School Warfare

While it doesn't measure up to teen classics 'Heathers' and 'Election,' 'Mean Girls satisfies

Tina Fey, writer and "Weekend Update" woman for Saturday Night Live, kicked in a few of her own barbs when adapting the Rosalind Wiseman book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, for the big screen. Some of that wonderfully nasty tone that propels some of her more evil jokes on SNL makes it into her first screenplay, Mean Girls, an appropriately cold-hearted glance at high school girl politics.

The always impressive Lindsay Lohan reunites with her Freaky Friday director Mark S. Waters to play Cady, a home-schooled student from Africa who gets thrown into the hell that is high school in the United States. After a rude welcome from less-than-sympathetic classmates, Cady takes up with two of the class outsiders (Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzese) and hatches a plan to ruin the reputations of the Plastics.

The Plastics are three elitist high school girls who set the trends, rule the parties and ruin impressionable adolescent lives. Their evil-to-the-core leader is Regina (Rachel McAdams), a satanic Barbie doll who keeps a journal blasting the personalities of classmates and authority figures. With dimwitted comrades Karen and Gretchen (Lacey Chabert and Amanda Seyfried) at her side, Regina looks to make life miserable for Cady. Things come to a head when Cady gets a crush on Regina's ex (Jonathan Bennett), and the gloves come off, high school satire style.

High school has gotten more superior skewering with the likes of Heathers ('89) and Election ('99), but Mean Girls certainly has its moments. Some of the methods Cady employs to sabotage Regina's life are quite ingenious, such as substituting weight-gain bars for dietary supplements and mind games aimed at turning Karen and Gretchen against her. When Regina's dress size passes five due to the inadvertent consumption of weight gainers, and a prissy saleswoman asks her if she might wish to try Sears instead, Mean Girls hums with a sinister wit.

It's fun to see Fey delivering some of the lines she wrote as Ms. Norbury, the slightly out-of-touch, yet sort of hip math teacher who calls herself a "pusher"--a word choice that gets her into some trouble. There's a cavalcade of former and current SNL stars, including Tim Meadows as a grouchy principal, Ana Gasteyer as Cady's paranoid mom, and the incredibly talented Amy Poehler as Regina's eager-to-please mom (If you've never seen Poehler's work with her former comedy troupe, The Upright Citizens Brigade, get thee to a DVD).

Lohan makes a nice departure from her usual Disney fare with this one (in addition to Freaky Friday, she starred as identical twins in The Parent Trap). I wouldn't be surprised if she were to make a seamless transition to more adult fare in the near future, although that won't happen immediately. She's penciled in for a re-make of Herbie the Love Bug, but perhaps it's not too late for her people to get her off that project.

While Mean Girls is, for the most part, mean-spirited, it does end on a hopeful note, and, needless to say, Cady doesn't light her cigarette off her exploded boyfriend a la Winona Ryder in Heathers. While Fey and Waters are often merciless with their dissection of high school culture, the film ultimately becomes a sort of call for peace and reason among high school peers.

While the wrap-up is a little cute and cozy, there's plenty of acidity in the film's first acts to balance things out. It's no classic, but pretty good nonetheless, and Fey has made a clean transition to the big screen after seven years of hard labor on SNL.