Blu-ray Review: Mean Girls (2004)

Far from being just another teen movie-- the subsequent production of the first screenplay completed by Saturday Night Live's first female head writer Tina Fey was likewise far from being just another SNL movie.

Although it was produced by the NBC late night show creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels-- who has overseen and helped launch “the theatrical debuts of ‘SNL’ cast members since 1986--” Tina Fey wisely chose to avoid the trappings of bringing a skit character to the big screen following the mixed success of some of the Lorne Michaels’ productions in the 1990s such as the lackluster Night at the Roxbury, Superstar, and The Ladies Man.

No instead, Fey-- who as the Paramount Studios Production notes reveal “has long been fascinated by social dynamics”-- chose the unlikely nonfiction source material penned by the nonprofit Empower Program’s co-founder Rosalind Wiseman, whose efforts to help “empower girls and boys” to “stop adolescent violence,” were captured in the authentic and heavily researched book Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence.

Impressed by the insightful way that Wiseman managed to tap right into “how girls navigate through the cliques and hierarchies of adolescence,” Fey notes that what affected her most as a comedy writer (and woman) was “the anecdotes of girls that were interviewed for the book.” While Fey admits that “Rosalind, rightfully, takes it very seriously,” Fey’s creative brain went into overdrive, realizing how truly funny they were since in her opinion, “the way girls mess with each other is so clever and intricate, and probably very instinctive.”

Leaping to channel the hierarchies and “sophistication of their social structures,” which Wiseman acknowledged in her bestseller were so complex that “our best politicians and diplomats couldn't do better than a teen girl does in understanding the social intrigue and political landscapes that lead to power,” Fey found a wealth of information through interviews, the written anecdotes, and personal observations to weave together what is arguably the strongest teen film since Amy Heckerling's Clueless, (which was inspired by Jane Austen's Emma).

Instantly hilarious yet alternately filled with sharp observations, relatable experiences, worthwhile lessons rolled into jokes, empathy, and heart—while it’s far less freewheeling in its style than Fey’s zany, award-winning hit 30 Rock-- the fact that Mean Girls is a cleverly masqueraded “Lindsay Lohan” vehicle that plays equally well to women of all ages is part of what makes it such a success.

Far before Lohan became sadly a paparazzi target for her infamous and worrisome misadventures as one of Hollywood’s young A-list starlets living live way too fast, she reminds us once again in this 2004 role coming right off the heels of her earlier and successful work in Walt Disney’s Parent Trap remake co-starring the late and lovely Natasha Richardson and Freaky Friday alongside Jamie Lee Curtis’ spirited turn just how talented she truly is at what she does.

Easily falling into the role as the sweetly innocent and na├»ve fifteen year old home-schooled Cady Heron whose zoologist parents return with their daughter in tow from life abroad in Africa only to drop her in the incredibly unfriendly and Darwinian terrain of a typical Midwestern high school—it isn’t long before the mathematically gifted junior catches the attention of a few of her classmates from decidedly different circles.

Initially adopted by fellow outcasts straight out of John Hughes’ Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Sixteen Candles-- Lizzy Caplan’s artistically gifted and cynical Janice Ian and Daniel Franzese’s gay, activities obsessed Damian—she’s quickly warned about the school’s popular living Barbie dolls dubbed The Plastics who rule the school.

Essentially describing the girls’ existence as “celebrity culture shrunk down to high school size,” the tight trio of pretty and wealthy girls led by the ingeniously two-faced “Queen Bee” Regina George (The Notebook and Family Stone star Rachel McAdams) along with her gossip filled, mistreated sidekick Gretchen (Party of Five’s Lacey Chabert), and the dim-witted sycophantic bimbo Karen (Big Love and Mamma Mia!’s Amanda Seyfried) soon develop an interest in Cady.

Quickly, Regina invites her to join them for lunch—more in the vein of The Godfather style advice of keeping friends close and enemies closer than anything else. As McAdams explains in describing her intelligent and cruel character’s actions regarding the new girl, “she recognizes that Cady is pretty enough and smart enough to be very popular, and she realizes that if Cady becomes high school savvy enough, she has the potential to throw Regina right off her throne. So she immediately takes Cady under her wing to keep an eye on her.”

However, Janice—an old former middle school best friend of Regina’s who was badly scorned by the she-villain—soon enlists Cady to serve as a high school spy, reporting back everything that happens as she’s plummeted head-first into the rule-based, externally carefree but internally stressed girl world that is The Plastics.

And when Cady finds her own motive for not trusting Regina after she develops a crush on the handsome Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett) whom Regina dumped awhile back but begins dating again just to wield her power over Cady—soon Cady, Janice, and Damien go full-scale into Plastic Sabotage striving to take away each and every thing that gives Regina her power such as her “army of skanks,” “hot man candy” killer body, and more.

Of course, once they begin to stoop to Regina’s level, the art of high school manipulation becomes faster to grasp than advanced mathematics which Cady begins purposely failing to try and get closer to Aaron, much to the dismay of her earnest, hard-working divorced teacher (played by Fey). Losing a sense of who she really is now that she’s thrown in with the real jungle instead of the African one where animal rules were more clearly defined—Cady’s decisions spiral out of control.

Fey’s Mean Girls-- directed by Lohan’s Freaky Friday helmer Mark S. Waters (House of Yes, Just Like Heaven, Spiderwick Chronicles, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past)—is a completely refreshing film that despite being incredibly funny and a return to the golden age of intelligent teen comedies that treated its target audience as though they had working brains as opposed to most of the garbage being hurled their direction at the multiplex, benefits as well from its ability to be used as a fun teaching tool.

For, no matter which decade you found yourself in the four years of high school hell—Cady’s experiences instantly ring true as there always have been and always will be Plastics but thankfully at the same time, there will always be those lovable outsiders who recognize how fleeting and foolish the entire thing is before they’re able to go out into the real world. As the director acknowledges in a smart behind-the-scenes extra “Only the Strong Survive” that’s included in Paramount’s recent Blu-ray release of the film, it’s a great attempt to show the frustrations and dichotomy of high school students who are “trying to act like adults but are not adults.”

Also featuring some great supporting turns by scene-stealer Amy Poehler as Regina’s mom and Tim Meadows as the school’s principal—hopelessly lost in a school where the girls have gone wild (and being given one of the best lines as he threatens the gym teacher with a baseball bat to “step away from the under-age girls”), Mean Girls boasts commentary with Waters, Fey, and Michaels, along with a blooper reel, deleted scenes (with commentary), multiple featurettes, and three hilarious ads with the actors in character.

While the only extra that’s been upgraded to HD for the Blu-ray is the original theatrical trailer as this edition repeats the same extras available on the original DVD, the Blu-ray’s quality is a noticeable if not overwhelming improvement over the original version as the outrageous costumes, production design and details used throughout really “pop” in 1080 pixels making the fashions a bit brighter and great soundtrack sound better than before.

Additionally updating the clarity to the point where individual strands of hair and threads on clothing are suddenly exceptionally vivid and noticeable—while from a film buff perspective—it’s not one you must upgrade to in Blu-ray since the DVD manages to work just fine for the purpose with the same extras, but for those who have yet to purchase it or are considering moving their collection entirely into high definition, it’s well-worth owning in any format.

Since, in my opinion--to this day, it’s still one of only a handful of post John Hughes films that can rank among the very best fare made with teens in mind that succeeds most likely because regardless of one’s age or gender, you’ll be able to identify strongly with at least one or more of the characters from Fey’s brilliantly conceived screenplay.