Style Living Self Celebrity Geeky News and Views
In the Paper BrandedUp Hello! Create with us Privacy Policy

REVIEW: The new ‘Mean Girls’ film lacks the original’s snark and sleaze

By Angel Martinez Published Jan 29, 2024 10:19 pm

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

The present generation seems keen on revisiting every trend that defined the past few decades. Classic songs are sampled in today’s top 40 hits, and both digital and film cameras continue to go for exorbitant prices in the age of smartphones. And yet, one would think that certain cultural artifacts are still untouchable, to the point where reintroducing them to a modern audience would be considered social suicide

Unfortunately, this has not stopped Hollywood from trying to recreate the monumental success Mean Girls enjoyed, 20 years after its release. 

The new movie musical still follows the same basic structure: Newcomer Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) trades the African wilderness for the jungle that is American high school, which proves to be just as cutthroat. After landing herself under the radar of the Plastics, headed by queen bee Regina George (Renee Rapp), she must learn to survive the scholastic food chain without turning into a predator herself. For the benefit of chronically online audiences, the plot has been modified to include smartphones, TikTok videos, and Instagram likes as a display of supremacy.

And, of course, let’s not forget: show tunes. Lots of them.

Originally adapted from a Tony-nominated Broadway play, these numbers boast impressive production value, interweaving dazzling choreography, impressive tracking shots, and vibrant wardrobe choices.

While most songs are forgettable, some are buoyed by soaring vocals and intriguing storytelling. For instance, Karen’s (Avantika) disco-inspired Sexy is an ode to girlhood’s favorite holiday tradition: dressing down for Halloween. Regina captivates the crowd from her very first self-introductory number but ultimately wins people over with Someone Gets Hurt, a haunting anthem that frames her as the misunderstood villain.

But in order to fit all these performances within two hours, the film takes out the important context that makes Regina’s fall from grace more satisfying. All of a sudden, the iconic talent show dance number leads to her getting canceled online, which then inorganically propels Cady to popular girl status with little to no effort. Her sudden popularity doesn’t feel earned, making it even more difficult to root for an already flat character.

To make matters worse, the entire script is so sanitized, stripped almost completely of the snark and sleaze that made the original so quotable. While there are conscious efforts to include some of the most iconic one-liners, it’s jarring to see Regina George call herself a fugly “cow” or refer to Janis Ian as a pyro-lez” – a weak insult with a confusing backstory. It seems that the writers were so afraid of offending a viewership that has grown sensitive to political incorrectness that they forgot to be funny.

And while it’s true that homophobia, internalized misogyny, and fat-shaming are no longer suitable punchlines, I just don’t think it’s wrong to expect mean girls to be cruel, unrelenting, and… well, mean.

In the end, a few key performances carry the entire project, particularly Rapp’s Regina George. Where Rachel McAdams was cool and calculated, she is sullen, leaning into her sensuality as a source of social currency. In some scenes, she crosses over into borderline scary territory but even then, it’s impossible to focus on anyone else.

Janis (Auli’l Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey) prove to be worthy contenders, with their conversations serving as the most refreshing and authentic parts of the dialogue. The rest, however, seem miscast.

Having nothing nice to say about a chick flick is uncharacteristic for someone like me. But at the same time, it must be said that the bar was impossibly high to begin with. Mean Girls was a defining moment in popular culture, the first of its kind to encapsulate girl-on-girl hate with razor-sharp precision.

The rules may vary over time, sure: wearing sweatpants when it isn’t Friday is more of a fashion statement now than a death sentence. However, power dynamics and peer pressure remain and have even accelerated due to the internet. We all relate to this on some level, regardless of when we last stepped foot on campus.

So we can understand why people have attempted to revive or, at the very least, reference it time and time again. There’s the ill-fated, made-for-TV sequel from 2011; the 2018 Broadway play that spawned this year’s movie version; and the appearance on Ariana Grande’s thank u, next music video. But with such a timeless, resonant concept, the original alone is enough to influence future generations of slumber-party movie marathoners. 

Much like the term fetch, we should collectively agree to stop trying to make a Mean Girls remake happen. It’s just not going to happen.