It might surprise you to know that Mean Girls — yes, the endlessly quotable high school comedy that seemingly came out five years ago — has been remade for a new generation.
But there’s something genius about this version of the modern classic, when the Y2K esthetics that defined it in 2004 (flip phones and corset tops and miniskirts galore) are very much back in vogue among today’s teens and 20-somethings.
Unlike the film’s marketing, I won’t bury the lede: The new Mean Girls is a movie musical and an adaptation of the show that premiered on Broadway in 2018, which in turn is an adaptation of the original movie.
Does copy-pasting this story three-times-over dilute its charm? Remarkably, it does not.
That Tina Fey was the sole writer on each of these three projects (she wrote both scripts and the book for the musical) lends it a singularity of voice.
The film’s inner logic is the same as it was 20 years ago: High school is a zoo; come meet the animals.
After moving to a suburb of Chicago from Kenya, Cady Heron is the new girl at an all-American school. She’s immediately lost in this jungle, where cliques are segregated by personality — the art freaks, the horny band geeks, you get the gist — and where the scent of fear and social ineptitude linger many lockers over.
Sensing her bewilderment, Cady is taken in by the school’s resident outcasts, Janis and Damian, who promise to show her the ropes. She’s also instantly doe-eyed over dreamy, soft-spoken Aaron Samuels, who she meets in AP Calculus. Cady drops her pen just so that he’ll pick it up; she pretends to be bad at math just to ask for his help.
One day in the cafeteria, Cady is summoned by none other than queen bee Regina George, the leader of popular girl trio The Plastics. Despite her unambiguous evil, Regina is doted on by two lackeys, the loveably dimwitted Karen Shetty and sweet-but-insecure Gretchen Wieners.
Regina invites Cady to sit with them at lunch, so long as she abides by their rules (e.g. on Wednesdays they wear pink). But as she’s welcomed into the fold, Cady finds out that Regina and Aaron used to be a thing, and that her crush makes her a target of the devil’s wrath.
If all of that sounds familiar, it’s because 2024’s Mean Girls maintains the story and most jokes from the 2004 original — it’s been two decades, for example, and “fetch” still hasn’t happened.
But a tired rehash this is not: Mean Girls has a newly invigorated spirit thanks to a charismatic ensemble of Gen-Z stars who, rather than mimic the Aaron Samuelses or Regina Georges of 2004, gamely approach each line as if it were originally written for them.
Instead of making self-aware revisions meant to signal to the audience that we-know-better-now-than-we-did-then, several popular quotes from the original Mean Girls have been smartly and quietly nixxed here, namely Karen’s “If you’re from Africa, why are you white?” There are new zingers to replace these, like when Regina’s mom assures her that beauty doesn’t come from the body — it comes from the face.
The musical numbers — some memorable, some not — each have a contained ambiance that makes Mean Girls feel like it’s punctuated by music videos. That’s not a knock: The neon-lit blues of Someone Gets Hurt, a pivotal musical scene set during a party, are especially sublime, making the film more visually compelling than most straight-shot high school comedies.
WATCH | The trailer for 2024’s Mean Girls:
Still, the gentle lilt of Angourie Rice, who is otherwise superb as Cady, is drowned out by the serious pipes of her co-stars Reneé Rapp (reprising Regina after a ferocious run in the Broadway show), Auli’i Cravalho (the Moana voice actor who plays Janis) and Tony nominee Jacquel Spivey (who is exquisite as Damian). That their songs are spunkier than Cady’s makes a difference, too.
Nostalgia is in vogue, and Mean Girls mostly chooses restraint rather than sounding the alarm to its audience that, yoohoo, this film is set in present times.
Still, certain realities are unavoidable, and as Janis and Damian convince Cady that she can two-time Regina, steal her crown and win Aaron over, some of the drama is conveyed online. Certain sequences are even filmed in first-person vertical video — a filmmaking device that I can usually do without — which is well-executed and used sparingly.
The movie is good enough that it doesn’t have to rely on gimmicks, but an eleventh hour cameo by one of the original film’s leads was a well-earned crowd-pleaser. I could have used about 50 per cent more of Jon Hamm as Coach Carr. But this is high school — you have to pick your battles.