MEAN GIRLS. Plastic is (not always) fantastic [REVIEW]

The plastic film – pretty on the outside, empty on the inside.

Michal Kaczon

18 March 2024

I love “Mean Girls” and I love musicals. So, with hope and interest, I received the information about the creation of a film based on the musical, which in turn was based on Mark Waters’ 2004 work. But did the combination of these two things produce something good? Let’s find out.

The creation of a new version of Mean Girls encapsulates pop culture in a nutshell. In this sense, the original film inspired creators to produce a stage musical version, which turned out to be a significant hit on Broadway in 2017. The idea was surprising, though not new, but the musical found its loyal audience. The play echoed so strongly in certain circles that someone in Hollywood came up with the idea that since we live in an era of remakes, reboots, and “spiritual sequels,” why not adapt the stage musical into a feature film? So now, 20 years after the original work premiered, which left a mark in the young adult genre, and 7 years after its stage debut, we get a new version supplemented with musical performances.

The new Mean Girls is a peculiar and uneven work. Trailers, which carefully concealed that the film is a musical, frightened many viewers who asked, “why do we need a new version of the cult film? Especially one that adds nothing new?” Interestingly—and quite sadly—these voices were absolutely right. The new version of Mean Girls is at its worst when it tries to recreate sequences from the original film without adding anything new to them. Furthermore, in these moments, it’s a rather soulless recreation of familiar scenes. Everything looks similar, but it lacks the same emotional charge, engagement, or simply the credibility known from the film two decades ago. Instead of heart, one can only feel cold calculation.

Fortunately, the new elements, namely the majority of the musical interludes, work and evoke emotions. They can also entertain, even if most of them are not particularly impressive musically or choreographically. Luckily, a few songs (both Halloween party songs, “Sexy” and “Someone Gets Hurt,” or “Revenge Party”) utilize the genre’s potential and flamboyant staging, giving us a taste of the potential that lay within this project if it were done with more grandeur. Heck! I’m not even sure if Mean Girls wouldn’t be better if the *entire* film were a musical. The “spoken” parts are so undercooked that they feel like they were made on the fly in someone’s garage. And sure— the film “cleverly” begins with a scene in a garage where Janis and Damien record a video, suggesting that the whole film is their version of events, but unfortunately, this gimmick doesn’t save the film’s quality.

Every spoken scene and every character is merely a shadow of those we eagerly watched two decades ago. Even the metatextual context, which Tina Fey, the screenplay writer, occasionally tries to weave into the story, falls flat. The use of the phrase “Thank you, next” during the Plastics’ holiday performance should be an intelligent wink to the audience who knows that Ariana Grande recreated that scene in her widely discussed music video for the song of the same title. However, the way the attention is drawn by the character evokes no emotions and falls quite flat. (And what does it mean that Ariana Grande’s *music video* is a better “remake” of Mean Girls than its cinematic musical version?). Moreover, what does it say about the musical when the best song is the one that doesn’t resonate from the characters’ mouths during the action but is a track that appears in the end credits (“Not My Fault”)?

When Mean Girls hit theaters in 2004, it was a breath of fresh air—a work that skillfully played with the rules of teen cinema, complementing them with unconventional humor, excellent acting, and a few iconic scenes. Two decades later, we deserved a work that would skillfully play with the changes that occurred in the genre and show why Mean Girls are still such an important element of popular culture. Unfortunately, the new version of Mean Girls is like plastic—pretty and shiny but completely hollow inside.

The musical scenes are decent, but only a few songs truly utilize the potential inherent in this emotionally charged genre. Perhaps the staging of “Someone Gets Hurt” stands out the most, creatively playing with light and shadow, or the excessively colorful “Revenge Party,” fully utilizing the extensive ensemble cast. I also have the impression that this film could have been better if someone else had written the screenplay. Tina Fey gave us a great original and the text for the stage musical version, so why didn’t she decide to ask someone else for additional input, opting for this cinematic version of the story? Telling the same story for the third time cannot be an easy task, and judging by the results, Fey didn’t quite meet the challenge. I think if someone else had taken this material and tweaked it from a musical perspective, it would have resulted in a genuinely engaging and amusing work. In its current version, unfortunately, it leaves much to be desired.

I’m not dismissing the stage version of the musical, and I’m actually curious about how it could have turned out (I recently heard that one of the Polish theaters is planning its version of the play), but unfortunately, the cinematic version simply didn’t appeal to me. I feel like it’s better to watch the original from 2004 again than to waste time on this new, undercooked version.

PS. There’s a mini-scene after the credits, but… we’ve seen it in the trailers!

Michal Kaczon

Michal Kaczon

A cultural journalist and a fan of pop culture in its various forms. A lover of film and music festivals, where he is a frequent and enthusiastic participant. He sometimes treats the cinema as a second home.

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