Mean Girls review – defanged take on a teen classic

Review by Hannah Strong @thethirdhan

Directed by

Arturo Perez Jr. Samantha Jayne


Angourie Rice Auli'i Cravalho Reneé Rapp


Stop trying to make musical adaptations happen!


Decidedly ungrool and underbaked.

In Retrospect.

...Anyway, Mean Girls (2004) is streaming on Paramount+.

This movie based on a musical based on a movie based on a book retains none of the biting wit that charmed audiences in its original iteration.

Sartre wrote that “Hell is other people” but I’ll be more specific: Hell is teenage girls. Whether you’ve been one, raised one, or merely survived an education among the ravenous hoards, it’s a jungle out there. This zoomorphism featured heavily in Mark Waters’ 2004 coming-of-age comedy Mean Girls, which centred on the social politics of a suburban Illinois high school through the eyes of a new transfer student, Cady Heron (then played by Lindsay Lohan). Waters’ film became a critical and commercial hit, catapulting rising stars Lohan, Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried into the mainstream.

Two decades later the film is still widely regarded as a high point of the teen movie canon, sitting pretty next to Heathers and The Breakfast Club for its humour and only slightly exaggerated take on the high school food chain. In the age of endless IP, perhaps it was inevitable that the huge success of Mean Girls would spawn a musical adaptation, which debuted on Broadway in 2017. Seven years later, this musical is the basis for a new Mean Girls movie, which takes the original plot and characters, updates the setting, and adds in a handful of forgettable songs with choreographed dance numbers.

Angourie Rice now stars as Cady, who transfers to North Shore High after being homeschooled in Kenya where her mother worked as a researcher of unspecified discipline. She is quickly befriended at her new school by proud misfits Janis ‘Imi’ike (Auliʻi Cravalho) and Damien Hubbard (Jaquel Spivey) who explain the classroom cliques – the most notable of which is the Plastics. Regina George (Reneé Rapp) and her underlings Gretchen Wieners (Bebe Wood) and Karen Shetty (Avantika) take a shine to the new girl, ushering her into their clique of school rulers. Along the way, Cady takes a shine to Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney), but when Regina gets word the new kid has a crush on her ex, she decides to get back together with him. Cady, Janis and Damien all swear revenge on Regina, which comprises a plan to: make her boyfriend dump her; make her friends turn against her; and – gasp – make her gain some weight.

While purportedly a refresh of the source material for a new generation, there’s little to suggest Tina Fey – writer of the original script and the remake – has done much research into the trials and tribulations of the latest graduating class other than noticing they use TikTok and like Beyoncé. Some of the original jokes have been altered (a reference to Ladysmith Black Mambazo is changed to, er, Neil DeGrasse Tyson), perhaps in an attempt to appear more contemporary or less unpleasant, but in the process, these mean girls end up significantly lacking the “mean”. The barbs aren’t sharp, the jabs don’t land, and it’s difficult to believe that this is reflective of current adolescent behaviour. Teenagers, after all, are incredibly adept at finding new and interesting ways to be cruel to one another. Not in this film it seems.

This toothlessness wouldn’t be so apparent if the film’s gimmick – its song and dance routines – was compelling, but the forgettable numbers bleed into one another, none especially entertaining. If there’s one thing to be said for the cast, they’re energetic and clearly trying their best, but none have the charisma or comedic timing which made Lohan et al such a delight to watch.

Of course film has an incredible uphill battle on its hands to even come halfway to matching the charm of its predecessor, but it’s impossible to evaluate Mean Girls on its own merit when it leans so heavily on the 2004 film, not just with rehashed jokes and watered-down recreations but with jarring meta references that don’t fully commit. It is possible to pull off the stealth reboot with a nudge and a wink (take a bow, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series) but Mean Girls can’t decide if it’s an homage, a satire, or something else entirely. Even a late-game cameo from Lohan herself can’t fill the charisma void, and the result is a teen movie with an identity crisis.

There’s fertile ground in the teen movie, and it’s entirely possible that a Mean Girls reboot could have been as smart and sassy as the original was for millenials, providing countless memes and salient social wisdom for younger viewers, but its failure to sufficiently carve out a new identity or to meaningfully provide a fresh spin on the material means there’s nothing to be gained from watching this pale imitation of a stone cold classic.

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Published 15 Jan 2024

Tags: Angourie Rice Arturo Perez Jr Mean Girls Reneé Rapp Samantha Jayne Tina Fey


Stop trying to make musical adaptations happen!


Decidedly ungrool and underbaked.

In Retrospect.

...Anyway, Mean Girls (2004) is streaming on Paramount+.

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