We don’t really need a reboot of Mean Girls, or indeed a film adaptation of the stage musical. But there you go, we are where we are. And that’s 2024, 20 years after the release of the seminal high school movie starring Lindsay Lohan which was based on the non-fiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. Fashions have changed, social media is now ubiquitous, but teenage girls are still cliquey and judgey so the story hasn’t required a massive update. Perhaps that’s to its detriment, because this movie, directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr., is really an example of pop culture eating itself. The musical came because people liked the film. Now the new film exists, presumably for people who like the musical, while not having the unique selling point of it being on the stage. But if you can get over the audacity of the movie’s very existence, it’s actually quite fun.
Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys, Betty Brant in the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies) plays Cady Heron, newly arrived from Kenya where she grew up, to start at a new school. Homeschooled until now, she’s completely unprepared for the jungle that is high school, but fortunately she’s befriended by Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damien (Jaquel Spivey), outsiders, who teach her the rules and warn her about the popular girls nicknamed “the Plastics.”
The Plastics: Regina George (Reneé Rapp), Gretchen Weiners (Bebe Wood), and Karen Shetty (Avantika), take Cady under their wing but after an incident with a boy, and with encouragement from Janis, Cady plans to take revenge on Regina. Friendships are won and lost, there’s a burn book and a bit with a bus, and there are a bunch of songs. But if you’re reading this the chances are you already know the plot to Mean Girls.
The good news is the young cast is excellent across the board. Rice has the toughest job, stepping into the shoes of Lindsay Lohan at her peak. Rice has proven herself an excellent performer but she can’t quite match the charisma of Lohan. Rapp as Regina, who also played the role on Broadway, is absolutely electric, though. Fierce as hell, she’s gorgeous and terrifying, and her numbers are some of the best, in no small part because of how utterly magnetic Rapp is as a performer. Shout out to Avantika too, who brings energy and fun to utter space cadet Karen—her Halloween song “Sexy” is another standout with a good gag about sexy cancer thrown in there. While Wood’s Gretchen is actually a bit tragic, with her plaintive song “What’s Wrong With Me?” revealing her deep insecurities and toxic relationship with Regina.
Janis and Damien are the narrators of this story (rather than Cady like in the original), and Cravalho and Spivey are massively watchable. The slight problem with these characters is that in 2024, it’s not entirely believable that they’d be outsiders. Janis is stylish and artistic and apparently confident in her sexuality, as is Damien, so it’s hard to really buy that she’d still be so angry about Regina’s past cruelty. Lizzy Caplan’s Janis was vulnerable and awkward, and Cady’s betrayal stung all the more because of that. This Janis thinks Cady is acting like a dickhead but it’s hardly the heartbreaking scenario of the first film.
Not updating the story very much and including the songs means of course some of the nuance of the original is lost. This movie is fun but it’s lost some of its teeth. Cady ruins Regina’s life essentially over a boy, making her less sympathetic on the whole. Rapp’s Regina is wonderful but she only actually has two friends. In 2024 is that really enough to rule the roost? Social media is touched on but only in a fairly cursory way.
Where the movie does get very meta, however, is in dialogue with the original. Tina Fey doesn’t appear to have aged a day and reprises her role as Ms. Norbury, but it’s a slightly odd experience watching her deliver essentially the same performance with much of the dialogue word for word, like a kind of greatest hits show. Tim Meadows also returns as Principal Duvall but with his regular role in The Goldbergs as a put-upon guidance counselor, he’s almost become the platonic ideal of exasperated school staff.
Meanwhile the movie checks off many of the most quotable lines. On Wednesdays they still wear pink. That girl in the gym still has a heavy flow and a wide-set vagina. “Stop trying to make fetch happen” get’s its moment, though Gretchen says it’s slang from an old movie (lol). “She doesn’t even go here!” makes an appearance, again with a second call back. No, “Boo, you whore” this time though, sadly.
The jokes that land best are the new ones (though if you’d never seen Mean Girls that might not be the case), including an excellent closing gag from Regina which gently mocks a feminist trope.
Which all adds up to a slightly strange movie experience whereby familiar faces and new faces reprise old roles, and bump up against in-universe jokes that would only be funny if you know the original. It’s a bit like attending a fan watchalong of a film you’ve haven’t actually seen before. But if you can live with all of that, it’s two hours of song, dance, and familiar laughs from an exciting young cast. And that’s still pretty fetch.
Mean Girls opens in cinemas on January 12.
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