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Sunday, May 02, 2004
Teaching One's Grandmother to Suck Eggs

Roger Ebert is a movie-reviewing celebrity and a Pulitzer Prize winner. It would be stupid of me to tell him how to do his job.

And yet.

In his review of Mean Girls, we find, first, this paragraph:
"Mean Girls" dissects high school society with a lot of observant detail, which seems surprisingly well-informed. The screenplay by "Saturday Night Live's" Tina Fey is both a comic and a sociological achievement, and no wonder; it's inspired not on a novel but on a nonfiction book by Rosalind Wiseman. Its full title more or less summarizes the movie: Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence. The mothers in the movie are not much help, however, and Fey's screenplay wisely uses comedy as a learning tool.
This is more than we usually hear in any film review about the screenplay as such. And yet, even with that fresh in his mind, this follows almost immediately:
The movie was directed by Mark S. Waters, who also made "Freaky Friday" (2003), a superior remake, and emerged from Sundance 1997 with "The House of Yes," an uneven but intriguing dark comedy with Parker Posey convinced she was Jackie Onassis.

Here he [my emphasis] avoids amazing numbers of cliches that most teenage comedies cannot do without. When Cady throws a party while her parents are out of town, for example, a lot of uninvited guests do crash, yes, but amazingly they do not trash the house. Although Principal Duvall lectures the student body about a pushing-and-shoving spree, he does not cancel the prom ("We've already hired the deejay"). When Cady gets a crush on Aaron (Jonathan Bennett), who sits in front of her in math class, she deals with it in a reasonable way that does not involve heartbreak. When there are misunderstandings, they're understandable and not awkward contrivances manufactured for the convenience of the plot.
All three of these points are writer's points, not a director's contrivance. Too many people already think that film come solely from directors -- that's the literal meaning of auteur theory, after all. I know Roger Ebert knows better; I don't know why he wrote as if he doesn't.

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