Mean Girls review | A bland retelling of a classic comedy with a great soundtrack

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The girls are back and they’re mean again, but they’re also singing this time around! Here’s our Mean Girls review.

Here’s something to make your average millennial feel old: Mean Girls turns 20 this year. That’s right, we’ve been wearing pink on Wednesdays since 2004 when Mark Waters’ seminal high school comedy first premiered. Its influence can’t really be overstated; while fetch still hasn’t happened, we’re still quoting the film (“Get in, loser, we’re going shopping”) on a regular basis. 

The film proved to be so popular that in 2017, a stage musical opened off-Broadway and transferred to Broadway in 2018. And now, that stage musical, which was based on a movie, which was based on a book, is now being made into a movie again. Help, I feel dizzy. 

Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. direct this formal and rather lifeless adaptation that fails to capture what made the original film so biting. Thankfully, the music is on point at least. 

mean girls
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Angourie Rice plays Cady Heron, who moves back to the US after living in Kenya with her mother. Cady struggles to fit in at the local high school, but befriends Janis and Damien (Auliʻi Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey), the mandatory uncool kids. Cady accidentally bags herself an invitation to sit with The Plastics, a trio of popular girls led by Regina George (Reneé Rapp), at lunch, and Janis and Damien encourage Cady to infiltrate the group and destroy them from within. 

Mean Girls has been updated for the Gen-Z generation and Cady’s attempts to sabotage Regina tend to lead to uber-popular Snapchat and TikTok filters rather than embarrassment. Although the new movie thankfully removes a line that references Regina’s weight, it still retains the subplot of Cady trying to fatten Regina up with protein bars she claims are designed to lose weight. Regina’s most embarrassing moment is when she wears sweatpants on the wrong day because that’s all that fits her now. 

For the most part, Mean Girls is a very straightforward remake of the original film. The dialogue is largely the same, although every now and then, Jayne and Perez Jr. hint at more insight. Regina’s sidekicks, Karen and Gretchen (Avantika and Bebe Wood respectively) seem a little more soulful here. In fact, Avantika is one of the film’s highlights, a thoroughly hilarious presence who nails every single line delivery. 

But Mean Girls never reaches the audacity of the 2004 film. Waters’ film portrayed high schools as a modern jungle, teens fighting for power, a bunch of predators and prey scrapping at the watering hole. Musical number The Apex Predator, which has changed a tiny bit from its stage version, still portrays this, but not to the metaphor’s fullest potential. 

Speaking of The Apex Predator, it’s only one of the songs I haven’t been able to stop listening to since the film’s screening a week ago. My biggest complaints with Wonka were the frequent fatphobia and the terrible songs. Mean Girls should have left the fatphobia in 2004, but at least the songs here are catchy. A Cautionary Tale kicks the film off, setting the tone well, and each following song just seems to raise the bar. Reneé Rapp, who also played Regina in the Broadway version of the musical, nails Someone Gets Hurt, but the script struggles to give the actors more to do. 

The cast all seem like spirited and committed young performers. Auliʻi Cravalho, once the voice of Moana, is particularly impressive as Janis. Cravalho’s splendid pipes ensure that the songs where she features are the most memorable, but she also does a lot of heavy lifting in making Janis both a misunderstood, mistreated outsider and the film’s real villain. 

While Rapp and Cravalho shine, Angourie Rice struggles to own the film. Her Cady is bland compared to Lindsay Lohan’s version and I’m sorry to say that Christopher Briney fails to make an impression as the new Aaron Samuels, Cady’s crush, which weakens the narrative somewhat. 

Mean Girls suffers from The Greatest Showman dilemma; the drama in-between the songs barely works, but the music is so catchy, it’s hard to care about it. Unlike The Greatest Showman, however, Mean Girls rarely puts in the same amount of effort into its song-and-dance routines, and seems almost embarrassed to be a musical at all. That would explain the bizarre marketing. Mean Girls doesn’t reach the highs of its predecessor, but then that was almost an impossible task. The banging soundtrack does a lot of the heavy lifting here, but you’re still better off watching the original.  

Mean Girls is out in UK cinemas on the 17th January. 

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