Mean Girls

It's funny: when notable directors are at work, reviewers (myself among them) always refer to them as the true "authors" of their films; the writers are just hired guns. Yet on the odd occasion when the writer's name is better known than the director's, you can't help but talk more about the script than about how the movie was put together. In this case, Mean Girls arrived with something of a pedigree in that the screenwriter is clever Saturday Night Live alumna Tina Fey, who inspires more press than does director Mark S. Waters (best known for Freaky Friday).

It's sadly rare to see a Hollywood film credited to a female screenwriter, so I wonder if expectations are unfairly raised - or unfairly lowered - when one actually comes out. Mean Girls turned out to be a sleeper hit, so Fey has done herself some good. But the script itself, an adaptation of Rosalind Wiseman's non-fiction high school survival guide Queen Bees and Wannabes, is a hit-and-miss affair. There are so many sharp, truthful insights into teenage cruelty that I found myself often frustrated by Fey's tendency to follow them up with unnecessarily exaggerated comic scenes. The film soars when it revels in its characters' all-too-real cattiness, then flounders when it goes for broad comedy (girls stumbling head first into trash cans, a near-riot when a slam book is made public).

But all in all, Mean Girls is fun, peppy Hollywood fare. It's not nearly as fierce as its forebears, the scathing social satire Election and the cult black comedy Heathers, but then those are great films. Mean Girls is simply a nice comedy that delivers a smart, non-preachy pseudo-feminist message to its primary audience: teenage girls.

I can't finish this review without mentioning the terrific cast: Cute star Lindsay Lohan - possibly the film's only actual teenager - is instantly likeable as the new girl sucked into "The Plastics", the trio of vicious lookers who lord it over the school, but Rachel McAdams, as The Plastics' aptly-named leader Regina, is awesome. The nature of Lohan's character shifts so sloppily that one can only feel sorry that she wasn't given a more cohesive arc to play, but McAdams was lucky to be given the juiciest role, a singularly tyrannical she-devil, and she plays it to the hilt.

McAdams is arguably the strongest actor in the cast, and should look forward to a healthy career, though Fey serves her role (as Lohan's math teacher) well, saving the funniest bits not for her own character, but for uber-confident "mathlete" Kevin Gnapoor, hilariously played by unknown Rajiv Surendra. Tim Meadows nicely deadpans it as the school's principal, and as Lohan's true friends, Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzese are ones to watch.