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Saturday, April 20
The Indiana Daily Student

arts review

COLUMN: “Mean Girls” is a Gen Z-ified, TikTok-laden musical misfire

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Due to my unfortunate theater kid tendencies, I was a huge fan of the “Mean Girls” musical in high school. I frequently watched “slime tutorials” (if you know, you know) and belted the songs on my way home from school. I may have been an alto, but nothing was going to stop me from belting “I’d Rather Be Me” — an angst-ridden, voice-destroying ballad — or “World Burn” — Regina George’s second act showstopper. 

So, when the new film opened with Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey) singing a poppy, lowkey version of “A Cautionary Tale” in a 9:16 TikTok aspect ratio, I deflated in my theater seat. This set the precedent for what was to come: a Gen Z-ified, TikTok-laden remake stitched together by recycled dialogue, butchered songs and poor staging. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. Reneé Rapp, who played Regina on Broadway when she was only 19, once again proves she was meant for this role. Her vocals are leagues above the rest of the leading ladies’ (save Cravalho), and her take on Regina feels both fresh and familiar.  

Even though a lot of the film’s affective humor isn’t intentional; for example, when Christopher Briney first appeared as Aaron Samuels, I could hear a collective shudder come from the audience — there are some genuinely funny moments too. Damian’s Edith Piaf-inspired rendition of the “iCarly” theme song is as technically masterful as it is ridiculous. Alongside Rapp, Jaquel Spivey is the film’s saving grace. 

Unfortunately, a good portion of the dialogue and jokes are recycled from the 2004 film. It’s like Tina Fey patted herself on the back for writing the original and decided that was enough. I can’t say I blame her — the original screenplay is one of the best comedy screenplays of all time. But the new cast isn’t able to match the original’s comedic timing or bite. 

So, it’s strange that the songs from the Broadway musical were repurposed and rewritten for the film. Overall, the new versions have simpler instrumentals with slower tempos and digital accompaniment. Some of Cady’s songs had to be altered to fit Angourie Rice’s vocal range, which wouldn’t be an issue if she enunciated her words properly. The song “Stupid With Love” is supposed to be about Cady’s newfound infatuation with Aaron, but the emotion of the song is muddled underneath the digital beat and unenergetic vocals. 

Speaking of Aaron, he’s the only main character in the film who doesn’t sing, and once you notice, it’s difficult to ignore how bizarre it is. This reflects a deeper issue in the film’s characters: most of them are either forgettable or underdeveloped to the point of being caricature-esque. In the original film, Karen wasn’t a well-rounded character to begin with, so I admire Avantika for going big with her performance. It does pay off most of the time, but her constant open-mouthed, ditzy expression got old, fast.  

Because the film was originally intended to go straight to Paramount+ instead of theaters, it shouldn’t come as a surprise the film’s cinematography can only be compared to that of a Superbowl commercial (the blatant product placement doesn’t help). The overall look of the film is distinctly cheap. Most of the songs are shot like music videos and the staging is awkward. The outfits are Shein-chic. The choreography could be pulled from TikTok. It all feels very artificial, but not in an intentional, “get it? Because the movie is about the Plastics?” kind of way. 

The film’s biggest weakness is its incessant need to remind us that it’s not 2004 anymore. I’m not just talking about the inclusion of TikTok-style editing, from cringey callbacks — “What is fetch?” “It’s, like, slang, from an old movie!” — to censored and sanitized dialogue. “Mean Girls” tries way too hard to appease its Gen Z audience, ignoring the edginess (it’s a satire, after all) that made me and so many others fall in love with the original film. For a movie called “Mean Girls,” the girls in question aren’t very mean! 

This may seem completely contradictory to say but stay with me here — I still had a fun time watching “Mean Girls.” It doesn’t matter if I’m cackling at a genuinely funny bit, Christopher Briney’s off-putting presence or the e.l.f. cosmetics product placement; laughter is laughter. The film’s flaws are too big to push aside, so we may as well accept them and enjoy this film for the chaotic mess it is. 

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