Vapid, tasteless and monumentally stupid, the new and decidedly unnecessary version of Mean Girls proves Tina Fey is still not above trashing her talent to make money*. This testament to bad taste is like Barbie, Gidget and Godzilla all rolled into one; it keeps coming back like a cinematic Covid, and you can’t beat it to death with a stick. This version of the 2004 teenybopper movie and 2018 Broadway stage musical, both written by the usually clever Tina Fey, is also further proof that sometimes when you go to the cinema, even at today’s inflated prices, you already know what you’re going to see when you get there. I went to this mindless Mean Girls re-hash expecting vulgarity, eardrum-endangering screeching from an array of nerds and floozies in hideous purple, plum, puce and red pomegranate costumes, yelling boring pop-rock tunes about sex, angst, and teenagers behaving badly, amid an armory of smartphones, laptops, and brainless texting—and that’s exactly what I got. 2024 is very young, but in the months ahead, I seriously doubt things will get any worse than Mean Girls.
MEAN GIRLS ★ (1/4 stars)
A film born to fruition by the bewildering low-brow box-office success of Barbie (the ugly sets have what looks like all the leftover pink paint), directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez, Jr., it’s a first feature that shows no need for a second. If you survived any of the previously microwaved incarnations, you already know the preposterous plot: a girl named Cady (Angourie Rice), home-schooled in Africa, is uprooted and moved from Kenya to a public school in the suburbs of Chicago, where she is introduced to the thrills of rapping, Starbucks, and cafeteria mac and cheese, and plunged into the hateful, back-stabbing rituals of an American high-school education like a kitten tossed into a tub of ice
The school’s popularity poll is topped by a trio of long-legged bimbos called The Plastics, who greet newcomer Cady with cruelty and rejection, so on her first nervous day at North Shore High, she is befriended by two school outcasts—a chubby, flamboyantly gay comic relief named Damian (Jaquel Spivey) and a Goth named Janis played by Auli’i Cravalho, who sings like a sledgehammer. In the 2018 musical version on Broadway, Damian wore nothing but pink, carried a photo of George Michael next to his heart, and stopped the show with a hilarious tap dance number called “Stop!” Fearing laughs that might be taken the wrong way, the Damian character in this version has been cast to avoid caricature, the “Stop!” number is gone, and so is the humor. The new Damian lacks the comic timing necessary to make his character tolerable, and his incessant limp-wristed cliches grow wearisome fast. The best production number used to be the one that gave the cast a chance to jump, leap, and slide around the stage on cafeteria serving trays. It landed on the cutting-room floor, too.
For laughs, there’s a Halloween party where everyone dresses alike and a talent show in which four of Santa’s elves sing “Rock Around the Pole.” The contrived choreography by Kyle Hanagami serves The Plastics lamely. Pop singer Renee Rapp is in nowhere near the same league as Rachel McAdams was in as the peroxided vixen Regina George, the meanest and most superficial member of The Plastics, back in the original—and her brain-dead cohorts Gretchen (Bebe Wood) and Karen (Avantika) are like icons from atrocious music videos. The centerpiece is Australia’s Angourie Rice, who has a sweet face and a stunning lack of craft as the naïve Cady. She doesn’t come to life until she falls for Aaron, the class dreamboat, and Regina’s ex (Christopher Briney, who is prettier than all of the girls put together). Finally, Cady becomes the school’s “Queen Bitch,” and a full-scale war erupts, underscored by a banal score of forgettable pop-rock songs by the lugubrious songwriting team of Nell Benjamin and Jeff Richmond that are uniformly abysmal.
As Cady falls victim to second-rate American values like social media, texting, hashtags and emojis, the simplemindedness of Mean Girls becomes the egregious opposite of everything Tina Fey stands for, so it’s appalling that she put her name on it. If the movie is about anything at all (I have yet to figure out exactly what), it’s the assumption that nice girls with morals and intelligence can become popular only when they turn into mean girls with low IQs themselves. At a time when real teenage girls are making historic strides, what purpose is served by demonstrating how girls can be as one-dimensional as boys? Worse still, what’s the achievement in turning a dumb, worthless movie into a dumber, creepier, time-wasting musical? Everybody keeps singing, “This is a cautionary tale…we continue to unveil.” But it’s never clear what there is caution about—except, perhaps, lousy, dopey, irrelevant and futile movie musicals like Mean Girls.
*Fans of my work may notice I’ve recycled many of the descriptions used in previous reviews of Mean Girls. Why? Because I hated this movie so much that it isn’t worth the brain power to come up with new ways to describe something so terrible.