Mean Girls (9/10)

How do you make a good movie? Would your answer be, “First, get me Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant or Paul Newman?” If so, I’d say you must not have seen Beat the Devil (1953) or The Pride and the Passion (1958) or Blaze (1989).

No, actors are far down the list of what makes a good movie, although they are important. The first thing I’d get would be a writer. There’s the old story that Robert Riskin, who wrote the scripts for several of legendary director Frank Capra’s films (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, 1936, Lost Horizon, 1937, You Can’t Take It With You, 1938,  Meet John Doe, 1941, and more) kept hearing that Capra attributed his great success to the “Capra Touch.” So Riskin bundled a bunch of blank pages and mailed them to Capra with the note, “Let’s see you put the Capra Touch to THIS!”

Mean Girls started with screenwriter Tina Fey (an Emmy winner and the chief writer for NBC’s Saturday Night Live [SNL]). Fey took Rosalind Wiseman’s book, Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence, a  serious book, wrote a comedic script , and brought it to her boss, SNL creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels, who loved the idea and agreed to produce it. The script captivated Mark Waters, just off the success of his deliriously funny Freaky Friday (2003) . The team of people you need for a good movie, a terrific writer, a good producer, and a wildly talented director was in place. Only then was it cast. Waters immediately signed up 17-year-old Lindsay Lohan, who had co-starred with Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday, and this project was on its way.

Cady Heron (Lohan) has been home schooled by her parents in Africa. They’ve moved to the U.S. and she has to go to high school for the first time. There she meets “The Plastics,” three beautiful girls who dominate the class, headed by Regina George (Rachel McAdams), who is the trendsetter. Her sidekicks, Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karen (Amanda Seyfried), are arrogant around others but subservient to Regina. They accept Cady into their clique. But Cady gets a crush on Regina’s boy friend, Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett), a hunk who is also a nice guy. Cady wants him but Regina’s got him. And thus starts the plot as Cady schemes with her two nerdy friends, art students Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese), to bring down The Plastics, even though she’s one of them, and get Aaron for herself.

This could have been a ridiculous teenie movie, a la New York Minute, and of no possible interest to an adult. However, Fey’s script is brilliant. Waters’ direction is inspired. And Lohan’s acting gets the best out of both. McAdams creates a wonderful villain in Regina, beautiful, smart, and cold-bloodedly vicious. She views Cady as a threat, so she sets out to destroy her, always being sweet and loving to Cady’s face. The entire cast is exceptional. Who would have dreamed that a movie about high school teenage girls could provide entertainment for everyone?

I thought that Freaky Friday, another film about a teenage girl, should have won the Oscar last year as best film. I would have also awarded Oscars to Waters, Curtis, and Lohan. This year it will be a disgrace if Fey, Waters, and Lohan don’t at least receive nominations for Best Writer, Director, and Actress.

This film has pace, something that’s woefully missing from so many modern films. It just does not lag. Don’t be put off by the trailer. This is a funny, enjoyable film.

May 8, 2004

The End