Watch your back.
Running Time: 97 minutes
UK Certificate: 12A
Country: United States
Leave aside juvenile gross-out like ‘Screwballs’ and American Pie – recently the American high school has also lent itself as a setting for dark social satire (‘Heathers’, ‘Election’), smart literary adaptations (‘Clueless’ from ‘Emma’, ’10 Things I Hate About You’ from ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, ‘Cruel Intentions’ from ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’) and indie nihilism (Thirteen, Elephant, ‘Zero Day’). The reason for its effective flexibility is that the high school, with its Byzantine backstabbing, complex courtship rituals and perilous politics, forms a perfect microcosm of America’s competitive society. Classrooms, corridors and dining halls are a Darwinian battleground where survival of the fittest is determined less by scholastic success than by looks and popularity. ‘Mean Girls’, a teen comedy loosely adapted by Saturday Night Live stalwart Tina Fey from a genuine sociological study (Rosalind Wiseman’s ‘Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques,
Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence’), exposes the rigid social codes, tribalism and all-round cruelty of school life with keen-edged, if largely wholesome, humour.
Raised by her zoologist parents in Africa, Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) attends an American high school for the first time at age sixteen, and quickly learns that it is an environment every bit as ferocious and cutthroat as the jungle which she has left behind. When the school’s ‘queen bee’ Regina (Rachel McAdams) takes an interest in her new fellow pupil, wronged outsider Janis (Lizzy Caplan) urges Cady to infiltrate Regina’s exclusive clique of ‘Plastics’, so that the überbitch can be brought down from her high school throne once and for all. Things become more complicated when Cady falls for Regina’s ex-boyfriend Aaron (Jonathan Bennett) and deliberately underperforms in class so that she can be closer to him, much to the chagrin of her level-headed teacher Ms Norbury (Tina Fey) – and, like so many undercover operatives that have come before her in cinema, Cady rapidly forgets who she is and where her allegiances lie, as she becomes seduced by the shallow values and lifestyle of her enemy.
Coming closer to the cute surrealism of ‘Slap Her, She’s French!’ than the razor-sharp viciousness of ‘Heathers’ (although it has a lot in common with both these films), ‘Mean Girls’ is in the end a little too sweet to live up to its title. Tina Fey’s screenplay, however, is fast and witty enough to draw a smile from viewers of any age, and once again, as she has already done in ‘The Parent Trap’ and Freaky Friday, Lindsay Lohan lays justifiable claim to being the queen bee of teen cinema.
It's Got: A rapping nerd (Rajiv Surendra) with a card which reads "maths enthusiast/bad ass"; a middle-aged mother (Amy Poehler) who keeps trying to prove that she is down with the kids; a gym teacher who tells his sex education class "if you touch people youre going to get chlamydia - and die"; and the vapid Regina insisting "I gave him everything, I was half a virgin when I met him".
It Needs: To be meaner.
Alternatives:Heathers, Love Dont Co$t a Thing, Shes French!, Slap Her
More wholesome than mean, but still very funny (if you can stomach the homespun moral at the end).