Friday, June 15, 2007

Mean Girls (Waters, 2004)

One of the clever twists on the typical teen comedy to be found in Tina Fey’s debut screenplay for Mean Girls is that the central character, Cady (played by Lindsay Lohan), arrives at an American high school after being homeschooled in Africa for her entire life. She is completely disconnected from the pop culture that drives the fashion choices of her friends and unaware of the social hierarchy that has been firmly established. The rest of the students have a collective history together with memories of past relationships, embarrassments and treacheries. Cady walks in essentially a blank slate, ready to be coerced into joining one of the various factions.

Among her suitors are a team of Math-letes, who are seeking out a token girl that will allow them to receive more funding, and a trio of attractive but vacant rich girls dubbed the Plastics who represent the pinnacle of popularity. Cady is befriended by an intense, dark-haired young woman of questionable sexuality and her unquestionably gay male buddy. These two warn Cady that despite her mathematical prowess, she would be foolish to risk the “social suicide” in becoming a Math-lete. Instead, they encourage her to use the Plastics’ interest in her as a means to destroy them.

It is here where many viewers will draw comparison to the 1980’s cult hit, Heathers, in which similar high school tensions lead to murder played for dark comedy. Indeed, Mean Girls seems to be written as a direct response to that film. Without ever spoiling the light-hearted fun, Mean Girls functions as a post-Columbine corrective for Heathers. It is a tale of teen cattiness and deceit that demonstrates the lengths high schoolers will go to emotionally torment each other. Yet unlike Heathers, it ultimately veers towards positivity and a reinforcement of the benefits of integrity and goodwill towards others.

Especially notable about Mean Girls’ trajectory is the way in which Cady arrives at the self-realization moment that we know will ultimately come by film’s end. In setting out to break apart the Plastics and their dominance of the school, Cady’s seeming successes only lead to a degradation of her self. Although we may take a little vindictive pleasure in watching Cady’s targets crumble, we cannot help but note that neither the school nor Cady is any healthier or happier. Only when Cady has managed to alienate virtually every member of the school - partly through her own doing and partly because of a scheme on the part of her enemy - does she discover the part of herself that will allow her to get back on track, fulfill her own spirit and become a positive influence on those around her.

Written with plenty of wit and wisdom, Mean Girls is a refreshing film to counter the onslaught of backstabbing and conniving that we are subjected to daily in this culture obsessed with so-called reality television. It convincingly exposes the destructive nature of clique mentality and models healthy relationships for teens who may feel that they are trapped in survival mode. Mean Girls strikes a satisfying balance between edgy and earnest and is therefore a cut above the average teen comedy.



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