First, there was the movie. Then, there was the Broadway musical. Now there’s a new movie that’s also a musical. The question is, why a new “Mean Girls” movie? Why now? No one seems to know.
The original 2004 film, written by Tina Fey and starring Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams, made bubblegum teen comedy history with hostile candy cane-grams and pithy burn-book insults. The film birthed iconic sayings like “fetch” and “On Wednesdays, we wear pink,” and “I’m not like a regular mom, I’m a cool mom.” While you’ll find these phrases in the 2024 version of the film, they don’t really land. They seem like relics of yesteryear, in a world where fat-shaming is cool and it’s okay to insult gay people, but only if they’re your best friend. (More on that later.)
Tina Fey herself introduces the new film, like she wants us to know that she’s in charge and the ideas in the film are her own. No one new came in and ripped off the original. This is comforting.
The plot, of course, is the same: home-schooled-in-Kenya Cady Heron (the vulnerable and charming Angourie Rice) is thrust into North Shore High School where art geeks Janis Ian (Chloe Auliʻi Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey) guide her through the feeding frenzy that is public school hell. With humor and pluck, they help her navigate a land ruled by the Plastics, led by the intimidating queen bee Regina George (Renee Rapp.)
Some updates: Cady’s mom is single, Janis Ian is actually gay, and the plastic Karen is a person of color.
This version of the film, like the Broadway musical, features lots of fun song-and-dance numbers that are, for the most part, colorful and enjoyable. Cautionary Tale, Revenge Party, Apex Predator and Sexy are light-hearted and fun, poking fun at female teen angst and the pressure to be beautiful, especially on Halloween where you can be anything, as long as it’s sexy. (I see you, sexy corn!)
While Cady is lovely she’s somehow less relatable. The new Regina George is equally scary but a little less funny. The standouts, of course, are Chloe Auliʻi Cravalho as Janis Ian and Jaquel Spivey as Damien Hubbard, who, you’ll remember, is “almost too gay to function.” The characters of Janis and Damien really give the movie its comedic pop and carry it through the lulls.
But this film never answers the essential question…why a new “Mean Girls,” why now? It pales in comparison to sharp-witted, take-no-prisoners attitude of the original. Which begs the question…could the original even be made today? Probably not. Sure, it got lots of laughs, but the jokes were often off-color and mean, a brand of funny that’s impossible to pull off in our present age of political correctness when every comment can be a trigger or condemned for perpetuating negative racial or sexual stereotypes. I mean, can you really see Janis describing the different lunch tables today as “unfriendly black hotties,” “Asian nerds” and “cool Asians?” No way. And don’t get me started on the “desperate wannabes” table with the disabled students.
What made the 2004 original so “fetch” in it’s time is that it was funny in all the wrong ways. To its credit, the new “Mean Girls” tries to dance around some of these themes in a way that is culturally acceptable, but it doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. And it still gets roped into traditional fat-shaming cliches and stereotypes on LGBTQ. What’s better, a film of so-called “casual bigotry,” as the original has been dubbed, or the new one that’s less offensive, less funny and a little lost in translation? Maybe that’s a conversation we have to have with ourselves. Or maybe it doesn’t matter.
Overall, some fans of “Mean Girls” will lean in and sing along, enjoying an after-school romp with Cady, Janis, Damien and the Plastics. Others will wish they were hit by a bus.
Movie times: Click here
Director: Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr.
Actors: Angourie Rice, Reneé Rapp, Auliʻi Cravalho, Jaquel Spivey, Avantika, Bebe Wood
Running Time: 1 hour 52 min