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Mean Girls

Paramount // PG-13 // April 14, 2009
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 7, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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been sitting here staring at the cover art for Mean Girls for kind of a while now, but it's not because I'm leering at all of the impossibly gorgeous girls plastered across it or anything. No, I keep reading one of the quotes over and over again, completely fascinated that Gene Shalit once called a movie "wicked good". ...but hey! This was 2004, and times were different. I mean, back then, Lindsay Lohan was still a too-adorable-for-words up-and-comer and not so much a tabloid punchline. I guess anything was possible.

Anyway, Mean Girls opens with a bright-eyed tyke named Cady settling into her first day of school. We're not talking about sippy cups and animal crackers, though; Cady (Lindsay Lohan) is sixteen and diving headfirst into high school. She'd been taught by her parents as they skulked through the jungles of Africa conducting research, but now the Heron family has set up shop in suburban Illinois, and Cady is palling around with kids her own age for the very first time. High school's about as brutal and unforgiving as anything Cady had seen in the steaming jungles a couple continents over, and she quickly learns that there are the gazelles -- y'know, the arty, outcast types like Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and her too-gay-to-function shadow (Daniel Franzese) -- and the lions that are tearing them into bloody, fist-sized chunks. The Plastics are on the top of the food chain here, led by Regina (Rachel McAdams), the most popular, most jaw-droppingly beautiful, and most feared girl in school.

Regina and her insecure, double-digit-IQ hangers-on (Amanda Seyfried and Lacey Chabert) are intrigued enough by Cady to offer her a spot at their table. It's an honor, really. She's sweet and demure enough to want to dance through the whole "thanks, but no thanks" routine, but Janis and Damien think this could be a blast. Y'know, get someone on in the inside who could flip the Plastics over and expose their taut, well-toned, but vulnerable little underbellies. There are an awful lot of rules that go along with a prime spot in Girl World, but Cady rolls with the punches pretty well. As she...oh no!...starts to become a little too much like the overentitled princess type she's been pretending to be, Cady inadvertently breaks Girl Rule #1 by fawning over Regina's too-cute ex (Jonathan Bennett). Regina puts on a smiley face and stabs Cady in the back (not literally; it's not that kind of movie!), and that sparks an all-out war. Okay, a war where Swedish weight gain bars are used as ammunition, but still...! War is war, and war is hell.

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Heathers and Clueless, split 'em down the middle, and you'll wind up with something an awful lot like Mean Girls. Sure, Mean Girls is as cute, glossy, and bubbly as pretty much any other teen flick you could rattle off, but there's just enough of the darkly satirical undercurrent from Heathers to give it an edge. I'd probably have to dial the Wayback Machine over to 10 Things I Hate About You to stumble onto the last teen movie this sharp and witty, and Tiny Fey's screenplay is peppered with the sorts of cacklingly clever fantasies and non-sequiters that've made 30 Rock such a kinda-sorta hit. It doesn't hurt that the flick is rounded out with a cast with chops and charm to spare. There aren't any white hats this time around; everyone's deeply flawed but still kinda endearing and likeable in their own ways...even Regina, although you might not know it by just how waist-deep into Raging Bitch mode Rachel McAdams is willing to wade. There's a half-battalion of SNL alums on the payroll too, but it's Tim Meadows that winds up stealing every last scene he's in as the brow-beaten principal.

Mean Girls is packing such a great cast and a cacklingly satirical sense of humor that it's kind of a drag that it sputters near the end. As many Heathers comparisons as you could justifiably toss its way, Mean Girls grabs the steering wheel near the end and veers straightahead into something disappointingly conventional. That sharp, biting sense of humor gives way to a Too-Cute Happy Ending, and even though it's not bad, so much of that third act doesn't seem as if it gels all that comfortably with the rest of the flick. I wonder if the early drafts were a good bit darker, and that edge was gradually dulled by studio notes seeking out something more upbeat and cheerful. I mean, the spat between Regina and Cady is nasty and smirklingly cruel enough that Mean Girls lives up to its title for so much of the movie, but it peters out near the end, and the quadruple-underline "wave your freak flag" moral message is kind of standard issue for this sort of flick.

Eh, but that's alright, though. Mean Girls is really sharp, smart, and devastatingly funny, and it stands out as one of the better teen movies from the past five years and change. It's also headed up by a turn by Lindsay Lohan that's so sweet, charming, and instantly likeable that it's kind of depressing to think how she's squandered all of that talent and goodwill. Oh well. Recommended.

