‘Mean Girls’: A Coming-of-Age Teen Comedy

It’s a questionable tale with questionable characters and motivations.
‘Mean Girls’: A Coming-of-Age Teen Comedy
Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan, L) joins the Plastics (L–R): Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried), Regina George (Rachel McAdams), and Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert), in “Mean Girls.” (Paramount Pictures)
Ian Kane

2004 | PG-13 | 1h 37m | Comedy

Despite Lindsay Lohan’s many personal and legal problems, she is definitely a  talented actress (or was). After seeing her recently in “The Parent Trap” (1998), I thought it would be interesting to also watch the oddly lauded “Mean Girls” (2004) since I’m always game for a good coming-of-age teen comedy.

However, I must say that, overall, the best decade for teen comedies in modern times would have to be the 1980s, with hilarious and heartfelt gems such as “Just One of the Guys” (1985) and  “Some Kind of Wonderful,” (1987). These films not only delved into the trials and tribulations of raging hormones and highly stratified high school hierarchies associated with teendom, but they did so in relatable ways and offered useful social commentary.

As attitudes have become much more cynical in the decades since then, teen comedies have morphed into decidedly mean-spirited (pun intended) productions, such as 2004’s “Mean Girls.” Although good for a few chuckles here and there, problems eventually begin that seep into its increasingly murky narrative.

Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) as her original wholesome self, in “Mean Girls.” (Paramount Pictures)
Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) as her original wholesome self, in “Mean Girls.” (Paramount Pictures)

Things kick well off enough, with Lohan taking on the role of Cady Heron, a sheltered 16-year-old who grew up in Africa. After her parents moved back to the United States, they formulated a plan to “socialize” Cady by enrolling her at a local high school in Evanston, Illinois. Cady isn’t the only one stressed out about joining a scholastic institution after being homeschooled for years; her mother (Ana Gasteyer) and father (Neil Flynn) are pretty freaked out about it, too, since they’ve doted over her for so long.

Cady’s apprehension is well-founded, as she experiences a horrid first day of high school. Most of her fellow students are either overtly hostile toward her or subtler in their tactics, such as putting their bookbags in school cafeteria chairs to block her from sitting next to them.

As Cady struggles to acclimate to her harsh new reality, a couple of misfits, Damian (Daniel Franzese) and Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan), take notice of her. Damian and Janis dwell at the lower end of the high school’s pecking order: Damian’s a flamboyant overweight gay teen, and Janis looks like a scrappy holdover from the ‘90s’ grunge scene.

The two outcasts take Cady under their wings and quickly bring her up to speed on the different social cliques at the school, especially a trio of titular “mean girls” called the Plastics, consisting of prototypical fake blond leader Regina George (Rachel McAdams) and her two vapid sidekicks, Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert) and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried).

Since Cady is considered a “hot” commodity, the Plastics eventually offer her a chance to join their ranks. But since Damian and Janis have a seething hatred for Regina and her mean crew, they devise a nefarious plan to have Cady join them under false pretenses. Once Cady gains the Plastic’s trust, Damien and Janis hope to learn weaknesses about Regina in order to destroy her carefully constructed reputation.

Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese), in “Mean Girls.” (Paramount Pictures)
Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese), in “Mean Girls.” (Paramount Pictures)

Cady’s manipulation starts off clandestinely, but soon she starts to exhibit many of the same negative traits that Regina has, such as bullying other students. Cady also pulls other ill-natured stunts, such as sabotaging Regina’s relationship with her boyfriend Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett) so that Cady can manipulate him into being with her instead.

Eventually, there seems to be more than a double agent act going on with Cady, and her original friends begin to wonder if she’s trying to replace Regina. From there, viewers who are still interested in the movie will likely wonder what Cady is going to do next. Personally, by the movie’s second act, I didn’t care one way or another.

There are some real problems with this production, but none of them are the fault of the actors, who struggled mightily with what they were given. One of the film’s main selling points seems to be that writer and actor Tina Fey had a big hand in writing its screenplay. However, this is actually to the film’s detriment, as Fey’s short-range sketch- comedy writing starts to run out of steam by its midpoint. It’s like trying to stretch a single joke out too far, and getting back increasingly diminished returns as time rolls on.

Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett) and Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), in “Mean Girls.” (Paramount Pictures)
Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett) and Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), in “Mean Girls.” (Paramount Pictures)

There’s also a general bitterness to just about everything. For instance, there really isn’t anyone in the film who is likable or relatable. Even characters that may have seemed decent early on turn into shady characters with murky morals and motivations. By way of comparison, many of the teen flicks of previous decades may have featured some sketchy characters here and there, but more often than not, they’d have some sort of endearing quirks that made them appealing, or at least understandable.

“Mean Girls” is a film that is all over the place, plot-wise, and doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Couple that with unpleasant characters and uninteresting writing, and you have a hodgepodge of elements that never quite come together. In the end, even Lindsay Lohan (arguably at her zenith) couldn’t save this jumbled production. However, hardcore Lindsay fans may beg to differ.

Sadly, a 2024 retread is in the works, with all of the hyper-politically correct trappings you’d expect in today’s major productions.

“Mean Girls” is available on FuboTV, Redbox, and Showtime.
‘Mean Girls’ Director: Mark Waters Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Jonathan Bennett, Rachel McAdams MPAA Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes Release Date: April 30, 2004 Rated: 2 stars out of 5
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Ian Kane is an U.S. Army veteran, author, filmmaker, and actor. He is dedicated to the development and production of innovative, thought-provoking, character-driven films and books of the highest quality.