Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review both John and Eddie provide their opinion of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.
The Film According to John:
Before Lindsay Lohan became as famous for her offscreen activities as for her movie performances ("The Parent Trap," "Freaky Friday") and before Tina Fey ran for the Vice Presidency of the United States ("Saturday Night Live"), the pair made "Mean Girls" in 2004. Lohan starred, and Fey wrote the screenplay and co-starred. The movie takes some mildly amusing shots at formula, new-girl-in-town teen films and, while breaking no new ground, at least leaves one smiling. Given its potential, I just wish it had done something more.
Lohan plays Cady Heron, a sixteen-year-old whose parents have home-schooled her while traveling around the world as research zoologists. The family has just returned from an extended stay in Africa and finally settled down in middle America, so Cady is off to a regular public school for the first time in her life. She goes from the wild to the wilder.
The filmmakers, basing their movie on the book "Queen Bees and Wannabes" by Rosalind Wiseman, intend for Cady's encounters at North Shore High School to represent and satirize most of the problems of everyday, middle-class high-school life. We get shots at name-calling, backbiting, gossiping, rumormongering, petty jealousies, and general cattiness, just for starts. If it seems as though you've seen all this before, well, yeah, you probably have. The movie's successes, minor as they may be, are in the details.
On Cady's first day of school, she learns that animals of the veldt who eat each other for dinner are nicer to one another than the student body at North Shore. Practically everybody at school is a creep or a jerk. Naturally, various cliques entirely make up the student body, each clique sitting at a different table in the cafeteria. There are the jocks, the cheerleaders, the hotties, the blacks, the cool Asians, the thin girls, the fat girls, the art freaks, the band geeks, the burnouts, the wannabes, the nerds, the preps, the freshmen, the ROTC, etc. At the top of the ladder are the Plastics, the royalty of the cliques, whose leader, Regina George (Rachel McAdams), is the Queen Bee, the richest, meanest girl in school.
Despite the fact that Cady is brilliant and beautiful, almost nobody wants to have anything to do with her because she doesn't belong to a clique, so the first friends she makes are a pair of outsiders like herself: Damian (Daniel Franzese), a gay, witty young man, and Janis (Lizzy Caplan), a smart, semi-goth, artsy type girl. (Nobody in the film actually looks, talks, or thinks like a teenager, neither figuratively nor literally. Lohan is about the only person in the movie who was still in her teens when she made it, and the others appear to be just what they are, twenty-somethings.)
Now comes the major plot contrivance. Janis holds a grudge against Regina for spreading a rumor about her being a lesbian. When Regina and her followers take an unexpected interest in Cady, Janis and Damian urge Cady to go along with it, become a Plastic, and then sabotage them.
The problem is that the more Cady comes to dislike Regina and all she stands for, the more she also wants to fit in and be thought of as glamorous like Regina and her friends. Therefore, the more Cady resists the idea, the more she really wants to be a Plastic. That's the real conflict, the real teeth, of the show. We sometimes find ourselves wanting what we most despise. Life is unfair, but so what?
Tina Fey's co-starring role is almost incidental, playing a divorced math teacher, Ms. Norbury. The movie's funniest line (to me, as a former high school teacher) is one Janis makes about Ms. Norbury when she spots her in a shopping mall: "I love seeing teachers outside of school. It's like seeing a dog walking on its hind legs."
Yes, the movie does have its fair share of laughs, which in context are funny: "I'm from Michigan," "Don't read ahead," "Don't have sex!," "Ashton Kutcher? Is that a band?" And "I'm kinda psychic. It's like I have ESPN or something."
A school-wide riot among the girls is also sort of funny, but then the film ends conventionally and turns into every other teen comedy we've ever seen. It's a shame, really. Where the movie is merely cute, it could have been tough. Where it's pleasantly amusing, it could have been outrageously hilarious. Where it's light and flabby, it could have been dark and mean. Like the wannabes at North Shore, "Mean Girls" longs to take a step beyond the ordinary, but it takes the easier, more traditional route instead.
John's film rating: 6/10
The Film According to Eddie:
Disney has been revisiting its vaults by churning out remakes of its live-action and animated movies. Sometimes, the Mouse House even makes animated versions of its live-action movies and vice versa. The young actress Lindsay Lohan has been a participant in these remakes, appearing in 1998's "The Parent Trap" as well as 2003's "Freaky Friday". Both movies were box-office winners, and although she hit a snag with "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" (also a Disney product), she scored another hit with Paramount's "Mean Girls".
Now, it's obvious that "Mean Girls" was meant to be Lohan's step into "mature" roles, what with its denouncing social cliques in high schools as well as girl-on-girl hating. However, "Mean Girls" is a message movie of the worst kind. It bares its teeth looking for important targets but delivers a crowd-pleasing resolution that solves nothing and introduces highly implausible elements that essentially negate the movie's statements.
Consider the following:
1) A girl is hit by a bus and winds up with a shattered back. However, in less than a year, she manages to walk without any aids and even plays lacrosse, a physically demanding sport.
