So Mean Girls is a musical. I feel the need to make that abundantly clear since the trailers for this film try to do everything in their power to hide that fact. They’ll reiterate jokes from the first movie, try out new jokes, just anything other than show you a song from it. In case you didn’t know, Mean Girls was adapted into a Broadway musical and while the show did modestly well and ran for two years, most critics thought the songs were easily the weakest part of the show.
I’ll give Tina Fey, who both wrote the musical and this remake, credit for finding the one thing about her career that was successful post-Saturday Night Live and milking it for all its worth. Make no mistake, this movie, as well as the musical it was based on, have no reason to exist other than to relive the success of the original film. Mean Girls was an incredibly successful film for its time with themes and jokes that are still relatable, so I guess in that regard it makes sense why Tina Fey would try to make lightning strike twice but for a Gen Z crowd. However, the self-awareness and hokey production sands most of the edges away from a comedy that should be way funnier than it is.
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Director: Arturo Perez Jr, Samantha Jayne
Release Date: January 12, 2024 (Theatrical)
Much like the first film, Cady (Angourie Rice) is a transfer student from Kenya who is going to a California high school for the first time. After struggling to fit in, she eventually makes friends with two outcasts, Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey), who tell her about the heads of the social hierarchy in the school, the Plastics. These pink popular hotties are led by Regina George (Renee Rapp) and over time, Cady begins to socialize with them. At first, it’s genuine, then eventually it’s to get revenge on Regina for stealing the boy she had a crush on, vowing to make her the most hated person in school. But as time goes on, Cady begins to become her own worst enemy and becomes just as bad, if not worse, than Regina.
It’s apparent almost immediately that Mean Girls is adapted from a musical since the first five minutes of the film feel completely ripped from the musical with barely any alterations. You can see when scene transitions take place, where scenes would be staged on an actual stage, and in general how unbelievable the entire proceedings are. A lot of information is just thrown at the viewer with the film hoping it sticks. The first five minutes of this film are simply bad. After that, the story takes a backseat a lot of the time in favor of inserting more songs to either add something visually interesting to the film or give the characters some development or characterization that the script is sorely lacking. The plot just seems to coast by hoping that you either remember the plot of Mean Girls or know a lot of the jokes through cultural osmosis.
The thing that Tina Fey and the creators of this film forget is that the humor of Mean Girls came from the performances of the cast. Like it or not, basically, every actor here is inferior to the original actors who played these roles. The only exception may be Renee Rapp’s portrayal of Regina, but that probably has more to do with the fact that she also played the role on Broadway. Everyone else just feels like they have a surface-level understanding of the characters and plot. Even Tina Fey and Tim Meadows, who reprise their roles from the original film, feel less energetic and go through the motions.
This results in rarely any of the jokes landing. When the movie is recycling the same jokes from the original, like “You go Glenn Coco!” or hearing about October 3rd, Mean Girls does everything within its power to draw attention to the fact that it was a joke from the first movie. But weirdly enough, by acknowledging the fact that those were jokes from the first movie, they lose any impact they may have had. They’re only funny now because they were funny in the first movie, but no one understands why they’re supposed to be funny here. They’re only humorous now because they’ve become referential humor and the movie is aware of it.
The entire film just comes across as unambitious and coasts off of the success of a 20-year-old movie. It’s the exact same story but told worse. I guess that musical numbers stop me from saying that the film is a carbon copy of the original film, but that’s not a ringing endorsement. The songs are poorly shot and have some truly awful lyrics. Whenever a new song would pop up, I usually rolled my eyes since the songs were basic and dull. I thought the film was going to try to do something unique with its songs, like make all of the musical numbers take place in Cady’s head while everyone else around her behaved like normal high schoolers, but that idea quickly went out the window when the cast all began to sing and dance in a weird group number about how Halloween is all about dressing up to be sexy. It wouldn’t have been a great direction, but at least it would have been something.
There’s a huge focus on trying to make the film not necessarily relate to Gen Z but put some Gen Z iconography in there. Social media is a big part of the the film, with certain dance numbers being done through social media or numerous montages where a bunch of high schoolers are commenting on what’s happening. While it’s a valiant effort, it kind of undermines some of the major story beats of the film. For instance, in an age where cyberbullying is one of the biggest forms of harassment in schools, The Burn Book, the book that the Plastics have to make fun of other girls in their grade, just feels like this relic of a bygone era. It’s like Mean Girls is trying to connect with a new generation but fails to understand that by refusing to make major changes, it still comes across like a 2004 comedy, a comedy that had jokes that were funnier back in 2004.
As much as it may come across as if I hated my time with Mean Girls, I didn’t really dislike it. The few original jokes they did have did elicit a chuckle or two from me and the characters are still interesting and unique. Renee Rapp is clearly having fun being Regina again, and again, she’s the best thing about this movie. While the musical numbers are the definition of unnecessary, they’re sung competently and no one sounds like nails on a chalkboard. It’s just that these songs are so bland and generic that they don’t evoke any emotions in me at all. I can see why the marketing team did everything in their power to hide the songs in trailers because if people went into Mean Girls knowing that it was a musical and they heard a few of the songs, they would avoid it like the plague.
Look, January is always the worst month of the year for films. It’s a dumping ground where studios try to scrounge through their library for anything to release and make some kind of a profit. Is it at all a surprise that Mean Girls was meant to be released exclusively onto Paramount+ but got a theatrical release to try and take advantage of an easy 4-Day MLK weekend box office? In any other week, Mean Girls would be swiftly forgotten, but maybe it can scrounge a profit because of this. It wouldn’t be because the film is good, but because there’s nothing else for it to compete against. It’s a mediocre comedy that, at best, is an unnecessary remake of a film that didn’t need it and, at worse, is a cringy attempt to pander to a new generation without actually understanding why Mean Girls has the respectable fanbase it does.