When Thomas Hobbes described life as "nasty, brutish, and short," he could have been talking about the lives of high-school girls. At least that's the thrust of Mean Girls (PG-13), based on the nonfiction book Queen Bees And Wannabes.
The movie is an empowerment lecture embedded in a funny movie about girls, high school, cliques, honesty, and popularity. When Cady Heron moves with her anthropologist parents from Africa, where she's been homeschooled, to Evanston, Ill., she's unprepared for the vicious cliques she confronts in her junior class. She doesn't know the music, the pop-culture references, or how to dress. In typical Hollywood fashion, the only students who are initially nice to her are gay Damien and Goth-looking Janis, who lets others think she's a lesbian.
At the top of the social pyramid are the three Plastics, called that because they resemble Barbie dolls. Headed by queen bee Regina, they rule the school with catty cruelty. They gossip, spread rumors, backstab, snub, name call, and ridicule. The other girls behave like hostages, adoring, defending, and imitating their oppressors. Cady comes to school seeming to understand the virtues of honesty and friendship but is drawn into the Plastics' circle. She gradually becomes plastic also-until her own deceit and treachery become widely known.
At this point the movie transforms from "slice of cruel life" comedy to earnest "grrrl power" lecture. The movie throws in other empowering messages as well: Girls are smart, math is cool. All that is true, but since the movie caters to the worldview of its teen audience, the critique of teen culture is shallow-and delivered in an often crude, vulgar way that will bother some parents. The girls toss around words like "slut" but teach each other to dress like one. The filmmakers ridicule abstinence education. Teachers are generally clueless-as are parents.