*Mean Girls (PG-13)
Ever pored through an old high school yearbook to find your class's power elite surprisingly unimpressive? The girls who once stomped on your heart, the guys who stomped on your ass and the sea of snarky dickwads whose mere existence sent shockwaves of inadequacy into every crevice of your being? But, after a decade (or three) of "perspective" (life!), the once unassailable arbiters of social hierarchy suddenly look just like a bunch of goofy kids.
There's not quite this much catharsis in Mark Waters Mean Girls, a film that's a pastiche of high school spoofs like Clueless, Election and Heathers with a sprinkling of All About Eve to boot, but it comes close. A smart comedy splattered with ingenious writing from Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey, Mean Girls parodies the perpetual histrionics of teen girlhood while suffering its own contradictions at the same time.
Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) is a 16-year-old raised in Africa by her anthropologist parents. When her mom is relocated to Northeastern University, Cady is inaugurated into the social viper pit of American high school.
Quickly befriended by the semi-intellectual and hilariously corrosive classmates Lizzy Caplan (goth chick) and Daniel Franzese (queen extraordinaire), Cady soon finds herself caught between two polarized cliques. That's because her aesthetic merits offer a passport into the "The Plastics." Led by Regina (Rachel McAdams), this power clique specializes in a brand of girly schadenfreude that involves scorning their classmates while holding each other to stringent rules. To be a Plastic, Cady learns, means you can only wear a ponytail once a week. Ditto that for denim. Failure to comply results in banishment from the lunch table of social consequence.
For a while Cady lives as a double agent, dishing to her bohemian homies about the Plastics' inanities while simultaneously being inducted into their sisterhood. But after Regina decides to reclaim her ex-boyfriend simply because Cady is interested, Cady moves from being a mere mole to a social jihadist. Her plans to foil Regina go swimmingly until she becomes corrupted by association, growing more plastic than the Plastics.
After the Plastics' scrapbook of savage riffs on their classmates and teachers is discovered, the school erupts into a girl-on-girl cellblock riot. At the insistence of the principal (played with amusing containment by Tim Meadows), Tina Fey, a divorced math teacher, leads the junior class in an impromptu clique intervention. It's an absurd premise dictated by the exigencies of a 97-minute running time. However, the prospect of every girl forced to confess her social sins and promptly diving backward into the trusting arms of her classmates is too juicy to let reality bite.
Through voiceover, Cady makes connections between the savageness of high school social life and the behaviors of African wildlife. In Ally McBeal style, students whoop around both hall and mall to illustrate her metaphors. This aspect of Mean Girls is tired and, after several instances, just plain grating.
Mean Girls parodies high school as a social killing field where, for girls, merits include your looks, your wardrobe and your overall willingness to engage in savage social ploys masked under the banner of friendship. The team of Fey and Waters skewers the image-obsession of teen girls while making a sexy spectacle of their bodies at the same time.
At risk of waxing like a James Dobson-styled scold, when was it decided that casting 22-year-olds as 16-year-olds with bodies of 27-year-olds who eat the same volume as 8-month-olds was a good idea? Certainly the requisite accoutrements of teen girls -- the tube tops, the pelvis-hugging jeans, the obligation to bare midriff 24-7 -- is indicative of larger social forces. But if that's what you're trying to skewer, why further the fetish by cinematically rendering your subjects in the same slow-motion power strut made famous by the cast of Sex and the City? Maybe because age doesn't matter. Whether 16 or 30-something, sex, however spoofed, still sells.