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Mean Girls (Film Review)

4 min read

Musical theatre is in a pretty dire place of late. Every new musical boils down to someone looking through their DVD collection before deciding on a film and going “that… but with mediocre songs!” It's why Broadway and the West End current boast School of Rock, Back to the Future, , Heathers and Pretty Woman all as musicals.

The Paramount+ straight to streaming movie Mean Girls that has somehow gotten a boost into cinemas takes the broadway musical and gives it a decidedly stylish adaptation. Story remains pretty much as it ever was, shy girl Cady finds herself out of her element when she leaves Africa for the jungles of middle American High School finding solace with the art freaks Janis and Damien, before plotting the downfall of head queen bee Regina George.

The 2004 original film might just be the best screenplay of the early 2000s, bolstered by a rising , still cutting her teeth as a cast member of Saturday Night Live. The Lorne Michaels (also of SNL) produced original was helped by the fact that it was directed by Mark Waters who only the year before had made the wildly successful Freaky Friday remake with Lindsay Lohan.

The appeal of the original film was the razor sharp wit, penchant for non-PC one liners, SNL alumni filling out the adult roles and seeing clean cut Lohan go from the Disney princess we loved her as to a mean girl herself.

What this film does have going for it is a much more stylish direction from Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr who do well with the musical sequences, making them feel like moments in Cady's head, replacing the voice over from the original. Also Auli'i Cravalho (an actual Disney Princess, having voiced Moana) is suitably gritty as Janis.

The issue is that none of the songs are all that memorable. A song about sexy halloween costumes is pretty funny, and Reneé Rapp does a good job of bringing as breathless intensity to the sung phrase “my name is Regina George” but aside from Apex Predator the musical sequences, which come in fits and starts, don't find a reason to exist.


What's worse is that, despite being written again by Fey, all the tougher edges are sanded off for this film. Gone are the offensive words and ideals, despite the fact that High Schoolers are some of the most racist, sexist, homophobic people out there. It's little things like changing Janis' motivation from Regina's gay-panic induced hate campaign to something more benign to making the burn book full of “she's a bit less attractive than standard beauty”. The burn book was full of horrific slander but that's all gone.

Every line that gets quoted time and time again is present and correct but delivered as if this was on stage and it was a Rocky Horror style performance where we're expected to shout the phrases back. The film is completely toothless. 

Even little things like the suggestion that Fey's Miss Norbury and Tim Meadows' Principal Duvall have feelings for one another is just made canon and explicit, and neither seem to want to be there reprising their roles. The other supporting adult roles are all cringe worthy imitations of SNL legends doing career best work – Busy Phillips is no Amy Poehler.

(a deadringer for Amy Adams) is fine as Cady but lacks the charm of seeing a clean cut icon turning bad. There's less desperate desire to be “in” with Bebe Wood's Gretchen, and Avantika's Karen is so thick it's not actually funny. She plays it way to broad, showing that Amanda Seyfried walked such a delicate line. Similarly Jaquel Spivey's Damien is less “too gay to function” and more “too gay to not be considered late 90s homophobic parody”. None of the characters are human beings, they're stock characters waiting to do the line.

Rapp, at least, makes for an imposing George, and channels some of the menace that Rachel McAdams brought to the role, and Cravalho saves the film every time she glares annoyed at someone.

The issue is that this film lacks the charm of the original, like a cover of a classic song by Glee or your drunk friends half remembering a movie but only the iconic bits and none of the actual character work that made it so good to begin with.

What makes all of this unforgivable is that 1. Mean Girls might be twenty years old now, but it still holds up perfectly fine and 2. Shoe-horning in these mediocre at best songs (all of which sound like any generic track from a Taylor Swift or Ariana Grande album) means that the great soundtrack of the original is just ignored.

This might appeal to people who either don't remember the original film, or are maybe too young for jokes about sex with your cousins, but considering this is destined to live on Paramount+ those who have it can just watch the original.

This isn't fetch, but it's really trying to make fetch happen. (Stop trying to make fetch happen).