Film, News, Opinion

Film: Mean Girls 20 years on – Why are we still so obsessed?

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By Parker Kirby. Featured image: Paramount Pictures

20 years after its initial release in cinemas, Mean Girls (2004) continues to be a pop culture phenomenon. As a new Mean Girls film, in the style of a musical, has been released this year, it seems natural for us to reflect on the legacy of Mean Girls.

Inspired by Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabees, as well as screenwriter Tina Fey’s own experiences in high school, Mean Girls (2004) tells the story of Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan). She is a naive, homeschooled teenager who has recently moved back to the United States after spending most of her childhood in Africa. Upon her return, she begins attending school at North Shore High where she must find her place in the school’s ruthless social ladder.

Mean Girls highlights the pervasive nature of a high school hierarchy under a thick layer of satire. With fierce humour and a cast of flawed but loveable characters that gel perfectly, the film never tries to distract from what it truly is – a camp high school comedy. The film pushes an honest narrative towards the end where character redemptions come into fruition. My personal favourite performance was Rachel McAdams as Regina George. Despite serving  as the film’s main antagonist, McAdams’ acting gives the character an endearing quality that makes her impossible to hate.

The success of Mean Girls has spawned a number of works inspired by the film, including literature, video game adaptations, music videos, and limited-edition Toaster Strudels. Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next contains visuals inspired by 2000’s comedies, including Mean Girls, where she parodies the burn book and features original cast members Jonathan Bennett and Stefanie Drummond.

Released in 2019, Much Ado About Mean Girls is also a retelling of the film written by Ian Doescher in Shakespearean dialect. In 2020, the graphic novel Mean Girls: Senior Year was released. The story, set after the events of the film, focuses on student Megan Moretti and her goal of achieving popularity at North Shore High.

This brings us to 2024, where Mean Girls proves itself as popular as it always was. A film based around the Broadway adaptation of Mean Girls was released on January 19th, 20 years after the original film made its debut on the big screen; passing the torch onto the next generation of high school students who will see themselves in Cady Heron and many other characters.

Many people are arguing that the new film is the perfect blend of the original and the stage musical and its overall reception seems to compliment this. The film’s steady rating of 70% on Rotten Tomatoes boasts of the film’s quality and positive reception. However, die-hard fans of the original film seem to disagree, arguing it didn’t come close to the quality of the original film, which was awarded 84%. Despite people favouring the original, it’s clear that we enjoy revisiting the world of Mean Girls, whether that’s by watching the original film, the new film or the stage musical. Due to its legendary status and continued cultural relevance in today’s society, Mean Girls has arguably earned the title of ‘contemporary classic’.

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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