Mean Girls (2004)
Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Tina Fey, Tim Meadows, Amy Poehler, Lizzy Caplan. Directed by Mark Waters; written by Tina Fey.
It’s easy to forget what a bright talent Linsday Lohan was in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Mean Girls is a great reminder. It makes me want to see her in other films I’ve missed.
Lohan plays Cady Heron, whose zoologist parents have homeschooled her in Africa before accepting tenure at Northwestern University. At sixteen, Cady experiences school for the first time, and quickly learns that you can’t just sit anywhere you want, in the classroom or in the cafeteria. You can’t just get up to go the bathroom during class—you need the hall pass, and the teacher’s not giving you the hall pass because students can’t be trusted. And no matter how much you love math (or how good you are at it), you can’t join the math team if you don’t want to commit social suicide.
She quickly befriends Janis and Damien, two fringe-dwelling artistic types who help her make some sense of this crazy new terrain, but because she’s pretty, she’s also adopted by the Plastics, three beautiful young women whom everyone hates and envies. She has very little in common with the Plastics, whose leader, Regina George, sets all the school’s fashion trends without trying, but Janis and Damien encourage her to accept Regina’s invitation to join, acting as kind of a spy.
Things quickly get a little crazy, and while Cady seems ill equipped to deal with some of the choices confronting her, it’s clear she’s smart enough to figure most of them out, and this is one of the things that makes me like this picture. When she does stupid things to get the attention of the handsome senior who sits in front of her in calculus, or when she’s caught saying unkind things behind someone’s back, she doesn’t look around for someone to blame. Although she can be slow to take responsibility herself, she eventually owns up for everything without ever pointing at others.
Mean Girls has a few stupid, goofy moments I’m mostly willing to overlook, because it’s a fun, smart, well-directed, well-acted film with a lot for high-schoolers to love. Rachel McAdams, Lizzy Caplan, and (especially) Amanda Seyfried are luminous in their shiny, pink vinyl way, and the school’s grownups are (mostly) well represented, particularly Tim Meadows as the principal and Tina Fey as the math teacher. There’s a really bad touchy-feely moment at the end I hate, but I expect young viewers will respond positively to it. I would like to have shown this to my students in class so we could unpack it together.
I’ve seen it three times now, and it’s a very re-watchable movie, a good candidate for a purchase.
PS: If you see it on a DVD containing special features, I recommend the featurettes, especially the one about costuming. The commentary (with Tina Fey, director Mark Waters, and producer Lorne Michaels) isn’t especially illuminating, but parts of it are enjoyable.