"Mean Girls" is a film clearly aimed at the lucrative teen market. Perhaps less obvious is the fact that it is quite easily a comedy for adults. Sure, you have the typical teen movie modus operandi: An uncomplicated plot with characters that inhabit a world of beautiful bodies in the hippest clothes; where intelligence is measured by knowledge of the teenage slang; a place where cool friends are considered as your real value indicators. But how can this be standard teen fare when an irate high school principal is allowed to say this in complete dead-pan: "I should cancel your Spring Fling, but I'm not going to do that. We've already paid the DJ."
Based on Rosalind Wiseman's non-fiction book "Queen Bees and Wannabes," "Mean Girls" has been adapted for the screen with sardonic wit by Tina Fey, an accomplished Saturday Night Live alumnus. Lindsay Lohan is Cady who at age sixteen enters her first public school after being home-schooled in Africa. She soon discovers that life in high school is harsher than the heat of the Sahara desert. There is a very moving sequence as an overwhelmed Cady retreats to a toilet stall with her lunch tray because it seems to be the least hostile place. Fortunately Janis (feisty Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (a hilarious Daniel Franzese) are two school outcasts that not only befriend Cady but also introduce her to The Plastics, a trio of bimbos led by queen bee Regina (the up-and-coming Rachel McAdams). Through chance and some deliberation Cady joins the Plastics with the aim to dig up incriminating gossip but secretly for a chance to finally feel as part of her modern ecosystem. Of course complexities arise when Cady is slowly sucked into becoming a real "mean girl," being guilty of the same double-standards she once abhorred.
Director Mark Waters is great with the camera; he designs an interesting visual look composed of soft hues. Woody Allen's trademark talk-into-the-camera technique is effectively used at several important points in the film. But if the method serves the craft then the actors serve the story. Lindsay Lohan brings a delectable gravitas to her role, a maturity beyond her age. Her Cady is not a victim of circumstance; Lohan plays her with absolute conscience and we are never asked to feel sorry for her. Rachel McAdams' Regina is surprisingly not a cartoon villain. McAdams will prove to you that being a bitch is not as easy as it looks. Special mention also to Tim Meadows as Principal Duvall; he uses only his voice and subtle body language to express comedy.
Not without its share of clichés, "Mean Girls" is, at the end of the day, a writer's piece cut to size with sharp femininity by Tina Fey (who doubles up as math teacher Mrs. Norbury). The film is smart entertainment that moves at a brisk pace. Without being overtly preachy, it provides some valuable social commentary on the pressures teenagers face nowadays. Even though "Mean Girls" lacks the ambition of Alexander Payne's razor-sharp "Election," it does get close enough. - Adnan Khan