Picks and Pans Review: Mean Girls

UPDATED 05/10/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/10/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Remember the lunch-table dilemma in high school? Where you sat—with the cool kids? with the jocks? with the geeks?—spoke volumes about your standing in the teen universe. Those angst-filled days come rushing back in a droll early scene in this astute comedy of high school manners when 15-year-old Cady Heron (Lohan) enters the cafeteria on her first day at a public school in a Chicago suburb. She must figure out with whom to sit and, more to the point, if they'll let her park there. She finally opts for a solitary meal in a stall in the lavatory.

Soon, though, Cady is flourishing socially and hanging with the most popular girls in school, a pulchritudinous trio referred to by both admirers and detractors as the Plastics. Their leader is Regina George (McAdams), a haughty, horrible blonde who routinely belittles even those closest to her. "I hated her—but I really wanted her to like me," Cady says, neatly summing up the contradictory allure of such creatures. But how will Regina react when Cady develops a crush on Regina's ex-beau (Jonathan Bennett)? Hint: one of the first songs heard on Mean Girls' soundtrack is a version of Blondie's "Rip Her to Shreds."

A superior teen comedy with solid performances by its mostly young cast, Girls easily can be enjoyed by those long past Clearasil concerns. Director Mark Waters (Freaky Friday) and screenwriter Fey savvily dissect the ways and mores of that contemporary jungle Cady dubs Girlworld. Although Girls is fictional, Fey, who also plays a socially inept math teacher in the movie, draws heavily from 2002's Queen Bees and Wannabes, author Rosalind Wiseman's bestselling how-to book on surviving real-life Girlworlds. As the movie shows us, you can survive and even thrive, but it's never easy—and there's still always the prom to get through at the end. (PG-13)

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