The ill-advised tagline of the new Mean Girls movie—“Not Your Mother’s Mean Girls”—had editors in the ELLE office doing calculations more complicated than even the North Shore mathletes could handle. If you saw the original movie in high school 20 years ago, are you now supposed to have a high school daughter at home? Who exactly is this movie aimed at?
Like Tina Fey, however, I’m a Gen X mom, which means the math was mathing fine at my house. I have a 15-year-old Gen Zer as well as a 12-year-old middle schooler (she would prefer not identify at this time with Gen Alpha, finding their TikTok exploits extremely cringe).
I consider Fey the patron saint of Upper West Side moms, ever since I saw her sitting at the bottom of a slide in Riverside Park looking as exhausted and confused about how she got there as every other parent around her. (No, I did not say hi. Literally no adult wants to be talked to by a stranger at the playground in Riverside Park.) Still, despite my love and loyalty for its writer, I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship to Mean Girls.
But my daughters love it—both the original 2004 movie, which the 7th grader plays on repeat, and the stage musical, whose original cast my high schooler saw on Broadway. So who better than a couple of perfectly nice girls to ask about the eternal appeal of this franchise, and whether the new version got it right for 2024? What follows is an edited version of our Mean Girls post-mortem.
MOM: What do you guys think of the slogan, “Not your Mother’s Mean Girls”?
TEEN: I don’t get it.
TWEEN: Are they targeting this towards Gen Alpha?
TEEN: I don’t think there’s anyone who was a teenager when that movie came out and now has a teenage child. Maybe a few. I don’t know. I’m not going to do that math in my head. It doesn’t make that much sense. So I see why they changed it because it didn’t add up. “You Still Can’t Sit With Us” is a better slogan. It feels like a more fitting type of sassy.
TWEEN: Also, it kind of includes a little callback from the movie for people to be like, “Oh, I remember that quote.”
MOM: I always was lukewarm on Mean Girls because even when the book that it’s based on, Queen Bees and Wannabes, originally came out, and everyone was talking about how cruel girls were to one another in school, people were so gleeful about it. There is nothing that our culture likes more than girls fighting with each other. And I know girls shouldn’t gossip about each other behind their backs, but is that really worse than boys punching each other in the face? It’s not the best thing in the world, the way girls interact. But I’m not sure it’s necessarily worse or deserves more attention than the alternative.
TEEN: I mean, it’s not really their fault, is it? You have to be responsible for how you treat people, but there is a reason that there’s toxicity with teenage girls. They’re raised to be competitive with each other, aren’t they?
MOM: Yes, and they are raised to be non-confrontational and might have to find sneaky ways to show their anger. All the versions of Mean Girls show that in a really effective way. I just wonder, do you think it’s problematic that starting when they’re little, even as toddlers, girls watch movies and TV shows with Queen Bee characters, and they are often very attractive and charismatic and cool, even when they are supposedly the villain? Does that plant a seed and turn little girls into aspiring Regina Georges?
TEEN: I don’t necessarily think so because I think the movie tries to frame that as a bad thing. Regina is iconic and revered in real life, but everyone understands that she’s not a role model. And the movie frames it literally as a cautionary tale: the consequences of being a mean girl and of letting yourself be a part of that system. So I don’t think that it’s necessarily a problem or that that’s the reason that mean girls exist, but it could definitely have some impact on the culture around it. I think the lesson is that if you get power-hungry and you get too invested in having control and being above other people, there are consequences, and it catches up to you.
TWEEN: In the movie, it shows how you always get karma, but karma is kind of symbolized through the bus. It’s not specifically about, “Oh, well, if you’re mean, you’ll get hit by a bus.” I think the lesson is that no matter how good someone looked or how confident they looked, they always had insecurities. In the new movie when Karen showed her bra off a little, and then Regina told her that it looked disgusting, and then she started to pull it up during the dance, that’s a representation of insecurity. And you can clearly tell that Gretchen is very insecure, and based on how Regina always is trying to lose weight and stay skinny, it also shows her insecurity.
