Re-watching a teen movie set at least a decade ago is like looking into a yearbook from that period. Not only do you get to giggle at the outdated hairstyles, fashion and slang, but you aget to see So-and-So before they became big; derailed their life with drugs, politically incorrect tirades or shoplifting; or married Mr./Ms. A-Lister and adopted a child from every continent. There’s also the thrill of spotting that actor who is now a huge deal, but in this movie, is just relegated to watching the hero/heroine glide down the hall in slo-mo (don’t worry, your turn will come).
“Mean Girls,” which came out just before the social media explosion in popularity, is that rare movie that isn’t dumbed down for its adolescence audience – and happens to feature teen girls, not boys. It is based on a nonfiction book by Rosalind Wiseman, which consists mostly of interviews with real life teens. There is no one named Cady Heron in the book; no clique called the Plastics; no math competition or sympathetic math teacher; clueless principal; Burn Book high jinks, or prom. Some of the subjects’ lines make it into the movie, but they are tweaked to be more Hollywood-script friendly. But the plot – in which a homeschooled teen who originally lived in Africa, attends American public high school for the first time, become entangled with a trio of popular girls, and eventually learns there is merit in being herself, appears to be fiction. The one thing the book and the movie both get right, however, is that being a high school student can be, as the heroine puts it, like being a shark tank, albeit with some very attractive sharks.
In the movie, Lindsay Lohan plays Cady, the aforementioned homeschooled teen, who has a rough first day of high school but manages to make a couple of allies her second day, who are Goth-ish Lizzy Caplan and her friend, Daniel Frazese, who is described as “too gay to function” more than once. They helpfully draw Lindsay a map of the lunchroom and who sits where, and clue her in to the presence of the Plastics, the A-list girl clique, which consists of one Queen Bee (Rachel McAdams); one sycophant (Lacey Chabert) and their ditzy friend (Amanda Seyfried), who is so dense that she once asked Daniel how to spell “orange.” Soon the Plastics notice Lindsay and invite her to sit with them at lunch (as long as she wears something pink). Lindsay still remains friends with Lizzy and Daniel, however, which is good as the Plastics are aptly named.
Lizzy, who has a rocky history with Rachel, manages to persuade Lindsay to sabotage Rachel and her group, after Lindsay has her own conflict with Rachel. The revenge is multi-tiered and involves a Swedish power bar and a “Burn Book,” which is basically what it sounds like. Eventually, Rachel is exposed for the witch she is, but Lindsay is also exposed as being vindictive. There is repentance and the acquiring of life lessons, but every time the movie threatens to veer too close to stereotype territory, something comes along to yank it away. (Example: One girl tearfully laments that she wishes everyone could just get along – but then is revealed to not even attend the school.)
Directed by Mark Waters with a screenplay by Tina Fey (who also plays the math teacher), “Mean Girls” takes deadly aim at topics like public school sex education; parents who attempt to be their child’s best friend; and the generation gap (“Sometimes old people make jokes,” Tina explains straight-faced to Lizzy and Daniel at one point.) There are a lot of “Saturday Night Live” alums, including Amy Poehler, who plays the “fun mom.” Looking back, it may seem to be set in an antiquated era (there’s hardly a cell or a laptop to be found), but its insights into “Girl World” are still relevant today.