(Mark Waters, 2004)
Mean Girls does something extremely difficult with seeming ease. It manages to be witty, subversive and self-aware without ever compromising on how well it works as a teen comedy. This is largely down to a terrific script by Tina Fey, but Waters' fleet direction and a brilliant cast do more than their share too.
Inspired by a non-fiction book on female social groups in High School and the damaging effects they can have, Fey's story follows the arrival of Cady Harron (Lindsay Lohan) to a pretty identikit movie High School in Illinois. She is quickly taken under the wing of a pair of outcasts, extravagantly camp Damian and sharp-tongued goth Janice (Lizzy Caplan) who sardonically run through the cliques dominating the school, centred around "the Plastics", a trio of glamorous, popular, bitchy girls led by Regina George (Rachel McAdams). After Regina befriends Cady, she hurts her by stealing a boy she likes. Cady's mission then is to infiltrate the Plastics and destroy them from the inside. But, in classic undercover cop movie fashion, while acting the part of a Plastic, Cady starts to actually become one, and it's hard to know where she ends and the Plastic begins.
The plotting is deft in the main storyline, and the characters register powerfully - McAdams make Regina a terrifyingly real little power-monger, while Lohan nicely plays Cady's corruption by the superficiality of the girls lives. But most of the gags - just as in Fey's great TV show, 30 Rock - are in the margins. Sight gags, throwaway lines, little character details: they mount up to give Mean Girls a density most high school comedies cannot approach.
This combination of genuine hilariousness and the truthful skewering of teen archetypes have made Mean Girls a modern classic. It's a shame that Waters has never done anything anywhere near as good, but also a tribute to the quality of Fey's script (she's also brilliant as Cady's geeky, concerned Maths teacher).