TEEN: And how much power beauty has over people, how angry it made Regina to be manipulated, specifically in her appearance. That was so important to her, and such a big part of her presentation to the world. She was willing to ruin people over that. She wouldn’t have needed power in that way if she didn’t feel insecure.
TWEEN: It wasn’t in the musical, but the original movie talked about how her parents were getting divorced. That’s one of the things Gretchen told Cady. And also how her mom spoiled her. As we saw in the musical, she just pushed her mom around and she was never really told no. So she felt like she could be mean to everyone with no consequences or backlash.
MOM: Oh, so it’s the mom’s fault? It’s always the mom’s fault. No, that’s actually a really good point. Shoot. It is the mom’s fault. Let’s change the subject. So, I always thought this story was kind of unrealistic when it first came out. It wasn’t what my experience at school was like. I worked with mostly women for the majority of my career and everybody’s mostly been nice and supportive. The people who were toxic tended to get fired for it. So I haven’t noticed any of these dynamics, but now I see some of your experiences and also how people behave online and I wonder if I was being naïve or if I was lucky and privileged in my experiences, and mean girl dynamics are a real thing.
TWEEN: The thing with my middle school is that there isn’t just one main popular girl. There’s several. So I feel like there’s not just one Queen Bee.
TEEN: I agree. There isn’t that one Queen Bee who controls everyone in the school, who everyone has a silent agreement to bow down to. Regina has all of this power, and everyone grovels at her feet. In my experience, there are mean girls and they have their clique, but everyone hates them. They might have more of a presence, but I don’t think that there’s that same respect that people seem to have for Regina in real life.
It’s also different now, especially with social media. The new movie is set in a more modern time, and rings truer to how it works now. They use the power of social media to take people down and things can spread so quickly through that. And that’s so much of how bullying works.
MOM: When Regina fell in the Christmas show and people were tweeting about her, I felt that. When she got canceled, I thought it was so well done. She saw all the lights from people’s phones, and realized people were posting about her. I didn’t feel any of that emotion where you’re like, “Yay, you deserve that pain.” I felt worse for her in that moment than when she was hit by a bus.
TEEN: You can see that that’s what she’s been trying to avoid with being a mean girl, that she can see it crumbling in her face. She’s built up this whole thing to kind of feed her own insecurities and now it’s all breaking down.
TWEEN: I know that montage when it’s like, oh, do you like Cady or Regina more? One day everyone liked Regina and bowed down to her and then the next day, it shows through social media how everything can change because of just one thing that you did. And how disposable everyone is. I’m not on social media, but at my school, there is a lot of Tiktok and Snapchat, and apparently it tracks the people who are near you, which is why on your feed it’ll show up like, “Oh, this girl from my class just posted.” If you’re on your phone, you’re going to see not just your friends, but everybody in the school.
MOM: Was there anything you missed about the stage musical that didn’t make it into the movie?
TEEN: I know there’s a lot of discourse about people being upset about certain songs being cut, which I get. I don’t think it ruined the movie at all. They kept the core of the story and did everything they could to keep it moving. I know they removed Damian’s song and some others, but it isn’t essential to the core of what they’re trying to say. They made that decision just to keep it—well, not believable because they are breaking out into song the whole time—but to keep it more grounded.
MOM: I agree. The thing about Damian’s big song “Stop”—it’s one of my favorites in the stage musical. I never thought there would be a funny dance number about online bullying and revenge porn. But, it’s such a theatrical, old-fashioned musically musical song. It would feel out of place if they started busting out tap dancing in that movie. But, I thought Jaquel Spivey was so fun.
TEEN: I love him! He was great. And Auli’i Cravalho, her voice is incredible. Most people would just know her as Moana, which is not similar to Janice in any way. But I wasn’t distracted by that at all. I thought she did such a good job with Janice and she embodied her so well, and especially “I’d Rather Be Me.” I love the way that was directed with the one take, kind of like she was ranting. Which is very Janice.
MOM: That was, I think, my favorite number in the movie. I was moved and got kind of choked up by it! It was powerful, the idea of being a woman who genuinely doesn’t care what other people think and say about you. She’d rather sit alone forever than compromise who she is. It’s cathartic to hear that message and think about internalizing it a little in your daily life.
