Mean Girls is a delightfully funny and fresh take on high school teenage girl clique-dom with engaging characters, witty, highly-quotable dialogue, and a cast of future stars. It’s just too bad that particular movie came out in 2004.
Unfortunately for the new Mean Girls (confusingly also called Mean Girls, so will henceforth be known as Mean Girls 2.0 for clarity), the love of the OG movie still runs strong. No matter how hard the musical version tries to capture the essence of the original film, right down to writer Tina Fey’s carbon copy dialogue, the reboot only underlines just how “grool” — and rare — the 2004 teen comedy really is.
“I don’t think my father, the inventor of Toaster Strudel, would be too pleased with this”
Rehashing the story of Cady Heron (Angourie Rice), a home-schooled teen raised in Kenya who is thrust into the wilds of an American high school, Mean Girls 2.0 once again introduces audiences to The Plastics. These queen bees — Gretchen Weiners (Bebe Wood), Karen Shetty (Avantika) and Regina George (Renee Rapp) — who rule the school take newbie Cady under their mascara-coated wings. When Cady makes the colossal mistake of falling for Regina’s boyfriend, Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney), she finds herself caught in the crosshairs of an all-out covert teen girl-on-girl war, putting her friendship with Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damien (Jaquel Spivey) in jeopardy.
Taking a popular movie and making it a musical is nothing new. When Mean Girls: The Musical made its Broadway debut in 2018, it seemed like a natural, pink plastic fit. With songs composed by Fey’s husband, Jeff Richmond, it was a pleasant enough musical adaptation of a film that quickly became a cult classic.
The issues with Mean Girls 2.0 exist beyond the confines of the film too. Richmond’s lyrics never quite have the same biting wit and impact that Fey’s original lines did, but they service the story and characters just fine. And the overall structure of the familiar plot — now with music! — is passable, but we’re not really here to critique the existing song book and lyrics either.
“You can’t sit with us!”
Directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr., Mean Girls 2.0 makes several bafflingly poor choices in terms of basic filmmaking techniques. There is no doubt the mostly female cast is comprised of beautiful women, but poor lighting and camera angles provide unfortunately unflattering shots of the cast. The camera is noticeably placed too low, giving actors double chins when combined with harsh lighting, not to mention an opening musical number that’s filmed slightly out of focus. If this was a selfie, The Plastics would have deleted it. Strange, too, is the blocking and composition of each shot, crowding actors on the screen and again placing the camera at odd angles. But don’t worry, the product placement gets prime screentime, leaving no doubt that e.l.f. Cosmetics and Pure Leaf tea paid their part.
The years have been kind to the original Mean Girls, with the film making bankable Oscar nominees out of Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried in the 20 years since it was first released. Perhaps it’s because so many of us have nostalgia-tinted glasses on that Mean Girls 2.0 comes off as a pale imitation of the original.
“I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me, but I can’t help it that I’m popular”
Recycling lines of dialogue, Fey, who also wrote this version, somehow makes previously funny lines fall flat. It’s not just knowing every set-up and punch line in advance, as charming as Rice is on screen, her magnetism as Cady doesn’t match that of Lindsay Lohan. Maybe the recycled lines worked better on stage, but on-screen they feel like imposters. While one can appreciate some updated dialogue terms (we’re mostly over the early 2000s slut shaming vocabulary), the actors delivering the lines and their comedic timing don’t hold a candle to their original counterparts. Even the notorious Burn Book doesn’t pack the same punch.
Inexplicably, Jon Hamm is here as the illiterate Coach Carr. A character used to great effect in the 2004 film, Hamm’s appearance here is confusing. He’s proved he can be a funny guy in other roles, but his time on screen barely gives him any room to breathe as he races through tired jokes. The most brilliant piece of casting comes not from having Fey and Tim Meadows reprise their roles but in having Busy Philipps appear as Regina’s “cool mom”. Rapp and Philipps not only look similar, but the two seem to share some fun mother-daughter chemistry in their all-too-brief scenes together.
“Raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized by Regina George”
“Why are you so obsessed with me?” the original film might ask its new counterpart. Mean Girls 2.0 wants to conjure the idea of the original film, right down to the costumes, dressing Fey’s Mrs. Norbury and Regina in the same outfits the original characters wore. Even some of the bigger changes that exist on screen aren’t enough to make this new film stand out. Though the cast does their best, it’s hard to compare these performances favourably to the likes of the originals, including Lohan, McAdams, Seyfried, Lacey Chabert, and Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzese, as Janis and Damien, respectively. Cravalho is without a doubt the best singer of the bunch, though aside from a few musical numbers and wistful solos, Mean Girls 2.0 almost seems to forget it’s a musical as it goes for long stretches without a song.
“This isn’t your mother’s Mean Girls”, the marketing copy cries. And it definitely is not. Ultimately, Mean Girls 2.0 will leave you wondering why you didn’t just rewatch the original Mean Girls instead.