Mean Girls review: An unsatisfying, culturally irrelevant musical rehash of a teen classic

Most of the cast buckle under the expectation of replicating the steel-cut comedic timing of the original film’s stars, while the musical numbers are sunk by what seems like a tight budget

Clarisse Loughrey
Thursday 11 January 2024 08:53 GMT
Mean Girls Musical - trailer (2024)

“This isn’t your mother’s Mean Girls” goes the tagline for this big-screen adaptation of Tina Fey’s 2018 Broadway musical, itself an adaptation of her 2004 teen movie classic of the same name. For millennials, it’s basically an invitation to fight. But, sadly, a snappy comeback is a little too easy. Not your mother’s Mean Girls? This is exactly your mother’s Mean Girls – just repackaged with a bunch of TikTok cameos and some of Fey’s B-tier jokes. Hell, Ariana Grande managed to do more with the material when she spoofed the original film for her video to “Thank U, Next”.

This Mean Girls is, practically scene by scene, the same story as the OG: homeschooled, socially naive Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) moves back to the United States from somewhere in rural Africa only to discover that the kids of the school cafeteria are no different to the creatures of the savanna. She teams up with the art freaks, Janice (Auliʻi Cravalho) and Damien (Jaquel Spivey), in order to take down queen bee Regina George (Reneé Rapp) and her “plastics”, minions Gretchen (Bebe Wood) and Karen (Avantika), in order to clear the way and win the heart of Regina’s ex, Aaron (Christopher Briney).

As the film insists, enough time has passed for Mean Girls to turn into Mean Mothers. But girlhood politics have hardly stayed the same, and, while Fey has obviously snipped the original film’s more distasteful jokes, her script’s still firmly entrenched in the feminist dilemmas of the early 2000s. Can women be overtly sexual and still wield economic power, one of the film’s songs asks, to no one in particular. And, while Cady still attempts to ruin Regina’s street cred by tricking her into gaining weight, the film awkwardly dances around the genuine fat shaming the set piece involves.

Today’s teen girls, of course, are still plagued by the same body image issues as their generational predecessors and face the same cruelty from their peers, but there’s a whole new language of “clean eating” and “pick-me girls” at play, too – and it’s complex and distinct enough for young audiences to rightfully deserve their own Mean Girls. But this isn’t it. Instead, the same punchlines are recycled (“almost too gay to function”, “stop trying to make fetch happen”, “you go, Glen Coco!”), with added product placement for Elf cosmetics and a new ring light for Regina’s “cool mom” (Busy Philipps).

Directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr do their best to add some visual ingenuity with what seems like a tight budget (the film was originally intended to debut directly onto the Paramount+ streaming platform), letting their camera twist and flip down the same hallway of lockers, transformed at one point into the rainbow fantasy of Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” video. But key songs from the stage musical, and fragments of key songs, have been pointlessly cut.

And the cast, for the most part, buckle under the expectation of replicating the steel-cut comedic timing of, say, Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Seyfried. There are two exceptions here. Rapp, who starred in the Broadway version back in 2019, has a powerhouse voice, a vice-like grip on the camera, and a unique iteration of Regina. She’s come up with her own, modern take on the bully: a cool-toned, self-consciously mature, spiritual best friend to Sydney Sweeney’s Cassie in Euphoria. And Cravalho, best known as the voice of Disney’s Moana, does the same with Janice. Her joyful, impassioned take on “I’d Rather Be Me” is a relief – and the feeling of what this movie could have been if it weren’t such a copycat. It, too, would cut boob holes in its shirt if it saw the original Mean Girls do it.

Dir: Samantha Jayne, Arturo Perez Jr. Starring: Angourie Rice, Reneé Rapp, Auliʻi Cravalho, Christopher Briney, Jaquel Spivey, Bebe Wood, Avantika. 12A, 112 minutes.

‘Mean Girls’ is in cinemas from 17 January

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in