Mean Girls Review | Oh, No, Glen Coco.

by Andrew Parker

A pale musical interpretation of an early 2000s classic, Mean Girls struggles and fails to achieve acerbic comedic greatness. One would expect the integration of outlandish, large scale musical numbers would inject new energy and jokes into old material, but this take on Mean Girls chops writer Tina Fey’s story off at the knees and watches as it hobbles around slowly and predictably. It’s often unfair to compare remakes to their originals in a perfect 1-to-1 ratio, but in the case of directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr.’s take on Mean Girls – where almost all of the plotting and much of the unsung dialogue is the exact same without deviation – it’s unavoidable. This Mean Girls adds nothing to the legacy of the original outside of some dodgy filmmaking, so-so performances, a meaningless parade of cameos, and subpar songs. To say that it doesn’t improve on the original is a big understatement.

Mean Girls once again tells the story of awkward new kid in school Cady Heron, this time played by Angourie Rice. She has moved to a new town with her anthropologist mother (Jenna Fischer) after being home schooled for most of her life. Although she initially hits it off with a couple of social outcasts (Auli’i Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey), Cady catches the curious, judgmental eye of the cool girls, known as The Plastics, and their HBIC, Regina George (Reneé Rapp). Cady is accepted into their ranks, but it’s not long before Regina attempts to steal back her ex-boyfriend (Christopher Briney) once the new girl develops a puppy love crush on him. This underhanded slight eats away at Cady, and she teams up with her real friends to enact revenge against Regina and her crew.

If you’ve seen the original Mean Girls from 2004, nothing that happens in Jayne and Perez’s take on the story will come as any sort of surprise. Every comedic beat and set piece happens in almost the exact same way. Every iconic line shows up in mostly the same place. Fey and Tim Meadows return to play more or less the exact same characters from the first time around. When viewed from a distance, Mean Girls 2024 looks like the exact same product, which is bad enough for a remake of a widely beloved comedy. But the true creative failure of this entire project lies in the unnecessary and unwelcome changes perpetrated by Fey onto her own material and directors who can’t break away from convention. If you haven’t seen the original film, Mean Girls will only seem like a half-assed, cut rate, run of the mill musical that should’ve skipped theatres and gone straight to streaming.

Everything about the musical element to Mean Girls is completely wrong. Save for the two biggest numbers, the songs themselves are unmemorable and tuneless, something that isn’t helped by technical shortcomings at every turn. The choreography is solid, but the execution and production value on display here is cheaper than a high school stage musical. There’s very little to make these bursts into song look visually captivating, which is a death knell for any movie or stage musical because there’s no way to play up to the silly nature of people suddenly breaking into song and dance. It’s totally left up to the editorial department to make a lot of these sequences work, and in many cases, Jayne and Perez have given them not a whole lot to work with. And while the singing voices of the performers range from decent to passable, the mixing of the songs themselves make already marginal material sound a whole lot worse. I haven’t seen the stage show of the Mean Girls musical, but it’s hard to believe that it’s worse and less energetic than this. If nothing else, the biggest moment of the original film – the unleashing of the fabled “Burn Book” – is unspeakably botched here by the shift into the musical realm.

And when almost nothing has been done to change up the structure or comedic high points of the source material, these painfully executed musical numbers only serve to make Mean Girls feel like watching a familiar movie slowed to half speed instead of being sped up into an over-the-top, campy extravaganza. Jayne and Perez don’t approach Mean Girls as if it were a beloved film or even as a piece of iconic intellectual property. They approach the material as if it were nothing more than a series of memes that were strung together and live on in the public consciousness. And that doesn’t even land because Fey’s revamped script is so lazy that it barely scratches the surface when it comes to updating the material to include the even larger influence that social media has over teens and popular culture. Even its complete betrayal of the source misses the point.

Perez, Jayne, and Fey try to paper over things with a plethora of cameos and bit parts for familiar faces, with only Busy Philipps managing to eke out any chuckles at all in her go-for-broke turn as Regina’s try-hard mother. Rice tries very hard to hold up her end of the bargain as the lead, and while she’s quite likeable, it’s almost impossible to spin this retread into something captivating. Cravalho and Spivey save Mean Girls throughout with their delightful chemistry, energetic performances, and by having the best singing pipes in the cast. They perk up the film whenever they come on screen, as does the comically adept Avantika, who plays the dullard member of The Plastics (the one portrayed in the original by Amanda Seyfried) to wonderful effect. 

As for Rapp’s queen bee, the film never makes Regina seem all that threatening or malicious, so the performer never fully goes the extra mile to craft a memorable villain worthy of a grand comeuppance. She’s just kind of aloof and uncaring more than malicious. The most pivotal lynchpin in the success of Mean Girls instead manages to be its weakest performative link, although not all the blame for that can be placed at Rapp’s feet. It takes a lot of people making a lot of bad decisions to turn what should’ve been a chip shot into a complete debacle.

Mean Girls is about as much fun as listening to someone tell you every detail and line from their favourite movie instead of having them show you the thing in the first place. Instead of a catty, amusing, perfectly cast, and ultimately resonant story about high school castes and cliques, this Mean Girls is a dull, plodding, and lifeless cash-in with little reason to exist and nowhere near the same number of resources the first film had at its disposal. It might not be the worst film of the year by the time 2024 wraps up, but it will remain one of the most overall unenjoyable, unnecessary experiences with the fewest bright spots.

Mean Girls is now available to stream on Paramount+.

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