Thursday, May 20, 2004

Das Übermädchen

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that the South Asian math whiz with hiphop pretensions in Mean Girls is a dead ringer for Fareed Zakaria?


Mean Girls

* * * * * if you're a thirteen-year-old radical feminist
* * ½ if you're not

I should bring non-American readers up to speed by giving them a bit of background on Tina Fey, who wrote the script and plays the math teacher. Fey has been co-head writer for the sketch comedy program Saturday Night Live for some years now, as well as anchoring its Weekend Update news parody which, as good as The Daily Show is, has been on for much longer. (The current anchor team of Fey and Jimmy Fallon is one of the best, even if that Fallon punk can't keep a straight face to save his life.) Fey's stint as co-head writer deserves some of the credit for the revival of SNL's fortunes.

So it is no surprise that Mean Girls is, like Ms. Fey herself, both smart and funny. Not to get too abstruse, but comedy is intrinsically entropic. It's good at breaking things down with a corrosive scrutiny. So when this film, the former part of which is unsparingly caustic, suddenly starts letting sacred cows ripe for slaughter go unmolested, this viewer found the effect unpleasantly jarring.

He opened my eyes. Only the best comedians accomplish that.
- Alan Moore

Most Americans probably aren't familiar with the heavily political, openly left-wing British "New Comedy" movement of the 1980s. (You remember, lads, "Comedy is the new rock'n'roll"?)1 With few very honorable exceptions2, the character of British comedy until then was predominantly conservative (with one foot in the music hall and the other on the stage), sometimes Conservative and sometimes even brazenly racist. Margaret Thatcher's reign provided the New Comics with a bottomless source of material. However, the mordancy with which they attacked a particular views made it all the more conspicuous when they left another foibles of another set of prejudices untouched or, worse, espoused it (see: Jeremy Hardy). In one episode of Alexei Sayle's Stuff, Mr. Sayle takes time for a "very special" moment to honor Stalingrad's steadfastness against the Nazis. Perhaps he was being ironic; he certainly wasn't being funny. Not that the Left has a monopoly on this failing. The precipitous decline of Ms. Fey's predecessor Dennis Miller ought to serve as an object lesson for any comedian tempted to allow his political leanings too strong an influence over his material.

In Mean Girls, when the school faculty resorts to touchy-feely therapy-culture bromides as a last resort for the cruelty of children, the film takes a few half-hearted swipes but leaves this target, which is begging to be subjected to the same scathing wit as other targets in the film, relatively untouched, shifting the tone suddenly from biting to earnest. The same happens with the ending, which casts our heroine, Cady Heron (played by Lindsay Lohan), as a kind of Übermensch (Übermädchen?) schoolgirl revolutionary who tears down an unjust order and replaces it with a cliqueless society.

As an aside, in addition to the casting of Mini-Fareed Zakaria, the love interest looks like he was cloned from Ms. Fey's Weekend Update co-anchor Jimmy Fallon.

Also, Rachel McAdams? Hot. Oh, stop squicking. Jeet's younger than she is. In case anyone's wondering why Jeet's recent taste in films has been more suited to thirteen-year-old girls, it's because relatives have been visiting for the past few weeks, one of whom is a thirteen-year-old girl, whom Jeet only accompanied to "13 Going On 30" and "Mean Girls" because he heard they were good. Jeet was forewarned about "Ella Enchanted" and saved two hours of his life as a result. Jeet plans to see "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" as soon as his relatives are safely on a plane back across the Pacific. Ooh, "Shrek 2"!

1"x is the new rock'n'roll." Sometimes apt, always annoying. That said, video games are the new rock'n'roll. Something the 'rents don't get and it scares the shit out of 'em.

2As an American, I grew up with a very high opinion of British culture thanks to Monty Python reruns and the cream that PBS had skimmed off the top of British television. Then I moved to Britain and witnessed a Jimmy Tarbuck performance. I've met piles were less irritating.

Richard put away the Narnia books, convinced, sadly, that they were allegory; that an author (whom he had trusted) had been attempting to slip something past him. He had had the same disgust with the Professor Challenger stories, when the bull-necked old professor became a convert to Spiritualism; it was not that Richard had any problems with believing in ghosts--Richard believed, with no problems or contradictions, in everything--but Conan Doyle was preaching and it showed through the words. Richard was young, and innocent in his fashion, and believed that authors should be trusted, and that there should be nothing hidden beneath the surface of a story.
- Neil Gaiman, "One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock"

So... Neo and Trinity can gun down a lobby full of security guards who are just doing their job, crash a helicopter into the side of a building in an escape attempt, and not have it affect their conscience? Because everyone else is still "part of the system"? Round in these parts, we call that terrorism.
- Cognito, "Could You Repeat the Message?: Movie Morals That Annoy You," Fametracker Forums, 18 May 2004.