.

Invited into the "cool" clique by Barbie-doll blonde Regina (Rachel McAdams, "The Hot Chick") and her clingy cohorts (Lacey Chabert and Amanda Seyfried), Cady reports back on their "Heathers"-like cruelty to her outcast pals, Janis the coal-eyed punker chick (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian the big, burly, proudly queeny teddy bear (Daniel Franzese).

Together they plan to sabotage the vindictive girls' popularity and self-confidence. But having grown up in isolated corners of Africa as the home-schooled daughter of zoologist parents, Cady is ill-prepared for her foray into the jungles of an American high school -- a concept that is given laugh-out-loud life through Cady's imagination. She frequently equates teenage behavior with Darwinism on the veldt, complete with visions of kids stalking the halls like jaguars, shrieking like apes and picking fleas off one another.

It isn't long, however, before the siren song of the snooty fashionistas has Cady entranced. But at least her genuine naivete (she doesn't even understand the concept of needing a hall pass to go to the bathroom) gives this formulaic transformation some uncommon credibility.

Lohan has terrific everygirl charm that lends itself well to the insecurity and clumsiness that Hollywood uses as ham-fisted shorthand for bringing gorgeous starlets down to a level where average girls can identify with them. But what makes "Mean Girls" unique is its shrewd observations about what some teenage girls will do for popularity.

Very loosely adapted from Rosalind Wiseman's best-selling advice book "Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence," the movie sardonically taps into many unspoken teenage-girl realities -- everything from insecure mothers who desperately cling to their youth by living vicariously through their daughters (as "SNL's" Amy Poehler does as Regina's hanger-on mom) to the fact that many smart girls will dumb themselves down to attract boys (as Cady does in her calculus class).

But while "Mean Girls" never loses its sarcastic edge, it does eventually succumb to its own conscience and the last act beats into the ground the book's central themes of open communication and self-esteem. Fey, in her on-screen role as a snarky, flaky math teacher, even gives a speech to an assembly full of junior girls in which she flat-out states the movie's message:

"Calling somebody else fat will not make you any thinner. Calling somebody stupid will not make your smarter. And you've got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it all right for guys to call you that."

But even if "Mean Girls" is all thumbs in its earnest, honest, open delivery of such substance, at least director Mark S. Waters (Lohan's "Freaky Friday" collaborator) isn't superficial about it. Most people who make movies aimed at teenagers feel obligated, however insincerely, to espouse some kind of values -- even lowbrow sex-and-body-fluid flicks like the "American Pie" trilogy. Few of them are well written enough get their point across without suspending their sense of humor.

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Mean Girls Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, WIDE: Friday, April 30, 2004

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