Mean Girls

The Plastics, deep in discussion.

The Plastics, deep in discussion.

3Star

by Ken B.

I bet at one point or another, Tina Fey envisioned a really good ending to Mean Girls, but we didn’t see it. Despite the fact that ninety percent of this movie is consistently funny and engaging, the finale plays out like an almost-finished screenplay was soaked in a steaming hot bowl of clichés. Otherwise, this is a movie that does indeed go far beyond what’s usually observable in a high school movie, and it should indeed be commended on that basis.

Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) is the daughter of two scientists (Ana Gasteyer and Neil Flynn) who has spent the majority of her life homeschooled, growing up in Africa, where her parents have been working. They have recently moved to Evanston, Illinois, and at age sixteen, Cady is about to attend her first formal school. It’s never easy for the new kid, and at first, the only people that give her the time of the day are sort of outcasts; the sarcastic Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) and the flamboyantly gay Damian (Daniel Franzese). From them, Cady learns of the most popular girls in school; Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chabert), and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried). These three form The Plastics, where they are allowed to be as airheaded and materialistic as they want.

The Plastics, intrigued by Cady, invite her to eat lunch with them, and she is soon enveloped into their circle. The peculiarities come quick: Only wear sweatpants on Fridays, always wear pink on Wednesdays, and you can only put your hair in a ponytail once a week. The gossip is there too, as they own a “burn book”, where they cut out pictures of students and teachers from the yearbook and write nasty comments about them (I vote to name such books as “Perez Hilton encyclopedias”). Janis sees Cady’s popularity with The Plastics as an opportunity to infiltrate and humiliate the group, particularly Regina, and creates a plan to do so. What ensues is 97 minutes worth of animalistic struggles, sabotage, and slander at the top rungs of the social ladder with Cady attempting to dethrone Regina, soon because of her own desires rather than the initial plans.

In her script, Tina Fey has crafted brilliant commentary on our common need to be liked, never mind why or how shallow it may be. Every now and then, Cady imagines a particularly horrific scenario like a fight between animals in the wild – the participants will roll around, growling, and those around will jump up and down making incoherent noises. They’re throwaway sequences, but they provide the most effective satire in the whole film, and a backbone thesis for what the rest of Mean Girls conveys: Put a group of people together regularly for extended periods of time, and social Darwinist mayhem will ensue.

The actors bring efficiency to their characters: Lohan as the girl thrown around, the unknowing pawn of the terrifying structure around her, McAdams as the queen bee, willing to take down anyone for any reason, and Chabert and Seyfried’s characters basically prying to be carbon copies of their leader. One of the main catalysts of the plot is senior Aaron Samuels, Cady’s crush and Regina’s ex-boyfriend. He’s portrayed with a solid but unmemorable performance from Jonathan Bennett. Fey plays calculus teacher Ms. Norbury, who later shows more awareness of the events and psyches around her than the film initially suggests. Three other Saturday Night Live alumni are also present: Tim Meadows plays the principal of the school, Amy Poehler is Regina’s mother, and comparatively senseless, and as mentioned, Gasteyer.

Mean Girls exists a cut above what one might come to expect from something billed as a teen comedy, and if the ending wasn’t so neatly wrapped and typical, it could have crossed into a few more realms of greatness. This is a movie that’s engrained into a realm of culture, and I like to think that I can witness firsthand early signs of its timelessness – I have friends who very much like the film, and fully embrace it, even though we were all still rather young when it came out, despite the fact that a lot of things from its kind-of-recent-but-not-really era are mostly forgotten among most. It’s now ten years old, and Mean Girls’ basic messages and observations will hold true for a good long time, even if the film where they’re contained isn’t perfect.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray

Mean Girls

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Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events – Review

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As you can see, Meryl Streep’s character likes to eat things that aren’t there. This, I imagine, is what supermodels have done for decades.

3Star

by Ken B.

If this makes sense, it’s worth noting that Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is almost cheerfully gloomy, in the kind of worlds that Roald Dahl would create or a film by Tim Burton. I have not read any of the books of which this film is based on, which apparently are written under the name Lemony Snicket, but I can deduce that this is a good adaptation, as a stranger such as myself had no trouble deciphering anything.

This is the story of the Baudelaire children, Violet (EMILY BROWNING, who, writing this in 2013, I must say bears a startling resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence here), 14, a resourceful inventor-type, Klaus (LIAM AIKEN), a bookish type a couple of years younger, and Sunny (KARA and SHELBY HOFFMAN) a toddler whose main purpose is to provide subtitled babbling wisecracks and to bite things. Mr. and Mrs. Baudelaire are presumed dead after a massive fire destroys their house, and following which they are sent to live with eccentric relatives they were previously unfamiliar with, all interspersed with the appearance of a Count Olaf (JIM CARREY). What do I mean? The childrens’ meeting of the reptile loving Uncle Monty (BILLY CONNOLLY) and the hard-to-explain Aunt Josephine (MERYL STREEP) are all interrupted by Count Olaf.

I mean, sure, when you look over the names of the adults, it would appear that this would be compensation for adults attending this film with their children. (Close to the end, there’s a brief appearance from Dustin Hoffman, too). And the next conclusion would be that the actors know that, and perhaps refrain from giving it 100%. No. I am happy to report that the acting is great, all down the board, including the kids (well, I mean the performances of the ones that were old enough to have speaking lines. The baby in this movie didn’t have an awful lot to do). But on the other side of things, I’ve never really been much of a Jim Carrey fan, so it took me a while to become accepting of his naturally over-the-top performance of a character clearly written that away.

The visual style is attractive. Filmed in darker colors with an intentionally ludicrous set design, it’s strangely entrancing at times. Director Brad Siberling uses the talent of the art and visual effects teams to put together a truly amazing looking movie.

But there is not all good here. When this movie is getting started, it begins to over-saturate itself with so much material you feel the thing starting to implode – joke here, visual quirk there, special effect there… really, that kind of oppression never really leaves, it just becomes less noticeable.

However, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is an unquestionably entertaining movie, working with all the staples of an adaptation and also working for those completely unfamiliar with its source material.

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