When 16-year-old Cady (Lindsay Lohan) first arrives at her new school after ten years of homeschooling, she is a kind, sweet girl. But don’t think that there’s any positive statement here about homeschooling. Cady herself goes out of her way to tell us that typical homeschoolers are either dysfunctional geek freaks or fundamentalist bigot nutcases. Thus begins Mean Girls’ lesson in tolerance and compassion.
At school, Cady is befriended by two social outcasts: an artsy girl named Janis (Lizzy Caplan) with an all-black goth look, and her sidekick Damian (Daniel Franzese), whom Janis describes as “almost too gay to function.” She is also befriended by the clique of popular girls (dubbed “the Plastics” by Janis), queened by Regina (Rachel McAdams), who think Cady pretty enough to be their friend despite her ignorance of proper social rules for high-school “success.”
Janis and Damian think it’s a scream that Cady is accepted into the inner circle of “the Plastics,” and tell her to pretend to be friends with them in order to spy on them, perhaps learning something which can be used against them. Cady, however, is genuinely nice to everyone, not having learned the nasty socialization of high school that she has been lacking in her education.
She doesn’t remain innocent for long. Cady is quickly swept into their world and begins to become one of them — dressing to their standards (i.e., like a slut), lying and back-stabbing, gossiping about and putting down the rest of the world. In the end, when this behavior has alienated her from absolutely everyone, even those from whom she learned this behavior, she decides that “calling someone fat doesn’t make you thinner, and calling someone dumb doesn’t make you smarter.” Now there’s some wisdom for you.
Mean Girls, written by “Saturday Night Live” alum Tina Fey (who also plays math teacher Ms. Norbury), was loosely inspired by a non-fiction self-help book by Rosalind Wiseman called Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence. I don’t know what lessons Wiseman’s book imparts, but as far as I can tell here are the lessons of Mean Girls:
In the end, no one has really learned their lesson (despite Regina’s unfortunate accident with a school bus), though everyone can get along now — ever since “the Plastics” broke up and each joined other cliques.
It’s nice to see some respectable authority figures. Cady’s parents are caring and smart (even if her father doesn’t know what “grounded” means). The principal knows how to take charge effectively, and doesn’t take sadistic glee in lording his authority over students like some movie principals. Ms. Norbury is a kind, tough teacher who tries to encourage Cady in a better direction. When she says “Cady, I’m disappointed in you,” you really feel the sting of her disapproval.
All of this goes some way towards balancing out the other adults — the buffoon of a coach. who harangues students in health class about not having sex while having sex with more than one of them himself; Regina’s mom, who declares herself a “cool mom” with “no rules” who would very much like to be kept young by being one of her popular daughter’s flunkies but isn’t worthy.
Though better written, better acted and with more wit and subtlety than your avarage teen flick, the atmosphere in Mean Girls with its promiscuous sex and well, meanness, make it almost as nasty to sit through as these girls are to each other.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.