Running Time: 113 mins
UK Distributor: Paramount
UK Release Date: 17 January 2024
WHO’S IN MEAN GIRLS?
Angourie Rice, Reneé Rapp, Auliʻi Cravalho, Christopher Briney, Jaquel Spivey, Bebe Wood, Avantika, Tina Fey, Tim Meadows, Jenna Fischer, Busy Philipps, Jon Hamm, Ashley Park, Mahi Alam, Connor Ratliff
WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?
Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. (directors), Tina Fey (writer, producer), Jeff Richmond (producer, composer), Erin David, Micah Frank, Sonia Friedman, Eric Gurian, Caroline Maroney, Lorne Michaels, Christine Schwarzman and Marisa Sechrest (producers), Bill Kirstein (cinematographer), Andrew Marcus (editor)
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A new high school student (Rice) runs afoul of a clique of popular girls, led by Regina George (Rapp)…
WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON MEAN GIRLS?
Since dominating popular culture in 2004, Mean Girls has become a timeless classic of teen cinema. With its bottomless supply of quotable (and endlessly meme’d) lines, memorable characters, and heightened social commentary about high school society, the film has something that just about anyone can relate to, at any point in their lives, and during any particular time period.
At first glance, then, this brand-new musical version of the film should have no valuable reason to exist. Sure, it’s technically adapting the hit Broadway rendition instead of remaking the film proper, but what could it possibly add to this story twenty years after it first became a story? Everything that could possibly have been said by writer Tina Fey (who also wrote both the musical book and this new version) was perfectly summed up back in 2004, so other than cynically trying to cash in on its popularity, there’s little point in trying to update it in any way.
However, as it turns out, Mean Girls circa 2024 does have something of value to offer – and it’s precisely the fact that it’s now 2024. There’s been such an advancement in teen behaviour over the last twenty years, not least of all the embedment of social media in our lives, that the original film’s themes of status and notoriety within the cutthroat world of high school are more relevant now than even in 2004. How characters like the ever-cruel Regina George, played so memorably by Rachel McAdams in the original, might use modern online platforms like TikTok and Instagram to maintain their image and publicly vilify others, are genuine points of discussion that the new film does address, which against all odds gives it more of a reason for being than one might originally think.
The plot of the film, directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr., is more or less the same as in the original: Cady Heron (Angourie Rice, filling the Lindsay Lohan role) begins attending high school, having previously been homeschooled by her mother (Jenna Fischer) whilst living in Africa, but quickly finds herself unable to fit in among her peers, except for fellow outcasts Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damien (Jaquel Spivey). Soon, though, she’s drawn to the clique of popular girls known as the Plastics, led by Regina George (Reneé Rapp, who previously played the role on Broadway) and filled by her lackeys Gretchen Wieners (Bebe Wood) and Karen Shetty (Avantika), whom Janis initially warns her against, especially the conniving and cruel Regina. Cady witnesses Regina’s backstabbing first-hand when she gets back together with her ex, and Cady’s new crush, Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney), and with Janis and Damien plots to infiltrate the Plastics and ruin Regina’s social standing – but at the risk of becoming just as vapid and two-faced as Regina herself.
With its identical plot, not to mention its numerous close recreations of notable scenes and iconic lines of dialogue from the original, this version of Mean Girls often teeters close to being a redundant remake. Some of the lines are given a more modern and slightly meta twist – when asked where her forced catchphrase “so fetch” comes from, Gretchen says she heard in an old movie (wink, wink) – but few of the newer additions carry as much genuine laughter as the original versions did twenty years ago. Furthermore, aspects of Jayne and Perez Jr.’s filmmaking are noticeably more televisual here than the further-reaching direction that Mark Waters originally brought, almost certainly because this film was originally destined for Paramount+ before being upgraded to a theatrical release, but either way it’s not quite as stylistically witty or even as memorable as what came before. Most of the time, you are just reminded of how much better the original was, especially with a late surprise cameo that might as well be advertising that 2004 classic to the viewer.
However, it’s when the characters start singing that the film takes on a more noticeable sense of life, with the songs themselves – music and lyrics provided respectively by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin – being quite catchy and upbeat, not to mention rather funny at times. Even the filmmaking becomes a bit more ambitious, particularly with its numerous aspect ratio changes during the shift between musical numbers and reality, with it going from a regular 1.85:1 scene to a widescreen showstopper, while other sequences employ one-shot techniques and intricate camerawork that, at times, you wonder how they were able to pull it off without doing any noticeable damage to equipment.
There is also the passion and energy within the vocals and choreography of the film’s performers to commend, including duo Auli’i Cravahlo and Jaquel Spivey as de facto narrators Janis and Damien respectively, who are funny and deeply charming, to where I’d even go so far as to say that their renditions of the characters here are more endearing and even more likeable than in the original film. Angourie Rice does good here too, even if she struggles to generate much believable chemistry with her bland romantic lead Christopher Briney. Then, there’s the quite outstanding Reneé Rapp: obviously, nobody can hold a candle to Rachel McAdams’ iconic performance as Regina George, but Rapp comes awfully close as she wisely leans more into the character’s self-assured coolness to convey her nastiness rather than just doing an impression of McAdams’ high-strung rendition, which gives the role a fresh enough spin while still feeling true enough to how the character was originally written.
Most of all, it is the employment of more modern tools within teen society that give this version of Mean Girls its purpose for existing. Throughout, there are montages of fellow students – and also, for some reason, Megan Thee Stallion – sharing and reacting to various incidents that rapidly ruin people’s reputations, to where someone like Regina or even Cady perhaps never even needed to do anything at all to ruin the other person’s clout. This inclusion adds a thoughtful new layer of social commentary to the story, one that intriguingly positions social media and its wavering influence as a potentially crueller presence in this high school world than Regina George herself, for it suggests that the power of online mockery is a far greater thing to be afraid of than just being mocked in person, especially in an age where social media dictates who or what is trendy at any given moment. It’s quite a smart play by Tina Fey and her fellow filmmakers to bring this into the mix, for not only does it update Mean Girls for a more modern audience, but it plays around with newer narrative devices that hadn’t even been invented in 2004, further solidifying the timelessness of this particular story.
It may occasionally fall victim of being a less memorable version of the original classic, but through its upbeat musical identity and tackling of modern teen issues, Mean Girls circa 2024 ultimately solidifies the fact that when it comes to the original’s endless relatability, the limit does not exist.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Mean Girls is a mostly fetch musical remake of the teen classic that occasionally feels redundant with its recreation of iconic lines and scenes from the original, but its upbeat songs, passionate performances, and especially an update to modern teen behaviour that’s smarter than some may give it credit for, give it plenty of valuable reasons to exist.