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"Mean Girls": Lindsay Lohan shines in Tina Fey-scripted high school satire

Mean Girls

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I’ve never been a fan of Lindsay Lohan. This is partly because my movie-watching habits don’t include too many Disney live action films, which is where “LiLo” did some of her best work. I also don’t watch cable channels such as Lifetime, which aired the TV-movie “Liz & Dick” in 2013.

Lindsay Lohan  did her best work in 2004's "Mean Girls"
Lindsay Lohan did her best work in 2004's "Mean Girls"
Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Mostly, though, I don’t watch Lindsay Lohan movies because I can’t separate my low opinion about her off-screen shenanigans from her onscreen work. Maybe I’m being unfair, but it’s hard to watch her on television and not think, “Wow. This chick’s acting career peaked when she made ‘Mean Girls’ a decade ago!”

And yet, “Mean Girls” is one of the funniest films of the teen-in-high school genre that I’ve ever seen. (Granted, this genre is not among my favorites, but I can watch any movie as long as it holds my attention.)

Although the 2004 satire about an intelligent-but-naive high school girl who is thrust into a very confusing world of cliques and culture shock wasn't released by NBC-Universal, it might as well have been, because it's essentially a Saturday Night Live cavalcade of stars. Its producer is SNL creator/producer Lorne Michaels, it was written by Tina Fey, and its cast includes many veterans from the venerable comedy skit show, particularly Tim Meadows, Anna Gasteyer, Amy Poehler, Neal Flynn, and - of course - Fey, who plays a recently divorced math teacher named Ms. Norbury.

“Mean Girls” focuses mainly on the misadventures of Cady Heron (Lohan), a bright and cute 15-year-old who has been home-schooled in Africa by her anthropologist parents (Flynn, Gastheyer). As a result, she's academically smart but not prepared for the true social jungle that is the average suburban American high school.

Having thus been isolated from the average adolescent world of popularity contests, socializing, and even dating, Cady finds her new "digs" more confusing and even scary. Her directness and naïve ways turn off everyone.

Her other problem is that although - as her new friends Damian (Daniel Franzese) and Janis (Lizzy Caplan) point out early on - she's a "hottie," Cady has never had any dating experience, so she's clueless about what to do when she falls for Aaron (Jonathan Bennett) a cute guy in her math class, who just happens to be the ex-boyfriend of Cady's soon-to-be nemesis: Regina George (Rachel McAdams).

Regina, of course, is the Queen Bee of Evanston High School. She's the most popular, most sought-after girl of her class, and she knows it.

Janis: And evil takes a human form in Regina George. Don't be fooled because she may seem like your typical selfish, back-stabbing slut faced ho-bag, but in reality, she's so much more than that.
Damian: She's the queen bee.

The "queen bee" simile is apt, because she's also the leader of the uber-snobbish trio known as "The Plastics," which includes the obseqious and gossippy Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chalbert) and the airheaded Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried).

That Regina and Cady will become frenemies is inevitable, partly because Cady's relationship with the Plastics is part and parcel of Janis' long-awaited scheme for revenge, and partly because the two characters are polar opposites. It's also a cliche situation in many teen comedies, but here it's done in a take-no-prisoners satiric stab by Fey, whose talents as a writer have been evident both on SNL and 30 Rock.

Fey based her screenplay on Rosalind Wiseman's non-fiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes. In “Mean Girls,” she mines the social and cultural folkways and mores of American high school not just for the biting comedic potential, but also tells some truths about them without being either too realistic or too over-the-top with teen movie clichés.

“Mean Girls” also benefits greatly from Mark Waters' direction. A veteran producer who also was involved in The House of Yes and the well-received remake of Freaky Friday, Waters not only had a good working relationship with Lohan, but he also understands such things as giving audiences a new spin on a pretty well-established genre.

The teaming up of Fey (who's not only funny but curiously sexy as a recently divorced teacher) and Waters is, I think, serendipitous. They avoid obvious teen movie cliches, such as parties that trash homes or "T&A" sex scenes intended to draw in reluctant male viewers, and when they do embrace cliches, they do it with wit and a lot of creative energy.

Thus this movie marks the high tide mark of Lohan's career in movies until her now-famous meltdowns. Admittedly, this is the only movie of hers that I've watched, but in “Mean Girls” she pulls off the trick of balancing comedy and teen angst pretty damn well, so it's interesting to speculate how good she would still be if she hadn't crashed and burned emotionally with her partying lifestyle and DUI arrests.

Blu-ray and DVD Edition Specs

“Mean Girls” is currently available in two video-disk formats: Blu-ray (BD) and DVD. Paramount Home Entertainment originally released the film in 2004 on DVD; the BD edition debuted in 2009.

Blu-ray Specs and Special Features:

  • Format: Blu-ray, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Paramount
  • DVD Release Date: April 14, 2009
  • Run Time: 97 minutes

Special Features: See DVD Specs below.

  • Format: Color, Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Paramount
  • DVD Release Date: September 21, 2004
  • Run Time: 97 minutes

Special Features:

· Commentary by Mark Waters, Tina Fey, and Lorne Michaels

· Three Featurettes: Only the Strong Survive, The Politics of Girl World, Plastic Fashion

· Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Mark Waters and Tina Fey

· Three Interstitials

· Theatrical Trailer