Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Mean Girls

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

MEAN GIRLS

6/10

USA 2004 : Mark S WATERS : 97 mins

Director Waters’ Freaky Friday remake was one of the more unlikely critical and commercial hits of last summer, showcasing a resurgent Jamie Lee Curtis as the mother who accidentally body-swaps with her teenage daughter. But the film wouldn’t have worked if the actress playing the daughter (arguably the tricker role, essayed by Jodie Foster in the 1976 version) hadn’t been up to scratch. And the relatively-unknown Lindsay Lohan certainly didn’t let anyone down. She now reteams with Waters for Mean Girls: and box-office returns of over $80m on a reported $17m budget have firmly cemented her status as the reigning “screen teen queen.”

Her character Cady Heron isn’t your average high-schooler: educated at home in Africa by her American parents until the age of 17, Cady faces a severe culture shock when she’s enrolled at Illinois’ North Shore High. The fish-out-of-water is quickly befriended by another pair of misfits, feisty art-student Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and the hefty-but-flamboyant Damien (Daniel Franzese), who is, in Janis’s phrase, “almost too gay to function.” Janis and Damien see in Cady their chance to obtain revenge on the trio of hyper-glamorous, supremely ‘mean’ babes they derisively dub “the Plastics.” Under instruction from Janis and Damien, Cady becomes pally the Plastics: airhead Karen (Amanda Seyfried), gossip-monger Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and the Queen Bee, Regina (Rachel McAdams). But it isn’t long before Caddy realises she may have bitten off more than she can chew…

Mean Girls has a slightly odd pedigree for a mainstream Hollywood feature: the screenplay (by Saturday Night Live bigwig Tina Fey) is officially “based on” Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes, a well-regarded non-fiction manual for parents subtitled Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques Gossip
Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence
. “Inspired by” would be closer to the mark – Fey and Waters’ film is a relatively conventional (and predictable) high-school comedy, with snappy dialogue, believable characterisations and (mostly) decent gags to counteract the somewhat ‘functional’ direction.

There are some distinct low-spots, such as the two (mercifully brief) interludes in which Cady, flashing back to her African upbringing, imagines her fellow students acting like jungle creatures – basically an excuse for the actors to indulge in some of the “I’m a tiger! Raaaaar!” role-play familiar from the first weeks of any drama school. Equally ill-advised is a somewhat tasteless running-gag in which characters are (or appear to be) knocked over by school buses, Final Destination-style. And Cady doesn’t half sound like a born-and-bred Yank for a girl supposedly brought up among native-Africans in the veldt.

But Lohan is sufficiently believable and appealing to cancel out these negatives. And while there’s no Curtis around to kick things up to the next level, the star does get to play several key scenes opposite several talented older performers: while Lohan was Cady’s age during filming, Chabert and Caplin were 21, Franzese 25 and the youthful-looking McAdams a barely-believable 26. Aren’t teenagers allowed to play teenagers any more?

15th June, 2004
(seen 14th June : Odeon, Newcastle-upon-Tyne : press show)

by Neil Young