The New ‘Mean Girls’ Should Have Stayed in the Burn Book

Directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr

Starring Angourie Rice, Reneé Rapp, Avantika, Bebe Wood, Auliʻi Cravalho, Jaquel Spivey, Christopher Briney, Jenna Fischer, Busy Philipps, Tina Fey, Tim Meadows

Photo: Jojo Whilden / Paramount Pictures

Published Jan 23, 2024


Two decades after bursting into the cultural zeitgeist, Mean Girls is the latest classic to get the remake/reboot treatment. It may contain similar catchphrases and make nods to the original’s titanic place in pop culture — but, much like Cady’s first steps in pink heels, a roll of an ankle is all that it manages to muster.

The movie adaptation of a musical based on a movie opens with Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) melancholically sitting in a field somewhere in the Serengeti. Cady is soon interrupted by her mother (Jenna Fischer) who, much like the original film, senses her daughter needs a American high school life.

After a little sing-song over this new beginning, the reserved and lovably naïve Cady arrives in America — as do similar gags from the original, such as the bus almost running her over and montages of Cady and her lumberjack flannel not fitting into her new surroundings. Quickly, Cady befriends Janis Sarkisian and Damian Hubbard — performed brilliantly by Auli'i Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey, respectively — who become beacons of light for Cady and the film, stealing all the scenes they’re in.  

In many ways, first-time feature film directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. are ambitious, yet they lack the total abandon that would have benefited this remake. An excessive amount of scenes and dialogue are repeated almost word for word from the 2004 version, taking away a lot of potential spontaneity. The return of Principal Duvall (Tim Meadows) and Ms. Norbury (Tina Fey) are clear highlights. In the film’s effort to both respect the original and carve out a separate legacy, too few tweaks are made, and this facelift just isn’t enough to warrant its existence.

That being said, the diversity of the classrooms, themes and characters, and the more socially conscious choices to make the script more modern, are welcomed reflections of our times. In particular, Mean Girls shines when showcasing the way internalized misogyny causes something as insignificant as the pining for the affection of Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney), the cute boy whose best qualities are his tendency to get math equations wrong or obsessively part his hair like a Pavlovian response, causes friction and eventual war between Regina George (Reneé Rapp) and Cady.

Tina Fey’s updated screenplay is filled with smart humour, such as when Gretchen Wieners (Bebe Wood) repeatedly misdiagnosis situations that are misogynistic as empowering — like the Halloween party where Cady is lambasted for her costume not being “slutty” enough. But, frustratingly, this flow is constantly interrupted by dance and musical numbers, which bog down and take away from the engaging and fun segments of the story. I found myself squirming in my seat as musical number after musical number kept explaining story elements and character motivations that need not be said.

Much like the film itself, Rapp’s Regina George falls into caricature, propped up to an almost cartoonish level of “coolness.” When the Plastics take Cady out for the first time and the line “get in loser” is used, a close-up of Regina’s face decorates the screen with obnoxiously low-hanging sunglasses and a coy smile, almost daring us not to be charmed.    

By the time the credits roll the conclusion becomes clear: in its quest for glory, the film recognizes what made the original such a classic, but misses them mark when trying to recreate it. Mean Girls desperately struggles to capture the magic, and much like Gretchen’s banal attempts to make fetch happen, this adaptation of an adaptation was an idea better left in Fey’s Burn Book.

(Paramount Pictures)

Latest Coverage