Mean Girls, the teen movie and Broadway musical, returns in a turducken of a movie adaptation. Writer and producer Tina Fey helms this reimagining, which updates the catty culture to include more snarky social media bullying.
Angourie Rice replaces Lindsay Lohan as Cady Heron, the gawky teen homeschooled by her academic parents in Africa. She infiltrates a clique of shallow blonde cruelty led by Regina (Renee Rapp).
While the most cynical might call Mean Girls a cheap rip off of Heathers, it still stands out as a funny and resonant film about the cruelty that is prevalent in high school. Tina Fey’s script understands that teens want comedies they can relate to and is smartly written, even if it has a few lame scenes.
Director Samantha Jayne and co-writer Arturo Perez Jr (both making their feature directorial debuts) tame some of the nastiest Mean Girls jokes, and the requisite all-girls assembly teaching moment is delivered via the Moana star Auli’i Cravalho sing-monologuing like she’s posting an Instagram Story. But the movie doesn’t linger on the most overused gags, moving on to fresher territory when Mrs. Norbury gathers the girls for a lesson on bullying.
While Rachel McAdams had a cool, brittle precision to her Queen Bee Regina, Rapp is leonine in her take on the character, spiking classic lines like “get in my bitch” with sensuality. Her lust for power makes her a ruthless predator in a world she sees as a jungle of survival of the fittest.
Amanda Seyfried and Lacey Chabert carry their roles well, but newcomer Avantika Wood’s performance as Gretchen is a total bust. The character needs a strong actress who can turn the deer-in-the-headlights expression into a likable performance, and it’s clear from the start that Wood isn’t up to the task.
The cast in Mean Girls is uniformly strong, with Fey and Tim Meadows both delivering outstanding performances. Even the more minor characters, like Regina’s snobby handmaidens Gretchen and Karen or her math teacher Ms Norbury are well-rounded and interesting.
The movie takes a look at high school cliques and social dynamics, but it also touches on the fact that everyone has a little bit of venom inside them that they would love to unleash on their peers if given the opportunity. Cady, who starts off as a kind and likable girl, turns into a mean, self-centered, egocentric a-hole that’s intoxicated by her power over others.
She befriends a couple of outsiders, goth girl Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese), who give her the scoop on the various cliques at their high school. They save their most venom for the Plastics, led by Regina George (Renee Rapp) and her two dimwitted handmaidens, Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karen (Avantika).
Together with Janis and Damian, Cady hatches a plan to ruin Regina’s life and take down the queen bee of North Shore High. The story is a bit tamer than the original film, but it still has its share of gross-out humor and snarky wit. It’s the perfect movie to watch with friends, especially if you want to laugh at how completely abrasive teenagers can be.
Like the Broadway show it spawned, Mean Girls gleans some of its humor from abrasive and occasionally raunchy lines. But the movie version also mutes some of those jokes, focusing instead on more wholesome or inoffensive quips (the movie’s Burn Book, Jon Hamm’s Coach Carr). Compared to the original, which was more adept at capturing teen culture’s predatory nature (with apologies to the film’s creator Tina Fey, who went on to make an authentic masterpiece with 30 Rock), this incarnation feels like a lite-hearted retread.
Lindsay Lohan’s likability makes Cady an easy character to root for, but the movie’s real standout is Raven Rapp as queen bee Regina. She takes a sexy and slightly risqué tone with her performance, eschewing the sweet-voiced innocence of Rachel McAdams’ original Regina for something more vicious. Aside from some impressive belting, her brash delivery is what gives the film its true bite.
The movie’s other standouts include Allison Janney as the flustered Ms. Norbury and the aforementioned Jaquel Spivey and Auli’i Cravalho as wide-eyed Cady’s allies. Gretchen, meanwhile, is played by Avantika Sodi, who struggles to juggle the requisite comedic and dramatic moments. Her blinking deer-in-the-headlights expression quickly wears thin, and she’s robbed of many of the film’s best lines. It’s a shame, because if her performance was more consistent, she might have given this Mean Girls the oomph it needed to rise above its reboot and remake fatigue.
Tina Fey’s 2004 movie Mean Girls has become a cultural touchstone, influencing everything from how we gossip to how we talk about sex. Now the film is back, with a new cast and musical elements. This version of the movie has its fans and detractors. If you’re into musicals, this is a fun film. But it may not be as funny as the original.
Director Samantha Jayne and her ensemble keep the spirit of the movie alive, with some key changes that reflect Gen Z’s shift toward more inclusivity and less nastiness. This movie eliminates the storyline about two student-teacher affairs; tones down some of the crueler insults and objectifying statements (though not all of them); and makes Regina George more human, with a greater emphasis on her insecurity and need for power. Renee Rapp delivers a show-stopping performance, spiking classic lines like “Get in, bitch” with sensuality and menace.
Angourie Rice shines as the naive Cady, who lands at North Shore High School with no idea of American cliques or social dynamics. Artsy outcasts Janis and Damian (Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho and Broadway breakout Jaquelin Spivey, in his debut role) take her under their wing. Before long, they’re exacting revenge on the queen bees led by Regina (played with relish by Avantika Vandanapu, Bebe Wood and a surprisingly naughty Jeanine Garofalo). But despite their vocal prowess, these actors can’t quite give the movie the cackles it needs.