Somehow I spent the last fifteen years without ever once seeing this high school comedy classic, while still knowing its catchphrases (Stop trying to make Fetch happen). Watching it for the first time now, it still feels fresh and as deceptively effortless as a perfect pop song.
It feels a tad surreal to go back to the time when Lindsay Lohan was still a promising fresh-faced talent exuding wholesomeness on screen. Here she plays Cady Heron, a sixteen-year-old girl raised and home-schooled in Africa by her zoologist parents. When the family move back to the US, Cady is faced with entering the perilous jungle of high school; while she’s academically smart and very pretty she’s also in many ways an ultimate outsider, completely confused by the new foreign rules and undecipherable cliques.
Luckily, Cady befriends Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese), who bear their outsider status as a badge of honour (she’s an artsy kinda-goth sporting heavy eyeliner, he’s “almost too gay to function”). They give her a crash course on the school cliques, saving most of their vitriol for the popular trio of so-called “the Plastics”, Barbie doll lookalikes lorded over by Regina George (Rachel McAdams). Regina is spoiled rotten by her wannabe-hip mum (hilarious Amy Poehler), and is pure poisoned sugar, manipulative and mean. Her loyal posse includes Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and spectacularly dim-witted Karen (Amanda Seyfried).
When Queen Bee Regina unexpectedly invites Cady to sit at their lunch table, Janis encourages her to infiltrate the Plastics and be their secret spy, so that they can find a way to end Regina’s dictatorship. But you know what they say about staring into an abyss for too long; after hanging around the toxic trio, is Cady going to slowly lose her soul and turn Plastic herself?
The smart and funny screenplay by Tina Fey, who also has a supporting role as Cady’s likeable math teacher, dissects the high school cliques and the capacity for cruelty in teenage girls in an incisive and observant fashion. Cady is not just an outsider to high school, she’s also blissfully unfamiliar with the worst “girl” tendencies, such as taking turns to complain to each other about whichever part of their body they hate the most. While of course it’s all exaggerated for the sake of comedy, it’s also very recognisable. I bet most women can recall a Regina from their school days.
The movie owes much of its success to Lohan’s grounded and confident performance that gives Mean Girls its centre. Cady feels very much like a real person, caught on a slippery slope of lies and deception in an effort to find her place, and the film’s message about cruelty as a wrong path to boost your self-esteem never feels preachy coming from her. But really the entire assembled group of players is marvellous without a wrong note or dud performance in sight, with Rachel McAdams in particular a comic delight as nasty Regina. Like Clueless, Mean Girls is a light, infectious and pretty much perfect teen movie.
P.S. I appreciated the inclusion of Peaches on the soundtrack.