WFTB Score: 11/20
The plot: Teenager Cady (pronounced like ‘Katie’) arrives in America to be taught at High School for the first time in her life. She quickly discovers that the school contains both Queen Bees and Wannabes, and if she is going to get the boy of her dreams she is going to have to play dirty. Being one of the in crowd has its benefits, she discovers, but it can also leave her without the respect of those around her.
A tiny, select minority of people will be lucky enough to know Lindsay Lohan through her film work rather than appearances in so-called ‘celebrity news,’ most notably her twin roles in the remake of Parent Trap, another remake in the form of Freaky Friday and this, probably her most successful role since. Lohan plays Cady Heron, a sixteen-year old to whom American High Schools are foreign because her parents spent the last twelve years out in Africa (anathema to a girl of Lohan’s complexion, you might have thought, but that’s by the by). Although initially overwhelmed by the hierarchical and often brutal nature of the school’s cliques, Cady befriends art students Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and the ‘too gay to function’ Damian (Daniel Franzese) to take her through who’s who at school, especially the ‘Plastics’: a trio of spoilt, rich girls headed up by snotty bitch Regina George (Rachel McAdams), also featuring insecure Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and terminally dumb Karen (Amanda Seyfried, later to land a plum role in Mamma Mia!). Cady accidentally befriends the Plastics and intends to do little but spy on them for Janis and Damian’s entertainment, but things turn serious when she discovers that Aaron (Jonathan Bennett), the object of her affections in maths class (she is brilliant at maths but dumbs down to solicit his help) is Regina’s ex and, after a disastrous Halloween party, her boyfriend again. As Cady begins to compromise her better nature and lose her true friends in pursuit of Aaron, Cady ignores the solicitations of her maths teacher Ms Norbury (Tina Fey, also the film’s screenwriter) to enter the ‘Mathletes’ team and worse, accuses her of being a drug pusher in the Mean Girls’ scurrilous ‘Burn Book,’ a move which comes back to have repercussions on them all.
In the main, this is pretty standard high school stuff, complete with house party, vomiting and King and Queen of some kind of prom; but as the title suggests Mean Girls is given an added edge of bitchiness by the willingness of the girls to turn against each other. And this has a couple of consequences. Firstly, it results in some pretty unpleasant scenes, Cady tricking Regina into eating snack bars that make her ever so slightly fatter, for example, or late on Regina being run over by a bus (though Cady – probably – doesn’t push her). Secondly, when the film does an about-face and all the school’s girls, having violently set upon each other, are required to be honest and open about their feelings, the film feels rather fake, Tina Fey’s exercise in mutual trust containing too few jokes not to drag. If it’s not exactly mean-spirited, the film – embodied in Lohan’s all-too-believable conversion – embraces the vacuous, vain nature of the Plastics over the nerdish achievements of the maths geniuses, and its eventual plea for female harmony and understanding doesn’t come from a recognisably sincere place.
The acting, luckily, is of a high quality throughout: Lacey Chabert is suitably petulant as Gretchel, the key Cady uses to depose Regina; and Karen, complete with rain-predicting breasts, also raises a laugh whenever she opens her mouth. There are enough highlights to make the film an entertaining watch, whether from the frequent flashback/fantasy sequences that invade the story or some of the bitchier moments in the script, especially those given to Damian, and the high comedy points generally outweigh some of the cruder elements (such as Regina’s mother’s boob job and the dog obsessed with it) that don’t work so well. Mean Girls provides a harsh, bright pink world for its target audience, and while it doesn’t convincingly put over its message that girls should all learn to get along, it does convincingly show the consequences of obsessive jealousy, back-biting, vanity and selfishness. If only some of the cast heeded the lessons learnt by their characters!