A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004)

I admit that I am quite a few years beyond the target audience for this film, and yes, this is something of a change of pace from Accattone and Touki Bouki, but this blog is nothing if not eclectic. Anyway, I have to indulge my crush on Tina Fey with something other than binge-watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I also realize I'm 12 years late to the party on this film, which is probably what it was called at the time: the best teen comedy since Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995). That film had Jane Austen as an underpinning, where all Mean Girls has is Fey's wry take on that crucible of growing up, high school. Fey's screenplay is the chief distinction of Mean Girls, which follows the usual trajectory of teen comedies: innocence, fall from grace, suffering, redemption, reward. (The reward is, of course, the girl getting the boy she thought was lost to her forever.) What Fey does is to load the conventional plot with lovely non sequiturs: For example, in the "redemption" scene in which students get up to confess their mean acts, Fey sends in a ringer, a girl who proclaims, "I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy." Whereupon she's unmasked as not even a student at the school -- "I just have a lot of feelings," she whimpers -- and dismissed. With touches like that, Fey manages to parody the teen comedy genre without losing its essential feel-good effect. Mean Girls also features some exceptional young actresses whose careers went in opposite directions: Lindsay Lohan, who descended into tabloid notoriety, and Rachel McAdams, who was nominated for an Oscar last year for her performance in Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015). I also relished Lizzy Caplan's turn as the arty girl named Janis Ian. (The real Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" is heard on the soundtrack.)