'Mean Girls'

MoviesEntertainmentEducationScienceHigh SchoolsSchoolsTina Fey

"Mean Girls" so totally s mean girls. Like many stories about flamboyant evil, this cheerfully frivolous teen comedy exults in the sight of mini-me Marthas flipping their perfect hair and licking their blood-flecked lips. What's not to like? Mean girls may eat you for lunch (they'll vomit you afterward to save the calories), but, unlike Hannibal Lecter, they look pretty in pink. As everyone who survived high school knows, and as media fear-mongers attest, beneath the dewy skin and those tight little bodies lies evil incarnate.

Blissfully unaware of the teen-girl menace, recent transplant Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) enters the brave new world of high school with the usual case of jitters. Fresh from someplace in Africa, Cady has spent her life being home-schooled by her zoologist parents, if not terribly well (she mispronounces "zoologist"). Untutored in pronunciation and particularly adolescence, she conducts an initial mild flirtation with some arty outcasts (played by Lizzy Caplan and scene-stealer Daniel Franzese) before realizing that school resembles the wild kingdoms of her past. If she's to survive, Cady must tame the beasts within and those roaming the halls, specifically the school's killer queen bee, Regina (Rachel McAdams), and her simpering size-2 minions, Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karen (Amanda Seyfried).

Stuff happens — mostly mean-girl intrigue, hot boys and tears — much of which will be familiar to anyone who's ever watched a teen movie. Originality is never the point of an entertainment like this; the point is that director Mark Waters, who capably guided Lohan through last year's "Freaky Friday," has specific marks to hit in "Mean Girls," and he hits them with confidence. He shows Lohan to attractive advantage, proving that her fresh face has yet to stale, and he confirms that he has a fine studio touch. He keeps the story light and bright, and he brings out real comic performances from his cast, including newcomer Seyfried, who plays her ditz with Judy Holliday charm, and seasoned funnyman Tim Meadows, who puts a nice dry spin on his totemic role as a beleaguered principal.

Aside from "Heathers," movies about mean girls usually come across as the revenge of the nerd, "Death Wish" fantasies from pariahs whose most intimate experience with the opposite sex during high school was likely limited to websites and skin magazines. The makers of "Mean Girls," by contrast, seem to know girl villainy from the inside out, perhaps because one of the film's chief architects is Tina Fey. A head writer on "Saturday Night Live" and one of its two "Weekend Update" anchors, the highly regarded comic wrote "Mean Girls" and costars in the film as a hip-nerd of a math teacher, Ms. Norbury. The suppleness of Fey's perfect sneer suggests that this is a woman who's tasted her share of blood; that sneer may also explain why her screenplay so thoroughly loves its mean girls.

Based on Rosalind Wiseman's bestseller, "Queen Bees and Wannabes," Fey's screenplay distills much of the material visited in Margaret Talbot's 2002 New York Times Magazine article about mean-girl researchers like Wiseman, who has made a career of observing the ways and cruel means of alpha adolescents. Picking up on the humor inherent in such soft-sell cultural anthropology, Fey and Waters exploit the alarmist undertones in the mean-girl phenomenon (the blackboard jungle is actually pink!), and turn high school into a veritable primeval forest. Of course, anyone with a pulse knows girls can be mean (though, to be fair, they rarely tote guns), and Talbot rather reasonably wondered if researchers weren't taking queen bees too seriously, granting them "a legitimacy and a stature they did not have when they ruled a world that was beneath adult radar."

Well, duh — that's why books like "Queen Bees and Wannabes" are published and movies like these are produced, and so much the better. Whether they're tormenting Shirley Temple or drop-kicking little Laura Ingalls across the prairie, mean girls have been around forever, providing much-needed spice to offset the spoon-fed sugar.

The only thing remotely new is that, unlike "Heathers" — still the mother of all mean-girl movies and written, incidentally, by Mark Waters' brother, Daniel Waters — "Mean Girls" exhibits more than just the usual fascination with she-devils. "Heathers" employs mean girls to score satiric points about social conformity. But in "Mean Girls," neither social conformity nor even being a total witch leads to oblivion; these days, those things are simply the price you pay to get what you want, including a happy ending, world peace and (fingers crossed) a hit movie.

'Mean Girls'MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language and some teen partyingTimes guidelines: The partying is mild, includes beer drinking and sexual innuendo.Lindsay Lohan...Cady HeronRachel McAdams...Regina GeorgeTim Meadows...Mr. DuvallAna Gasteyer...Betsy HeronAmy Poehler...Mrs. GeorgeTina Fey...Ms. Norbury Paramount Pictures presents a Lorne Micheals Production, released by Paramount Pictures. Director Mark Waters. Writer Tina Fey. Based on Rosalind Wiseman's book "Queen Bees and Wannabes." Producer Lorne Micheals. Director of photography Daryn Okada. Production designer Cary White. Editor Wendy Greene Bricmont. Music Rolfe Kent. Music supervisor Amanda Scheer Demme. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. In general release.

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