TWEEN: My favorite song was…a word I’m embarrassed to say. [Ed. Note: It’s “Sexy,” Karen’s ode to Halloween and world peace.] But I like it because it’s so fun. I like how energetic it is. And Karen is my favorite character. She is so, what is the world…blissfully ignorant. She’s a little confused and oblivious, but she’s got the spirit.
MOM: We’ve laughed before about the great lyric in Karen’s song, “This is modern feminism talking / I expect to run the world / In shoes I cannot walk in.” I love how you made the joke of “modern feminism” into shorthand for when women do something for male attention but then call it women’s empowerment. Once you look for it, it’s everywhere. The cultural messages are all a little confusing, even when you’re mom age.
TWEEN: I feel like the message is that teenage girls are forced to conform into things. Like when she says [hot] Eleanor Roosevelt or [hot] Rosa Parks! That’s unrealistic but also that is kind of what teenage girls now are forced to do—they’re forced to wear outfits for the male gaze. They’re forced to sexualize themselves. So I felt like that was the message of that song. But it’s a really fun song.
TEEN: Got to love Karen. She’s doing her best. My favorite song is “Watch the World Burn.” Renée Rapp is so talented, and the way she carries herself is perfect and very Regina. The way you portray Regina can really make her feel like a main character if you give her that right energy. The performance on “World Burn” is so good. There’s so much tension in it and anger and everything has been building. We’ve been watching Regina being tricked and used and it all builds up and she finds out and she just overflows and everything goes crazy. I love it. It feels so powerful and important and the climax of her story.
TWEEN: One thing I’m upset about is that they deleted the part in the aftermath of what happened to Regina, when she joined the field hockey team and how the team wasn’t afraid of her. I really liked that part. One other thing I missed from the movie—I have a lot of things that I missed—is when Regina was watching all of them fight and enjoying what she did. And I also liked when she threw the Burn Book all over the tables and halls. Instead in the new movie, she just dropped it.
MOM: I miss that too. I love the drama of when she throws all the fliers in the air. It was realistic that she put it down and somebody, everybody would spread it by social media, but I missed the visual of her throwing all the copies. But also, a high schooler probably wouldn’t even know how to use a copier, right? Do you know what a copier is?
TEEN: Oh wait, yeah, I do. But I do enjoy the visual of everyone kind of crowding around, taking pictures. The old visual is very fun and exciting, but I think the new one is more realistic and they also kept the fun, the chaos. There’s a lot of adrenaline in that scene. I don’t miss it so much.
TWEEN: The one thing I like is when, on TikTok, it shows the people posting about the Burn Book, and doing polls about Cady versus Regina, the #ReginaChallenge, and Megan Thee Stallion posting about it. “How do I get this off my algorithm?” That was so funny.
TEEN: It made me laugh because it’s realistic. I spotted Chris Olsen and that made me laugh. Yeah, people would do that Regina Challenge. They make memes, they make jokes, things spread quickly and they go viral and there’s chaos. So there was that added layer of chaos that wasn’t there in the original.
MOM: There are so many reboots these days and they’re carbon copies that don’t feel like an improvement on the original. It may be set in a different era, with different clothes and different actors, but it’s not necessarily different. To me, having it be musical is a worthy addition. You could watch either or both. So in a few months when this is streaming and you sit down and you’re like, “Oh, it seems like a Mean Girls kind of day,” which one will you watch, this one or Your Mother’s Mean Girls?
TWEEN: The original. Just generally, I like it more. I guess I have this sort of Millennial-like attachment, nostalgia.
TEEN: I think I would pick the musical, honestly, because it’s fun and modern. I always was drawn towards the musical because there’s a lot of opportunity for creativity and there are emotions that you can express through the songs, with the music. I love both and I haven’t watched the original in a bit, so I can’t exactly say how much I love this one in comparison, but I think it feels very, very fresh. With a lot of “remakes,” they just kind of suck the life out of the original. There’s no reason to make it other than money. It feels like this movie was made because they really did want to make it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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