Yesterday was October 3rd. I don’t know how much that matters to most of you, but a throwaway joke from Mean Girls makes that relevant to me. And I did review Mean Girls a long time ago for a little bit of blogging I’d rather not revisit in my mind, but I am willing to take some time to get my head out of that horror pile (because even for me, believe it or not, that sort of regimen is exhausting) to briefly make a quickie for Mean Girls. And this will be a quickie, because in my first review for the movie, I found I had very little to say and this time around, I think I have even less.
We can at least start with this absolute simple fact: It is the most quotable movie of my generation. I’m not sure how snuggly I fall into this generation, but I know I’m in it. When the movie came out, I was in middle school. I deliberately avoided it because I was a middle school boy. I was not into chick flicks, thinking them to be thinly girly without any real cool stuff like gore-thirsty serial killers (Freddy vs. Jason being one of my middle school pursuits) or wacky crazy cops who happen to also know how to use a gun making heads splatter (Bad Boys II was another one). Testosterone meant quality to me, not writing, not acting and especially not high school girls.
But I could not avoid all the girls in the hall quoting Mean Girls all the time with their “On Wednesdays, we wear pink” and “you go, Glen Coco!”. And it stuck around me into high school to have such an influential presence on people – the fact that a lot of kids around me ended up wanting to create their own cliques specifically based on featured ones in the movie makes me note that the point of the movie went over their heads like the hip hop stars who idolize Tony Montana – that once word went around a bit at the time the movie came out that I was Algerian, people began saying “Oh so you’re from Africa, like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls” and began addressing me as “Africa”. Ok, this movie got me compared to Lohan and made my school life feel like a much more juvenile form of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, I’m definitely not going to be interested in it now.
And I wasn’t so much. Until college when a girl I was close with finally convinced me to sit down and watch it with her. I pretty much approached it as blankly as I possibly could and it seems to have been appropriate, honestly.
To best of my ability to sum up the plot in a rush: After having been home-schooled in Africa all of her life by her zoologist parents, Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) returns to America and takes her first step into high school and easily witnesses the division between students – but first by accidentally embedding into two particular groups…
First, the outcasts Janis (Lizzy Caplan, who maybe because I watched too much Lizzie Maguire, I mistaked for Lalaine initially. Anybody else remember her? No? That’s ok, Masters of Sex looks good) and Damian (Daniel Franzese) take a liking to her. Then, Regina George (Rachel McAdams) and her group The Plastics (Amanda Seyfried & Lacey Chabert) and, upon really witnessing how distasteful George acts towards students, makes a plan with Janis and Damian to ruin the Plastics in the school. Except that Cady begins taking a liking to her supposed “fake” friends and her interests become torn between the two warring groups.
Huh, y’know, it’s funny how I mentioned Yojimbo because I think I accidentally made the movie sound just like if Sanjuro had a crush on one of the gangsters and wore pink.
Mean Girls is not CINEMA!!! by any means. It’s just a really fun movie to watch, which also happens to be a little bit smarter than it originally lets on. And it does this without necessarily needing to subvert genres like other well-written high school films like Rian Johnson’s neo-noir Brick or Robert Rodriguez’s horror The Faculty carries other genre baggage to parallel high school tropes. No, instead screenwriter Tina Fey uses the book Teen Queens and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman as her little spine. That’s right, the starting point of this sarcastic as hell movie was a self-help book. And maybe it’s just to beat the book into the shape of a movie or because Fey might have know that sometimes self-help books just don’t fucking know a damn thing about people (maybe I’m just being a mean… boy?), but Fey decided to take a more Cameron Crowe-esque approach to adapting the book to a screenplay by using her own personal experiences to actually pad the shape of the story into something actually worth a watch without feeling too preachy or moralizing. It also helped give the book a more grounded reality based on it, though that reality gets undercut by how completely Saturday Night Live farcical the movie’s humor gets (producer Lorne Michaels is in fact best known as the primary runner and executive producer of SNL). Amanda Seyfried, who stands out most as the comic relief and does outstanding with it, is the main source of this undercutting… as hard as that pains me to admit.
