Mean Girls (2004) (mini-review++)

(If you’re curious, my review process. It’s also pasted at the end of this post. I don’t believe in Rotten Tomatoes. I just believe in me.)

(***all-purpose SPOILER ALERT*** there may be some in this review)

acting 8

directing 9

effects 9

editing 8

writing 10

SW SCORE: 44

5 out of 5 🐙

++

Hollywood high school comedies follow a template. In almost every high school comedy, the lovable protagonist is a loser. He or she pines away for the love of the most popular person in school but has no hopes of getting it because she is an aforementioned loser.

Inevitably, fate, or some such shit, intervenes and transforms the loser into a winner. They rise from the untouchable class into the popular class. They get the IT girl or the IT guy. Then something takes it all away and they have to fight and show their true colors to end up back on top.

Mean Girls follows this template. That’s not an insult. Virtually every movie follows the same three act structure. There are only 7 original plots – everything you ever see is a variation on one of those plots. It’s not the skeleton of your story (because we’ve been writing them the same way since Ancient Greece was New York City), it’s the flesh and blood. It’s how you get us to that familiar triumph that makes a movie or a book or any story, great.

Lindsay Lohan and director Mark S. Waters made a box office splash with Freaky Friday, a remake that raked in over 100 million clams. I thought it was average at best for several reasons. First off, it was a remake and I am categorically opposed to recycling stories. It’s just a Hollywood studio executive’s way to fleece the drooling public. Secondly, it didn’t add anything in its interpretation of the original. If you’re going to remake it, actually REMAKE it, don’t just update the costumes and slang. When I heard the same director and actress were teaming up for Mean Girls, I was not enthusiastic.

I mention this because Mean Girls‘ plot seemed hauntingly familiar. New, unpopular girl in school gets taken in by an all powerful clique of popular girls. It was an old formula. But then I reminded myself that the formula doesn’t matter, it’s the presentation. I also went because Lohan is (was) ridiculously charming and cute and so were all her “high school” friends in the movie (probably played by 23-year-old actresses). She was as if Strawberry Shortcake came to life and was endearingly clumsy with some edge. 

I’m glad I gave it a chance because it is not your average girl. Lohan’s character, Cady Heron, is not your typical loser. She is fresh from another continent and has been home schooled her whole life by her zoologist parents. She doesn’t know anything about high school society. She doesn’t want to be popular. Sure, she wants to be liked by the people who surround her, but not to the point that she’s desperate. She’s not the typical unpopular American kid who has given up and is jaded. Lohan’s turn makes it impossible for even my metallic heart not to like her.

She’s just a nice, friendly kid who happens to be roaring hot. Hey, don’t take my word for it. Her outcast friend, Janis call her “a regulation hottie.” Like how the outcasts in Hollywood movies are always incredibly attractive? I can’t say that I mind too much. No one would pay money to see my ugly punim on screen. Back to Cady: She enters the school on her first day and is immediately snubbed by all the students because they are already in their own cliques. Her isolation is so complete that she is forced to eat her lunch in a bathroom stall because no group will let her sit with them.

The only clique to embrace her are the “Mathletes”, the math club dorks. Their leader, Kevin Gnapoor (Rajiv Surenda) sports a business card which reads “Math Enthusiast/Bad Ass M.C.” His “dork who doesn’t realize he’s unpopular” harkens back to Seth Green’s role in Can’t Hardly Wait. In both cases, whenever the Uber-confident geeks are on screen, they steal the scene.

Her hilariously forlorn math teacher (Tina Fey playing herself basically) tries to get her to join the Mathletes teams so that “the team could actually meet a girl” but she dodges them and runs into two friendly outcasts, Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese). They belong to no clique, a clique in and of itself if you think about it, and they befriend Cady and tell her all about the school and its social hierarchy. They especially warn her about The Plastics, a trio of ridiculously popular girls who are led by Regina George (Rachel McAdams), a complete and utter monster. She is, after all, the prototype “mean girl.” Her popularity is so unrivaled that one loser gushes: “One time she punched me in the face. It was so great.”

By chance occurrence, the most popular girls in the school meet her and decide to add her to their ranks. Cady is not sure about their offer because Janis and Damian have warned her about Regina being the embodiment of evil. But upon hearing of Regina’s invite, Janis and Damian force Cady to “pretend” to be a friend to the Plastics so that they can get invaluable gossip and strike back at the evil clique.

Of course, the plan starts out well and the Plastics begin to break apart and, gasp, gain weight. Regina’s right-hand gal, Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chabert), becomes insanely jealous of Regina (thanks to some hilarious conference call manipulation by Cady). She vents her hostility by alluding to their situation in a paper about Julius Caesar: (in what may be the funniest monologue of the movie). “Brutus is just as cute as Caesar!,” she exclaims. But the funniest line comes from one of the multiple scene stealers in this film, Karen Smith, an impossibly dumb member of the plastics played with a wondrous lack of self-awareness by Amanda Seyfried. I don’t want to type it here because if you haven’t seen this movie, I want you to go in fresh. But things start to go badly when Cady begins to act a little too much like the Plastics and dares to fall for Regina’s ex-boyfriend. Their high school celebrity infects her, and she begins to change into the thing her friends despised in the first place.

Will Cady save her soul? You probably know the answer. But the ending will surprise you, and the getting there will leave you in stitches.

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(1) Shark Wrighter (SW) Score: Based on a sum of 5 sub-scores (acting, directing, writing/story, effects: cinematography &/or animation &/or effects, editing) with 1 being terrible and 10 being terrific.

(2) Octopuses (0-5 🐙, with 5 being fantastic and 0 being feces)

(3) Octopuses are my unquantifiable feeling…not that SW score is scientific…but this one is even less so

(4) ++ This optional section includes any incredibly *brilliant observations that don’t fit into simple quantitative slices like the scores and octopuses *(they are likely NOT brilliant)

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