The plot kicks into full effect when Regina takes a liking to Cady, as if she’s a new plaything, and invites her to join the Plastics for lunch. Unbeknownst to Cady, Regina and Janis have a dark history involving a middle school friendship gone bad. This backstory is fleshed out with much richer, nuanced, and quite frankly devastating details which make the nefarious plot put into motion by Janis much more understandable in this version of the story.
Complicating things further is Cady’s crush on her calculus classmate Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney, who, between this and “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” is cornering the market on teen love triangles), who happens to be Regina’s ex-boyfriend. Janis convinces Cady to buddy up to Regina so she can get revenge and Cady can get the guy. Of course, things do not go as planned and soon Cady gets caught up in the glow of being popular, losing her sense of self and her sense of ethics.
From here, the new film remixes plot beats and character moments from the original film through both a musical and social media lens. The popularity of Cady and Regina rises and falls as fast as a trending topic on Twitter. Their antics are recorded on cell phones, spurring a thousand reaction vids. One minute Cady is nothing, the next she’s getting a million views and likes. While these sequences are visually arresting, they often are used as shorthand to signal changes in Cady’s behavior that could have been teased out a little better in dialogue as well.
The same could be said for the songs, which in the musical tradition, are mostly used as a way for characters to express their emotions. None of the songs are particularly catchy, although Gretchen Weiner’s song “What’s Wrong with Me?” stands out for its poignancy, as does “I’d Rather Be Me,” Janis’ powerful rock anthem about the importance of self-worth. Even when the songs aren’t great, they are brought to life with visual panache. “Revenge Party,” sung by Janis and Damian, with its hallway decked out in rainbow colors and cotton candy clouds nails a certain Gen-Z Instagram aesthetic. Similarly, Regina’s dark dirge “Someone Gets Hurt” evokes the glitter-infused, lowlight misery of something like “Euphoria.”