Mean Girls movie review: this blunt musical retread should be confined to the Burn Book

Microplastics: Gen Zs updated Mean Girls musical is just no good (Jojo Whilden)
Microplastics: Gen Zs updated Mean Girls musical is just no good (Jojo Whilden)

Apologies to the hopeful, trusting minority of Mean Girls fans who were expecting the movie version of the stage musical interpretation of the hit 2004 film to be good. It is not.

This almost two-hour retelling of a film many already know like the back of their hand has the exact same plot, except much of the dialogue has been replaced with singing and dancing and most of the cast replaced by younger less charistmatic iterations of their predecessors.

It's no surprise the Mean Girls musical (a joint effort between Tina Fey and her composer husband, Jeff Richmond) did well on Broadway. It was made for people that a) like musicals and b) willingly go and see a musical based on a movie they love.

Cinema audiences are not so receptive: videos of Mean Girls (2024) crowds collectively groaning when a musical number starts are already emerging on the internet.

But to criticise it solely for the musical element would be unfair. It is a musical. Most people in that cinema screening knew what they were getting in for – even if the trailers were a little misleading.

Jaquel Spivey, Angourie Rice and Auliʻi Cravalho as Damian, Cady and Janice in Mean Girls (2024) (Jojo Whilden)
Jaquel Spivey, Angourie Rice and Auliʻi Cravalho as Damian, Cady and Janice in Mean Girls (2024) (Jojo Whilden)

Beyond the singing and the dancing, the storyline basically stays the same. Naive protagonist Cady joins the American-standard Northshore High School after a life of homeschooling in Africa.

Unaware of how to navigate the unwritten social hierarchy, she's taken under the wing of two outcasts, Janice and Damian. The pair warn her to stay away from the Plastics – a trio of cruel young women at the top of the school's social scene, led by queen bee Regina George.

Cady then gradually ruins Regina's reputation so she can steal her boyfriend, Aaron, then realises this makes her just as bad as Regina. The school heals from its mistakes and peace is restored.

For true Mean Girls fans, this sequence of events is so familiar that even reading the above paragraph would prove arduous. The new movie is aware of this, and uses musical numbers to speed up the pacing of some of the less memorable scenes (the Cady and Aaron tutoring dynamic is minimised, the mall scenes are scrapped) but it still feels like watching the most talented and annoying drama kids from your secondary school performing the entire length of Mean Girls for a laugh.

This isn't helped by how little film strays from its original script. The catchphrases ("That's so fetch", "She doesn't even go here") stay the same, and some characters are carbon copied: Fey and Meadows reprise their characters as Ms Norbury and Mr Duvall with basically the exact same lines. Even Mean Girls' core ethos, a rather limited 2004 feminist message of "Women, be nice to each other", feels quite dated in 2024.

Other aspects feel almost archaic. The cafeteria scene, a perfect opportunity for new, evolved 2020s stereotypes, shies away from making any real changes and sticks to many of the old categories like burnouts and sexually active band geeks, sans the racial stereotyping of the original film, understandably.

Tina Fey as Ms Norbury (again) in Mean Girls (2024) (Jojo Whilden)
Tina Fey as Ms Norbury (again) in Mean Girls (2024) (Jojo Whilden)

This is not the only instance of the film retiring certain individual elements that feel too risky. Homophobic slurs are erased, which is good – they never added that much more than illustrating Regina's venom – but so much else is withdrawn that the film loses all bite whatsoever.

The word slut, for example, is often replaced with 'cow', which is even more dated and packs even less of a punch, because what American teenager in 2024, let alone the Queen of Mean, Regina George, calls anyone a cow? And yet there are genuinely funny references to slutshaming, which implies the continued existence of slutshaming in the Mean Girls multiverse, but paints the Plastics (the "worst people you will ever meet") as somehow above it.

There is still humour to the film, though, which greases the audience up for some of the wince-inducing musical numbers, and confirms that Fey still has a little something up her sleeve when it comes to comedy.

The new iterations of Karen and Damian (once played by Amanda Seyfried and Daniel Franzese, now by newcomers Avantika Vandanapu and Jaquel Spivey) provide much of the laughs – though at points, Karen is so dumbed down she is practically braindead.

Tim Meadows plays Mr. Duvall (again) in Mean Girls (2024) (Jojo Whilden)
Tim Meadows plays Mr. Duvall (again) in Mean Girls (2024) (Jojo Whilden)

The highlights come via Karen's open-mouthed one liners and Damian's ad-libs, as well as his French rendition of the iCarly theme tune, and a running joke towards the end that Regina (Reneé Rapp) is a good person now that she's high on pain meds.

Rapp is one of the strongest members of the new cast – she has vocal and acting talent in droves – but even she can't stop this film from becoming an utter cringefest. The songs are like Kids Bop versions of the original context, which will make any adult (literally anyone over 18) feel ancient, a feeling the original never elicited, despite being set entirely in a secondary school.

Ultimately, it's just not a sharp as the original Mean Girls. Taking jokes from the original film and putting them into a musical in 2024 was never going to create an instant classic, so the two can barely even be compared.

This is another casualty of films simply not knowing how to do Gen Z humour on such a large scale. Even the Gen Zs don't know. Trust me, I'm one of them! Maybe someone will create the great Gen Z comedy soon, but in the meantime, Mean Girls 2024 should be consigned to the Burn Book.

In cinemas January 17