Director: Mark Waters
Verdict: Nearly a masterpiece
Whenever I seem to review a female-centric sassy teen flick these days I seem to keep referring back to Mean Girls. I remember reviewing The DUFF when I was on Tumblr and noting just how much it was making an effort to set itself in a post Mean Girls world but at the same time distance itself from Mean Girls. Just last month I reviewed Clueless and noted how much Mean Girls didn’t have the problematic plot points that Clueless did, how much Mean Girls clearly improved on the formula Clueless set down. I mean I saw this at the same cinema and the cult following Mean Girls comes with was demonstrable. People laughed at Clueless but not like they laughed at Mean Girls, not like I laughed at Mean Girls, they applauded at the end of Mean Girls in way they definitely didn’t at Clueless. The only teen film in recent memory I can recall that definitively didn’t exist in the large shadow cast by Mean Girls would be Juno, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World if we stretch the definitions of a teen film, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower purely by virtue that the book it’s based on was written in the 80s.
Mean Girls follows Cady played by infamous train wreck Lindsay Lohan, (The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday, The Canyons), before she went off the rails, (see what I did there?). Cady until now has been home schooled in Africa with her parents and now comes to high school to find it’s not so different from Africa.
Mean Girls succeeds through, firstly, assured direction from Mark Waters, (Freaky Friday, The Spiderwick Chronicles) who has a real sense of when to mix in the more satirical naturistically played segments with the expressionistic, stylistic moments. Secondly, the great performances her elicits. The film benefits from a very likable and sympathetic lead in Lohan and a truly magnetic turn from villainesse and high school queen bee archetype Regina George, whose name has now become infamous, played with scenery-chewing glee by Rachel McAdams, (Sherlock Holmes, Spotlight, About Time), who was just nominated for an oscar for another fantastic turn in best picture winner Spotlight, she has really matured as an actress in a force to be reckoned with. There’s also a myriad of wonderfully game supporting players from; Amanda Seyfried, (Mamma Mia!, Les Misérables) and Lacey Chabert as George’s hapless minions; Tina Fey, (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and Tim Meadows, (Saturday Night Live, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) as the equally hapless teachers; with Lizzy Caplan, (Cloverfield), Daniel Franzese, (I Spit on Your Grave), and Amy Poehler, (Inside Out) rounding off the fantastic ensemble, each one turning in memorable and career defining performances.
The real joy of Mean Girls though is in Tina Fey’s biting screenplay. The humour isn’t nearly as safe as something like Clueless and many of the jokes causes one to go ‘hang on did someone actually just say that in a studio teen flick?’ one of the most memorable being ‘I can’t help it if I have a heavy flow and a wide set vagina’. The fact is that this film isn’t afraid to address the way it’s protagonists would speak in real life, the things they’d talk about and the jokes they make. You could write off a lot of the jokes as crass and vacuous if they weren’t just so on point. It’s a joke a minute and some of the jokes are actually as sharp and scabrous as something from John Micheal or Martin McDonagh, (In Bruges , Calvary, War on Everyone). The jokes will make you cringe as much as some of their jokes but the reason here is more that it will remind you of your own time at high school, your own mistakes and awkward moments and times you let down your friends. The film has an emotional truth as well as a comedic sense.
There’s an attempt in the last act to humanise the roughest edged characters to a degree and there’s one scene that sticks out in everyone’s mind as being extraordinarily cheesy but you just read that as a tongue in cheek poking at how teen flicks end with a big cheesy set peice, (I really need to stop forgiving films by saying it’s satirical, post-modernism means never having to say you’re sorry), or it might just be a fop to the studios. However, for the most part, Mean Girls is a biting, edgy, lough out loud hilarious teen comedy that stands out from the crowd by not holding back and having an ensemble game cast, along with a director who understands how to construct a joke really well and will go completely over the top if that’s what it takes to get a laugh. In short, Mean Girls is a joy.