Mean Girls (2004)
Directed by Mark S. Waters
Written by Tina Fey

Two reasons critics are giving so much slack to Mean Girls, despite it being no better than, or even any different from, every other 21st-century teen comedy:

1. They erroneously believe Tina Fey to be "smart, funny, and sexy."
2. Lindsay Lohan's breasts have become a force to be reckoned with, and she's wearing tighter shirts than ever before.

Though, of course, #2 would never be admitted to by the hipster crowd paying good money to see Mean Girls; it is instead covertly hidden within #1, since Tina Fey is an acceptable, non-creepy "crush" for anyone to own up to.

Don't count me in that crowd – I was positively drooling each time Ms. Lohan appeared on screen with increasingly revealing outfits on, and I make no bones about that. Not only is she supremely talented, she's supremely "talented" as well, if you get my drift.

Tina Fey, however, is neither talented nor "talented." Mean Girls strives to be as sharp as whatever it was that sliced Fey's face open and left that unsettling scar, but it settles for extremely easy and pat jokes and plotlines, dealing out that same brand of self-satisfied smarm that makes "Saturday Night Live" so increasingly clueless. "Look at me!" screams Fey. "I'm saying such hilariously taboo things – right?!!! Do you love me??? Please, love me!!!!"

Mean Girls is a slightly darker variation on the superior Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, which had new-girl-in-school Lohan navigating high school cliques and ultimately discovering that it's best to just be yourself. Confessions was no masterpiece, but at least it was up front about its contrivances, not hiding behind that trademark "Hey, I KNOW that wasn't funny – that's why I'm smirking!" sensibility that has seemed to serve Tina Fey so well on "SNL." Why is it that we should all be in love with someone who professes to be a comedian, yet makes no apparent effort to venture beyond the laziest possible punchlines? Because she reminds us of a bookish nympho we secretly longed for in grad school? Fuck all that. Give me some real jokes. I never went to grad school.

The film dissects high school life with all the insight you'd expect from the crowd-pleasing "SNL" lame-o-sphere (which, by the way, still seems to think of itself as the cool freaky artist clique of comedy, despite having become its pathetically cheery student council at least 15 years ago). Fey evokes all the high-school archetypes we recognize from John Hughes movies, as though it is enough to simply wink at those movies instead of establishing anything of relevance for the here and now. Yes, we all saw those movies. Yes, we all liked them. Yes, they were funny and yet painfully honest. And no, you're not the least bit clever for relying on them.

The plot follows Cady (Lohan), home-schooled from birth, arriving at a North Shore high school and falling in with an Ani DiFranco-style art chick named (oof) Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan, Nick's girlfriend Sara on "Freaks & Geeks") and a fat gay guy named Damian (Daniel Franzese, consistently funny even when everything around him isn't). After being courted by "The Plastics" (the popular rich girls – get it, 'cause popular rich girls are plastic), Cady agrees to covertly infiltrate this clique on behalf of the freaks, and to architect their downfall.

While this might have been a fine enough foundation for a pretty good dark comedy, Fey persists in diluting the impact of every black bit she comes up with, almost as though she feels compelled to immediately apologize for any potential offense that's been taken. Whether this was Fey's doing or the studio's, I have no clue – but I'll blame it on Fey, simply because no one else seems willing to.

Lohan is terrific (as are her maginificent breasts, literally popping out of the screen almost like it was Hot Skin in 3-D, but with clothes), as are Lacey Chabert (who gets to unleash an amazingly funny outburst of skinny-bitch anxiety) and, surprisingly, Tim Meadows (as the weary school principal … I never thought Tim Meadows would seem like some kind of comedy legend, but here he really does). Amanda Seyfried is great as the "dumb blonde," though I wish she'd been given some subtle lines to deliver instead of the "SNL" bullshit that permeates the script.

There was one moment toward the end that could have turned Mean Girls around – a moment so totally shocking, out of the blue, inappropriate, and truly, truly dark – wherein Lohan's nemesis (Rachel McAdams), right at the climax of their big showdown, is hit by a bus. Had this been followed through, it would have excused the cliché and boredom of what preceded, and elevated Mean Girls well beyond its intended Heathers-esque darkness. Unfortunately, Fey backs off almost immediately (McAdams isn't actually killed) and resolves the film in a wash of "be yourself" epiphanies that seem even more hackneyed than the Lindsay Lohan/Disney® teen fare that Mean Girls seems so desperate to depart from.

It's telling that the screening I attended was filled with teenage girls who were the exact target of MG's supposed satire, and who loved the movie, cheering on their on-screen equivalents instead of recognizing that they were being skewered, and definitely not seeing this film as anything more than another Lindsay Lohan or Hillary Duff movie. Tina Fey will therefore go to her grave knowing that her wishy-washy comedic style sunk a film that ought to have been able to at least float, and perhaps soar, on the buoyancy of Lindsay Lohan's splendid boobs alone.

Review by Mr. Benefits