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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 30, 2004

Teen comedy 'Mean Girls' prevails without clichés

By Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic

Three Stars (Good to Excellent)
From left: Regina (Rachel McAdams), Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karen (Amanda Seyfried) are the girls from hell in "Mean Girls.'

Paramount Pictures

It would be easy to dismiss "Mean Girls" as just another high school comedy — a "Heathers" remake without the body count.

All the characters are there: the new girl, the handsome jock, the outsiders, the friendly-funny teacher and, of course, the queens of the school, who stride down the hallway as if they own the place.

But screenwriter Tina Fey isn't content to reanimate the same old story.

With a plot that owes more to TV's "Freaks and Geeks" than to "Cruel Intentions," Fey (from TV's "Saturday Night Live") twists these familiar elements until we're not sure who we like and fills in the gaps with lively, funny writing.

Displaying a rare mix of humor and heart, "Mean Girls" deserves mention along with coming-of-age favorites such as "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Sixteen Candles."

Instead of just creating one-dimensional constructs, Fey — in adapting Rosalind Wiseman's "Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence," (Three Rivers Press, $14.95) — supplies enough details to bring the characters to life. And she somehow (almost) makes us feel sorry for the film's chief villain, Regina George (Rachel McAdams), who heads The Plastics, a trio of too-perfect adolescent image-makers and takers.

Lindsay Lohan ("Freaky Friday," "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen") stars as Cady, a girl who's literally plucked from the wilds of Africa and enrolled in an upper-middle-class high school. Cady's been home-schooled her whole life, so she's gullible and easily fooled by her sophisticated classmates.

Cady is befriended by a pair of outcasts (Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzese), but learns a quick lesson after making doe eyes at Regina's former boyfriend, the aw-shucks handsome Aaron (Jonathan Bennett). Smiling her double-crossing smile, Regina offers to introduce Cady to Aaron and smooches him instead.

While Cady envisions her reaction in the wild (her thoughts come to life in a funny fantasy sequence), she realizes she must use her wits instead. With the help of her newfound pals, she embarks on a plan to strip Regina of her crown.

While some of their schemes backfire (Regina's ruined tank top instantly turns into the school's hottest fashion trend), they eventually gain success by introducing the vain princess to "health" bars that actually make her gain weight.

With Regina unaware of Cady's revenge plans, she accepts Cady into The Plastics, a group filled out by the dimwitted Karen (Amanda Seyfried) and the insecure Gretchen (Lacey Chabert). While hating Regina along the way, Cady begins to enjoy her new status, and all but loses her innocence. The movie works down to the supporting characters, many of whom are played by current and former "SNL" stars. Tim Meadows generates more than his share of chuckles as the exasperated high school principal, and Amy Poehler is equally amusing as Regina's artificially enhanced, overly indulgent mom.

Fey limits her role of Cady's calculus teacher, Ms. Norbury, but she doesn't give away all the good lines. For fans of "Freaks and Geeks," the inclusion of Norbury's "mathlete" team — headed by an overconfident, rappin' brainy guy — should draw a smile.

But it's not the first, or the last, in "Mean Girls."

Rated PG-13, profanity, innuendo.