Film review: ‘MEAN GIRLS’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Look out Generations Y and Z, your cool cultural icons are now becoming retro nostalgia. The latest acquisition is high school clique comedy Mean Girls which was originally filmed in 2004 and propelled Lindsay Lohan to stardom. Like the Colour Purple, Mean Girls was turned into a stage musical that has itself been adapted into a film. The buoyant preview screening audience, awash with pink, seemed to enjoy this new version, laughing at most of the gags and whooping at the cameos but it felt like we were consuming tasty reheated leftovers rather than anything new and spicy.
I haven’t seen the stage version but the plot of this film remake stays very close to that of the original movie. Smart but innocent homeschooled Cady Heron (originally played by Lindsay Lohan, now by Aussie Angourie Rice), having just moved from Kenya, struggles to fit in at her new US high school. Befriending outsiders Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey) she’s sent like an agent to infiltrate the all-powerful popular girl clique, ‘The Plastics’ who consist of the malevolent Regina (Renee Rapp, who appeared in the stage version) and her underlings, the neurotic Gretchen (Bebe Wood) and ditzy Karen (Avantika). At first appalled by the group’s vanity and snooty attitude toward everyone else, Cady begins to transform into one of them, much to Janis and Damian’s horror.
Apart from references to more recent popular culture and the pervasiveness of social media, the only substantial difference from the original is that this version has songs punctuating pivotal plot points and character moments. The songs are tolerable enough and at times add but some ebullient energy to this satire of the high school jungle but they’re not exactly memorable.
This version also doesn’t add much in terms of comedy. Quite a few of the gags from the original Mean Girls are recycled here and while they still work, their familiarity blunts this film’s edge. This film even has two of the same actors in the same roles as the original, Tina Fey (who wrote the script for both films) as maths teacher Ms Norbury and Tim Meadows as Principal Duvall. While they’re both wonderful, their presence adds to the sense that this film is in the thrall of the original.
There’s some of the DNA of a John Waters film like Hairspray running through this movie with its exuberant, candy coloured vision of the world and its affectionately acerbic humour but it lacks the exciting edginess and oddball charm of a Waters film.
It was a difficult mission for Angourie Rice stepping into Lindsay Lohan’s shoes given that this character was so definitive in Lohan’s career. Rice does a fine job capturing Cady’s initial wide-eyed innocence and then her alarming transformation into a plastic but (partly because the film is so similar to the original) it’s hard to suppress the the feeling that the understudy has stepped in for the day. The supporting cast are generally enjoyable with funny turns from Jaquel Spivey as Damian and Avantika as Karen and welcome but all too brief appearances from John Hamm as the cynical phys ed teacher and Jenna Fischer as Cady’s mother.
Due to Tina Fey’s keen insights and comic smarts, this version of Mean Girls is still a mostly funny and occasionally thoughtful take on high school power struggles but it feels like an impersonation of a better film.
Nick’s rating: ***
Genre: Comedy, musical.
Classification: PG.
Director(s): Samantha Jayne, Arturo Perez Jr..
Release date: 11th Jan 2024.
Running time: 112 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm on 88.3 Southern FM. by N

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