3.5 out of 5 stars

Obsessed as a teen in 2004, I couldn’t escape the hilarious coming-of-age comedy Mean Girls. This groundbreaking film about the messy politics of female friendships launched countless memes. It gave us classic terms like “Fetch” and “Pink Wednesdays“, not to mention the timeless lesson that almost everyone has been personally victimized by a Regina George.

To be honest, the trailers for this 2024 remake didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm. I’m not a huge fan of unnecessary remakes, and this one felt like more of the same. However, whispers that the new film would be based on the Broadway musical (itself adapted from the original film) did spark a glimmer of hope. I’d heard positive things about the stage production and crossed my fingers that the catchy songs would save this from becoming just another pointless remake. And happily, I can say my optimism was (mostly) rewarded.

The new film closely mirrors the plot of the original Mean Girls. Our heroine remains Cady Herron (Angourie Rice), the homeschooled daughter of a researcher in Africa. When Cady’s mom accepts a new university position, the teenager plunges into the bewildering world of US high school. Cady’s popularity quickly catches the eye of the Plastics, an elite clique. Enticed by their invitation to join, “art freaks” Janice (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damien (Jaquel Spivey) hatch a plan to use Cady as their secret weapon to topple the Plastics and their queen bee, Regina George (Reneé Rapp), from within.

If this sounds all too familiar, it is. The remake’s adherence to every beat of the 2004 film nearly becomes its downfall. When not erupting into song-and-dance, the film leans heavily on nostalgic one-liners and scene recreations from the original. Unfortunately, this becomes a crutch, leading to a dearth of fresh laughs as the cast attempts to replicate moments that have become deeply ingrained in pop culture. Watching these replicated scenes, one cringes over witnessing high school art students attempting to copy the Mona Lisa. Their effort is commendable, but the outcome, inevitably, feels a bit sloppy.

While the post-burn book revelation seminar scene ranks among the most iconic and defining moments in the original film, it sadly proves the weakest link in this adaptation. This isn’t due to its divergence from the source material, but rather its desperate attempt to recreate the magic of the original. Each attempt at humour feels akin to a high school play’s earnest, yet clumsy, replication of a masterpiece. Even the otherwise stellar cast appears almost sheepish during these segments—as if aware of the awkwardness but compelled to re-do the scenes and lines anyway. 

Despite its flaws, the film shines during its musical numbers. Reneé Rapp’s perfect vocals and catchy music guarantee a joyous time for both the audience and the cast. There’s no room for embarrassment here—pure fun reigns supreme.

The film shines brightest when it carves its own path, whether through fresh musical numbers or innovative dialogue. The opening scene throws the spotlight on Janis and Damien, replacing Cady as narrators, which proves a much stronger starting point for this iteration. This expanded role also grants talented young stars Cravalho and Spivey ample space to showcase their brilliance. Further modernising touches include witty social media nods, contemporary language, and a hilarious and resonant new Janis-Regina backstory, delivered with relish by Spivey’s Damien.

In these departures from the original screenplay, Mean Girls 2024 transforms into a contemporary story that speaks to a new generation of viewers. The originality in these scenes demonstrates the film’s potential to be more than just a remake.

Witnessing these scenes, I was transported back to what made the original film a cultural touchstone. Bathed in the glow of vibrant musicals and captivated by the stellar young cast, even the frequent references and callbacks felt infused with sweet earnestness. It was palpable: everyone involved poured their hearts into revivifying this classic for a new generation. And in an era plagued by cynical cash grabs masquerading as movies, that’s precisely what we all needed. Glancing around the theatre and seeing the room filled with rapt teen and pre-teen girls, I realised they yearned for this story just as fervently as I did two decades prior.

The core themes of Mean Girls—the intricate web of high school cliques and the subtle barbs of social dynamics—remain remarkably relevant today. This 2024 iteration captures the timeless truth about the complexities of teenage relationships, resonating with both fresh audiences and devoted fans of the original. This enduring relevance underscores the film’s central message: some aspects of high school life, despite the passage of time, remain strikingly constant.

Ultimately, this musical remake is an entertaining blend of homage and innovation. While it leans heavily on the original’s legacy, leading to a somewhat awkward experience, it eventually establishes its own identity, particularly through its musical elements and strong performances. 

While accessible to anyone, even without delving deep into the 2004 film’s lore, a deeper understanding of Mean Girls will unlock some inside jokes and references, particularly for those who’ve faced their own Regina Georges. That said, even beyond the original film’s callbacks, the new Mean Girls shines as a delightful and witty coming-of-age story for audiences of all ages, from Baby Boomers to Gen Z.

This film reminds us that even familiar stories can be retold in exciting ways, sometimes only requiring a fresh approach to breathe new life into a beloved classic. In a world saturated with unnecessary reboots, the new Mean Girls shows that sincerity and genuine affection for the source material are the ingredients for success. Studios, please take note.

USA | 2024 | 112 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

directors: Samantha Jayne & Arturo Perez Jr.
writer: Tin Fey (based on the musical ‘Mean Girls’ by Jeff Richmond, Nell Benjamin & Tina Fey, and the book ‘Queen Bees and Wannabes’ by Rosalind Wiseman).
starring: Angourie Rice, Reneé Rapp, Auli’i Cravaljo, Christopher Briney, Jaquel Spivey, Avantika, Bebe Wood, Jenna Fischer, Busy Philipps, Tina Fey & Tim Meadows.