Mean Girls doesn't go far enough in solving its queer issue

In 2004, teenagers across the globe were blessed with an almost perfect high-school movie.

Mean Girls, with its iconic cast of bimbos and outcasts, outlined the rules of high-school society as it portrayed an unforgettable coup d'etat in the dethroning of the school's reigning Queen Bee, Regina George (Rachel McAdams).

Mark Waters and Tina Fey's teen comedy taught the world that whether you're an art freak or a popular kid, every student is capable of cruelty and everyone is insecure about something. Despite its diverse campus, however – from jocks to mathletes, theatre geeks and plastics – there was one glaring issue with Mean Girls: its lesbian narrative.

The movie that gifted us the "almost too gay to function" Damian (Daniel Franzese), whose catty one liners can still be recited by millennials everywhere, still failed in its queer representation.

mean girls

Damian was equally matched in sass by his best friend and partner in crime Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan). Capable of serving vengeance with calculated manoeuvres that rivalled Regina herself while layered with grunge style, heavy eyeliner and matching jet black hair, Janice was as queer-coded as her on-screen partner.

Mean Girls should have allowed Janis to be the lesbian icon she was. (She turned up to prom in a purple suit! How much more queer-coded can you get?) But in the final act, Janis was unceremoniously paired off with Kevin G (Rajiv Surendra).

20 years since its release, Tina Fey has returned to offer up a new take on Mean Girls, adapted from the Broadway musical. The plastics may be back, but has Justice for Janis been served? Has Mean Girls solved its queer issue?

The answer is yes and no.

Yes, Janis, now played by Auli'i Cravalho, is undeniably gay. 2024's iteration has kept the stemme style of its original character with the make-up skills of a TikTok savvy teen.

jaquel spivey, angourie rice, auli'i cravalho, mean girls
Paramount Pictures

Janis gets a big rebellious song, to shove it to all the hetero bullies that want her to bend to their expectations and reminds us all to keep choosing ourselves, no matter how badly we're treated. And no, she does not get paired off with the only straight boy left.

But some of Mean Girls' queer plotlines remain intact. They may have changed the insult about Janis in the Burn Book from "dyke" to "pyro-lez", but the message remains the same. The origin story that caused the rift between Regina (Reneé Rapp) and Janis is still that Regina spread rumours that Janis was obsessed with her.

The existence of this narrative doesn't indicate a failure of the 2024 adaptation. Queer bullying is still common in high school and one ongoing fallacy that raises its ugly head is the 'obsessive lesbian'.

We've seen this trope played out in film often, from Notes on a Scandal to Single White Female, and it's as common a misconception as the gay best friend. By keeping the homophobic bullying narrative, we see how low Regina is willing to stoop.

bebe wood, renee rapp, avantika, mean girls 2024
Paramount Pictures

Tina Fey's previous transgressions have been rectified by saving Janis from a life of compulsive heterosexuality, but Mean Girls could still be queerer.

Janis isn't the only character who has been placed under a queer microscope, as many fans have read Regina George as a lesbian since the movie's release in 2004. Why else would she be so defensive about her former friendship with Janis?

In taking on the role, Renée Rapp hasn't been subtle about her insistence of Regina's queerness, responding to the theory with an Instagram post captioned "Regina George was a lesbian".

Her delivery of "get in loser" feels much more like a come-on than an insult and while Regina's narrative may centre around her reclaiming of Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney), Rapp refuses to play her straight.

"I'm not out here playing her as a straight girl," she told The Times of her approach to Regina in the new movie, just in case you need more evidence.

renee rapp, mean girls 2024
Paramount Pictures

It could even be argued that neither is Cady Heron (Angourie Rice). Her love song may be sung to Aaron, but her first encounter with Regina is when the sparks truly fly.

Her jaw drops (almost drooling) as she is mesmerised by Regina's beauty. The most popular girl in school holds Cady's gaze as she leans back against the canteen table and traces her fingers down her décolletage, making Cady's crush confession in maths class seem lacklustre by comparison.

All of this unmined heat makes Mean Girls flunk for queer and straight audiences. We don't buy Cady's interest in Aaron because she spends more time obsessing over Regina, and yet we aren't allowed to explore the bisexual narrative that is developing before our eyes.

In 2024, Mean Girls had the opportunity to really dig deep into teen-girl obsession but instead we have a thinly-veiled straight plotline. Previous failings may have been fixed to avoid backlash, but by reining in Reneé Rapp, we don't get the bisexual Queen Bee we truly deserve.

Mean Girls is out now in cinemas.

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