But the script works for the most part. It’s funny, it’s aware, it’s smart, it’s not holding too many punches back and it moves pretty smoothly until a very Good Vibes ex Machina resolution to the movie’s plot that isn’t entirely adequate for how severe the movie makes out the growing separations between Cady and company. It’s pretty much a tie-up ending just for the sake of getting everything over with once they realize they can’t be funny anymore. That’s fine, I’ll bite. There’s also some extraneous characters that could have either been embedded a little bit more into the conflict as a mediator or just about done with to make it a jungle filled only with high school students, namely the principal (Tim Meadows) and Coach Carr (Dwayne Hill), all of which have some scene they get to steal, but none of which really feels more than a distraction from the point of the film. And then there is Tina Fey’s character, Ms. Norsbury, who is clearly only there to play as the all-knowing all-wise teacher who, in one scene, begins to lead all the students into a “kumbaya”-esque resolve at the gym for one another’s fights, long before she feels like an active presence in the students’ lives. Which bugs me when a writer barely puts him or herself into the film and then ends up just being that one person who knows the answer to everything for the movie to be happiness and rainbows again. Whatever, maybe that’s just me. It’s a scene I was glad to have very harshly undercut by a line by Damien that will take you aback in laughter, I promise.
But it doesn’t help that, save for Seyfried and a very surprisingly subtle despicable McAdams, all the other actors are just about good enough to pass off for their characters but still being caught acting. Lohan, caught right before her career took an unfortunate plummet, lets herself be the surrogate of the audience by really just touching on the few emotional beats are necessary. Meadows, Caplan, Chabert and Fey in the meantime only play to their regular screen personas in the most cookie-cutter fashion. We get some pretty loopy points from the obvious BFF-of-Fey Amy Poehler that I kind of don’t know whether to laugh at or go “Oh why, no wonder Regina is so fucked up” and almost everyone who is not Franzese is completely disposable (including Neil Flynn in a fruitless role as Cady’s dad just to give the movie some sense of parental presence, I guess, since Poehler sure as hell ain’t giving that).
I said that the screenplay was the movie’s biggest strength. But that doesn’t mean it is the movie’s only strength, though. Director Mark Waters was chosen to overlook the film’s production and honestly, he was quite the inspired choice. From 1997’s The House of Yes onward till this year’s Vampire Academy, Waters has pretty much made his mark as a director who specializes with directing female actors and facilitating their emotions and conflicts on screen, especially in a younger setting. He’s certainly not as good at this as, say, Ingmar Bergman, but of course, Bergman is always reaching too high. I’m actually pretty much kicking myself right now for bothering bringing up both Kurosawa and Bergman into an article about Mean Girls. Shit, Salim, get into the groove.
But like I said, in spite of cinematography not really being a factor (or called for, can you imagine lens all over this movie or filters? It’s look like Brian De Palma’s Carrie except less scary and more huh?), Waters at least knows how to establish a lively environment for the young actors to really use as a basis for their classroom dramas, bringing out the different colors in everybody’s peachy outfits and a light-hearted parody-zone of kids bantering about silly things like proms to allow for jokes and humor to seep in without going “wait, this all pretty sober and serious a moment ago.” It certainly feels more like high school and less like a soundstage (*cough*BoyMeetsWorld*cough*), a college (*cough*10thingsihateaboutyou*cough*) and a library (*cought*buffythevampireslayer*cough*) without trying really covering itself in some realistic shadow like Brick or the John Hughes films would. It’s bright, it’s almost blinding in the hallways and that’s because all the students are supposed to be bright and chipper ideally, until we get to hearing them talk about each other in their backs and all.
Alongside Waters’ direction and Fey’s wit, the movie passes along pretty great and makes for a pretty entertaining movie that, if you don’t at least learn something about how life is when you’re young and how almost every little thing seems like the end of the world at that age (or really any age), you’ll at least come out smiling and start bothering people senselessly by just randomly spouting lines like “Oh my god, you can’t just ask people why they’re white” or “She doesn’t even go here” or “one time she punched me in the face… it was awesome” or…
… Fuck it, man, I swear to God, these quotes are goddamn contagious.