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A comedy that covers the terrain somewhere between Heathers and Clueless, Mean Girls is a smart, witty teen movie that, subversive tendencies aside, also has a heart for the kids at its center.

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Lohan makes her way in high school among the mean girls
Lohan makes her way in high school among the mean girls

Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen) is a bright, pretty, caring, open-minded girl home-schooled by her loving parents while living in Africa. Ironically enough, the Heron family’s lifestyle of culturally conscious adventures covers up an enormous amount of naiveté, a bubble that is ripe for popping by that most aggressive and insensitive of creatures, the American teenager.

Picking up stakes and moving to Illinois, the Herons are anxious about seeing their little girl off to school, on her own, for the first time in her life. But, of course, it’s simply another one of life’s character-building experiences and a tremendous growth opportunity.

Open and friendly, Cady is quickly rebuffed by her new schoolmates and shocked by their antics. Digging deep and showing the eye of the tiger, Cady rebounds from the goofs of her first day at school and gradually begins making friends.

Cady’s first friend is Janis (Lizzy Caplan, Orange County), a tom-boy’s tom-boy who is best friends with Damian (Daniel Franzese, Party Monster), an openly gay young man. Shunned by the in crowd, Janis and Damian latch on to Cady’s unpretentious, earnest personality.

Plastics and Eyeglasses

Cady’s new friends also clue her in to her potential: She’s a “regulation hottie,” the kind of girl the “plastics,” the popular girls, will certainly welcome into their social class.

Eager to please, Cady entertains Janis and Damian’s nefarious plan to infiltrate the world of the plastics, undermine their high school domination, and sabotage their very existence.

The plastics revolve around the hottest of the hot, Regina George (Rachel McAdams, The Hot Chick), who might as well be Barbie’s twin sister. Her loyal entourage includes Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chabert, Lost in Space) and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried), girls hot enough to turn any nerd into a slippery puddle of drool.

Conflict enters Cady’s life when Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett, Season of Youth) strolls onto the scene. He’s a cute boy, but he’s also Regina’s ex-boyfriend and going for him would be so not right. It doesn’t help matters any that her home schooling has left Cady flirtatiously retarded; she is nothing more than an extremely cute klutz around boys.

Over time, though, Cady will learn that all is fair in love and war and high school.

So Skeeze, So Fetch

Enough about the kids. Taking this comedy to new, fertile territory are a slew of personnel from Saturday Night Live.

Driving the initiative is Tina Fey, who wrote the screenplay after reading Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. Trading in her SNL news desk, but keeping her trademark black-rimmed eyeglasses, Fey is Ms. Norbury, Cady’s math teacher. It works well that Fey serves as the film’s social conscience while maintaining her “sexy librarian” image.

Tim Meadows chips in as the baseball-bat-swinging Principal Duvall. Meadows is understated and extremely funny; one of the most underappreciated members of SNL, he deserves bigger roles, but makes good use of his screen time here.

Also on board are Amy Poehler as Regina’s mom and Ana Gasteyer as Cady’s mom. Behind the scenes, Lorne Michaels duplicates his credit as SNL producer.

With that pedigree on hand, Mean Girls turns into a nice balance between “old school” and “new school” comedy, with the SNL tribe serving as the elder statespeople of this funny business.

Directed with subversive glee by Mark Waters, who previously teamed with Lohan on Freaky Friday, some of the edginess is reminiscent of Heathers, which coincidentally was written by Mark’s brother, Daniel.

Baby, You’re So Grool

Mean Girls takes place in a world of plastics, outcasts, mathletes, and skanks. It exposes the ugly underbelly of high school’s social-political stratification in a way that anybody who’s been through high school can relate to.

As for Lohan, she fits right in with the SNL gang and shines as an up-and-coming starlet. Helping make that star glow even brighter is Daryn Okada’s cinematography, which brings a beautiful aura of innocence to her face, at least in the early scenes, before things start to get mean.

More importantly, though, amidst the vicious backstabbing females subject each other to and the jokes about your mom’s chest hair and word vomit, Mean Girls earns extra credit for its surprisingly humanitarian message. Thrown into the mix is wise advice that emphasizes the importance of diversity, individuality, and dignity.

Some of the sharpest pearls of wisdom come from Fey herself as she admonishes the girls that it is not OK to call each other sluts and whores. All that does is make it OK for the boys to do the same and there simply is no dignity in treating each other that way.

Also, Cady’s a wiz at mathematics, but she feels compelled to dumb down in order to be more attractive to Aaron, who’s not so slick when it comes to solving higher math problems. Luckily for her, she learns that dumbing down isn’t only unnecessary, it’s a stupid thing to do.

Thanks to Fey’s astute and observant screenplay, Mean Girls’ high school beasts of burden make those lessons, and others, easy to learn.