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'Mean Girls' Review

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January 11, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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“This isn’t your mother’s Mean Girls” is one of the taglines Paramount Pictures has used to promote their newest version of the Tina Fey-penned high school comedy. It’s a mantra that’s used beyond just the trailers and posters, as the film opens with a TikTok video. But then a character quips that “we’re Cloverfield-ing!,” alluding to a franchise that any TikToker would struggle to identify. That clash of old and new within the first thirty seconds carries over throughout the next two hours, almost as a constant question of why this 2024 version exists and who it was primarily made for.

The former question isn’t a hard one to answer. 2024’s Mean Girls was developed for that sweet, sweet cash; specifically in the form of brand recognition of Paramount+, which was where this film was supposed to debut before the strategy was changed in September of last year. It was the right decision to make, as the popping musical numbers and one-liners play infinitely better in the theater than they would/will at home. You also have to factor in the fact that Paramount+ is known for CBS procedurals, Yellowstone, and Top Gun: Maverick, none of whom overlap in terms of this property's audience.

The latter question is a bit harder to pin down. I guess you could claim this Mean Girls as a sort of soft remake, a version that provides easy nostalgia to Millenials and an introduction to this overall narrative to Gen-Z. But it’s not like the 2004 version is some ancient relic that needed to be translated for modern audiences. It’s a timeless member of its subgenre, with several quotes living on forever within pop culture. It doesn’t really matter how good a cover version is, as no one would (or, at the very least, “should”) choose to listen to that instead of the undeniable original.

But for what this Mean Girls lacks in originality, it makes up for in energy. An interesting long take from a TikTok video, to Africa, and then to high school sets up the basic plot of Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) moving from Kenya to North Shore High. She’s an outsider almost immediately, just a little too much of everything to properly fit in with any of the cliques. Two of the other “weirdos” - Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey) - agree to take Cady under their wing. But “queen bee” Regina George (Reneé Rapp) has other ideas, inviting Cady to sit with “The Plastics,” comprised of Regina, Gretchen (Bebe Woods), and Karen (Avantika). Cady is now caught in the crosshairs of a good old-fashioned high school feud, playing both sides as she tries to find her place in all of this.

While it would be daunting to replace such likable performers as Lindsey Lohan, Rachel McAdams, and Amanda Seyfried, the cast assembled here does enough to prevent this from being a total downgrade. Rice brings an overall level of likeability, which sometimes makes her “bad girl” heel-turn later on unconvincing. Reprising her role from Broadway, Rapp is the lioness that everyone gets out of the way for in the hallway. Most of our star names come from the adult cast members: Tina Fey, Tim Meadows, Jon Hamm, and Ashley Park. Apart from a few lines from Fey and Meadows, there’s not much there to warrant discussion.

First-time directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. provide several splashy moments of zippy musical interludes. The camera bobs and weaves around the hallways, with the aspect ratio and lighting matching a high-end poppy music video anytime someone breaks out into song. You’d be hard-pressed to remember the lyrics to the majority of the songs, but at least you’re eyes will be dazzled.

2024’s Mean Girls is a different flavor from 2004’s Mean Girls, although it’s about as drastic a change as shifting from Vanilla Bean to French Vanilla. It’s harmless, fun, and will probably be forgotten within due time… kind of like a piece of plastic.

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