Audiences must be starved for humor. As we enter the summer months, comedies take a back seat to action at the multiplex, meaning moviegoers who prefer guffaws and pratfalls to explosions and fistfights have fewer options. Judging by the praise critics and audiences alike have lavished on Mean Girls in its two weeks of wide release, you’d think it was an absolute laugh riot. What a shame it is anything but.
The film’s pedigree isn’t to blame: with a script by Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live) and direction by Mark Waters (Freaky Friday), there’s no lack of talent behind the camera. And with teenage star Lindsay Lohan backed by SNL alums Fey, Tim Meadows, Amy Poehler, and Ana Gasteyer, we have plenty of very funny people onscreen. Ultimately, though, Mean Girls is less than the sum of its parts.
Lohan stars as Cady (pronounced Katie) Heron, a teenager making the transition from homeschooling by her parents in Africa to normal, American high school life. Cady has trouble making friends at first, but soon finds other misfits to pal around with. Almost immediately after it seems she’s found her niche, she then falls in with the “Plastics,” a group of ultra-cool girls that the whole school worships. She plots, with her “un-cool” friends, to spy on the popular girls.
Admittedly, to anyone who isn’t familiar with the dozens of high school comedies spawned by the 1980s, the film may seem fresh and original. But for those of use who’ve sat through many a John Hughes movie, every cliche of the genre is there. Aside from the contrived, formulaic plot, we are treated to: the big state-wide academic competition, which ends up depending all on Cady; the raucous party at Cady’s house when her parents are out of town; the potential make-out moment spoiled by the results of too much alcohol; the big end-of-year dance (guess who’s crowned queen?); and, lastly, the reconciliation when everything works out alright for everyone in the end.
All of this cliche could be forgiven if the movie was actually funny. But it’s not. There are clearly moments that are intended to be funny, and, in fact, likely read as funny in the script. But, unlike on SNL, there’s no built-in studio audience to laugh at Fey’s jokes. The physical comedy (Cady spills coffee on her teacher, Cady falls into a trash can) fares no better than the dialogue.
I wanted to like Mean Girls, but in the end, it’s hard to recommend. While all the elements are in place, it just doesn’t come together. You’d be better off renting Heathers and Say Anything for a less trendy but much more satisfying double feature.