Decently detailed, nicely defined, and packing a deceptively cheery, vivid palette, Mean Girls looks pretty great on Blu-ray. Seasoned nitpickers will still be able to tell that Mean Girls is a lower-budget catalog title minted from a master that's a few years old now -- the image is very lightly speckled, kind of grainy, and just the slightest bit softer than usual -- but all of that's easily shrugged off. This is a marked step up over the DVD, especially without any of the ringing from overzealous edge enhancement creeping in this time around. I couldn't spot any clunky processing at all, really. Mean Girls won't curl any toes, but it's a solid catalog release and in the ballpark of what I waltzed in expecting.

This Blu-ray disc opens up the mattes slightly to an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and its AVC encode is spread across both layers of this BD-50.

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The sound design in Mean Girls is a little more aggressive than you might expect; I mean, there's a full-fledged riot at one point, not to mention a couple of cafeteria-meets-African jungle fantasies with gaggles of sophomores screaming and squawking. A few scattered scenes like those keep the rear channels chattering, but Mean Girls is a dialogue-driven flick, so its 24-bit TrueHD track lets the front speakers do most of the heavy lifting. The dialogue's cleanly rendered and nicely balanced in the mix, the poppy soundtrack packs a wallop, and some sound effects -- there's one wham! that really stands out -- are beefed up by a meaty low-frequency kick. There's a decent sense of distinctness and clarity belted out here too. Thunderous? Immersive? Some other random buzzword I'm forgetting? Nah, not really, but Mean Girls sounds good enough for what it is.

Dubs in French and Spanish are served up in lossy Dolby Digital alongside subtitle streams in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

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Mean Girls carries over all of the extras from that DVD from a few years back. Only its theatrical trailer is in high-def, though.
  • Audio Commentary: Director Mark Waters, screenwriter-slash-actress Tiny Fey, and producer Lorne Michaels pile into the recording booth to tackle Mean Girls' commentary track, and it's...okay, I guess. This is an especially quippy commentary, but even though Fey and Waters really don't ever stop talking, they don't say that much. Pretty much all of the highlights are the random notes they lob out: nicking the template for Regina from Glengarry Glen Ross, Amy Poehler stepping in as a rap coach, the lack of an umlaut in der Svedish language, slathering digital chocolate onto Rachel McAdams' teeth, and having to shoot their own skeevy Girls Gone Wild video. It's okay to leave playing in the background, but there isn't enough of a hook to scream out for a listen on its own.

  • So Fetch - Deleted Scenes (7 min.): There's audio commentary for this reel of nine deleted scenes too, but it pretty much just boils down to "I miss this, but it slowed the movie down." The scenes themselves are worth digging through, tho', including a pudding-drenched misfired prank, Cady rigging Regina's bathroom scale, a K√§lteen callback, and...::audible gasp!::...a climactic confrontation before the whole Spring Fling thing.

  • Word Vomit (6 min.): As opposed to...y'know, vomit-vomit. This is Mean Girls' gag reel, so you know the drill: blown lines, random riffage, fumbling with props, spontaneous bursts of laughter, and...oh! That's a new one. Spewing Sprite.
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  • Only the Strong Survive (25 min.): Mean Girls' making-of featurette doesn't come across as too promotional the way most of these things do. It kicks off by touching on adapting Queen Bees and Wannabes for the screen; y'know, carving out a story where there really wasn't one and hammering out just the right tone. The rest of "Only the Strong Survive" is spent breezing through just about every character in the flick, and it's littered with very detailed casting notes, including a nod to just how many SNL alums are on the callsheet. Kinda lightweight but okay.

  • The Politics of Girl World (11 min.): This featurette is anchored around Rosalind Wiseman, the author behind Queen Bees and Wannabes. It's more serious than you might expect, touching on the struggles with intraplastic rivalries, rules that aren't altogether defined until it's decided they've been broken, the drive to claw towards some sort of social status, and how tough it is for parents to relate to something they've left so far behind in the rear view mirror. It's a fairly thoughtful look at some of the serious real-life issues that inspired Mean Girls.

  • Plastic Fashion (10 min.): ...and way on the other end of the spectrum is this peek into Mean Girls' costume design. It's exceptionally thorough, delving into just how much time, thought, and consideration go into piecing together the dozens of outfits each of the main actresses wears throughout the course of the film.

  • Interstitials (2 min.): Instead of just warming over a bunch of clips from the flick, Mean Girls' ad campaign piles on some clever wraparounds and new footage.

  • Trailer (3 min.; HD): Mean Girls' theatrical trailer is the only high-def extra this time around.

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The Final Word
I'll probably look back at this somewhere down the line and wish I'd hammered out a better comparison, but my kneejerk reaction is that Mean Girls is an awful lot like a Lily Allen song: cute and bubbly on the outside, sure, but there's a fanged sense of humor and an almost subversive wit lurking underneath. So, yeah: Mean Girls is sharp, smart, and clever, but it's still a ridiculous amount of fun too. The flick looks and sounds nice enough on Blu-ray, and there's a decent stack of extras to plow through. Recommended.
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