2) A girl takes responsibility for creating a vicious gossip book about her high school. Her "punishment" is to be grounded by a father who doesn't understand what being grounded means, to represent her school at a math competition, and to win the Spring Fling Queen vote. I don't know about you, but being punished and being socially ostracized never looked this good.
3) Three average-looking actresses are supposed to play the glamazons of a high school. In my experience, it takes more than just revealing clothes and lots of make-up to be social queens--it takes real physical beauty to rule a campus. (Yeah, maybe the moviemakers were trying to make a point about how glamorous bitches aren't really that pretty but are only perceived to be pretty, but seriously, none of the actresses who are this movie's glamazons are conventionally attractive.)
In "Mean Girls", Lohan plays Cady, a girl who grew up in Africa because her parents did research there. However, Cady's mother is now an instructor at Northwestern University, so Cady is attending regular American school for the first time in her life. The Plastics--the three most beautiful girls at school--take her under their wings. Cady and her real friends want to reveal the Plastics' true natures, but Cady finds herself turning into her enemies the more that she spends time with them. By the movie's end, we get the usual smattering of "just desserts" and "I learned my lesson" voice-overs.
The movie's first half is its best as the screenplay delivers fresh ways of making the usual jokes about certain high school social groups. There's also one of the best visual gags that I've seen in a long time, that of Lindsay Lohan dressing up as a bloody bride from the grave with really bad teeth. However, the movie goes downhill when it introduces one of the Plastics' moms; she's so dumb that she's a miscalculation. Sure, the movie is not "realistic", but that Plastic's mom is a wild caricature that belongs in another movie.
The laughs also become labored, repetitive, and uninspired. For instance, the line "He's too gay to function" is repeated incessantly, regardless of whether characters mean well or ill. Also, Cady tells one girl to eat a lot of nutrition bars. The girl thinks that the bars will help her lose weight, but the bars actually make people gain weight. The payoff to the joke arrives so much later after the joke is first told that it's just not funny, period.
At some points, the movie forgets that it's a comedy and takes a veer into dark territory, complete with severe repercussions for some of the characters (including the aforementioned bus-hitting-a-girl incident). In fact, sometimes, I was reminded of "Gossip", a thriller about vicious college students telling lies about each other. The enterprise never recovers a balance in tone and purpose, and its all's-well-that-ends-well ending is trash that is too sugary, too Hollywood, and too commercial for the moviemakers to claim any ounce of integrity.
Girls shouldn't hate on girls--true. Tina Fey, of "Saturday Night Live" fame, shouldn't have hated on so many girls with her sell-out of a screenplay.
To be fair, "Mean Girls" has a lot of great laughs during its first half. However, the movie becomes increasingly unpleasant and vapid as it progresses, mirroring Cady's transformation into a Plastic. Also, the story's reach for a happy ending is unconvincing and unpalatable. Therefore, I recommend this movie only to fans of Lindsay Lohan.
Eddie's film rating: 5/10
It's hard to complain about the picture quality, so I won't even try. The dual-layer BD50 and MPEG-4/AVC video codec replicate what audiences undoubtedly saw in a movie theater, meaning the colors are bright and deep, the black levels are strong, and the definition is sharp. I have to admit that the colors are far brighter and deeper than real life, but, then, "Mean Girls" isn't real life; it's a comedy satire, so it all works out. With little obvious processing of the image, the Paramount engineers produce a picture that looks great most of the time, making it a pleasure to watch.
Although the disc offers the soundtrack in lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1, there isn't much for it to do since the movie must have had a fairly ordinary soundtrack to begin with. In its favor, the audio exhibits an exceptionally smooth, clean midrange. Other than that, the frequency extremes seem somewhat constrained, the dynamics limited, and the rear channels restricted mainly to musical bloom. Some rock music during a party scene comes off best, but it's quite brief.
The Blu-ray disc's extras include the same items found on Paramount's earlier DVD edition, with one exception: The trailer is in high def. Things begin with an audio commentary by director Mark Waters, screenplay writer and actress Tina Fey, and producer Lorne Michaels that seems pretty much like most such commentaries. After that are three featurettes totaling about forty-six minutes: "Only the Strong Survive," "The Politics of Girl World," and "Plastic Fashion," which cover most of the behind-the-scenes stuff we've come to expect. Next is a five-minute blooper reel called "Word Vomit," followed by nine deleted scenes, totaling about seven minutes, with optional commentary by Waters and Fey.
The bonuses wrap up with three interstitials (TV mini-trailers); nineteen scene selections; bookmarks; a widescreen theatrical trailer (HD); English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
I liked "Mean Girls" a little more than Eddie did, but not by much. Although it's pleasantly humorous most of the time, I didn't think it went far enough in its satire; it wasn't dangerous enough; it wasn't different enough from a hundred other such films. For a high school comedy that more deeply spoofs the subject of schemers, I found "Election" edgier, more pointed, and ultimately more enjoyable. "Mean Girls" plays it too safe. As a comedy, it could have taken a bigger chance, gone a little further, and been a lot darker.
Or, you know, like, whatever.