How the ‘Mean Girls’ Directors Captured Social Media’s Brutality: ‘Your Popularity Is Quantified’

“The way kids are mean to each other now, it’s interesting,” filmmaker Samantha Jayne tells TheWrap

Mean Girls box office
"The Plastics" in "Mean Girls" (2024) (Paramount Pictures)

“Mean Girls” (2024) directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. turned to current teenagers to get a sense of what the ruthless social food chain of high school can be like now versus the early 2000s, when Tina Fey’s first iteration of “Mean Girls” hit theaters.

They connected with the teens at a three-day workshop with theater kids in Canada.

“We would help them with their monologues and then at the end, they felt like they could really talk about it,” Jayne told TheWrap. “Kids are really nice to each other’s faces now, because the s–t all goes down on here [points to phone]. Oh, my god, does it go down. And it happens fast, and it’s huge and explosive. The way kids are mean to each other now, it’s interesting.” 

The pair also spoke with Perez Jr.’s drama teacher, who he had kept in touch with for many years.

“[The kids] were telling us how it really is, because we needed to be like, ‘Well, how is it really?’” he said. “At the beginning, they were just telling us like, what they probably tell their parents. It’s vicious, absolutely vicious. Play-by-play.”

“And recorded, like texts. Your popularity is quantified,” Jayne added. “And there’s not just a rumor that a party is going on. Like no, a real f–king party is happening. You see all the people there who didn’t tell you about it. It can be devastating, but it can also be really fun and it can be really euphoric, and it can be really community-based. For instance, adapting the [‘Mean Girls’ Broadway song] ‘Sexy.’”

The pair spoke with TheWrap about bringing Tina Fey’s script to life, balancing the 2004 film, the Broadway musical and their version of “Mean Girls,” as well as the changes to Janis and Regina’s backstory.

How did you balance the tone set by the 2004 film with adapting the 2024 version from the Broadway musical, and how did this factor into the 2024 movie’s overall look?

Jayne: The original is so iconic and we know that, and we’re both super fans of the original. We knew that that had to be its own thing. The Broadway version is naturally its own thing.

What we love about the Broadway version, narratively speaking, is the construction of it, where Janis and Damian are the all-knowing narrators and this is told through their hindsight, their mind’s eye. And just that construction alone allowed us to be able to be experimental with it in a way where we were like, “Oh, you know what, it’d be cool if Janis and Damian were the directors of this movie.”

Our style, we like to be grounded and tactile, and it lent itself so well to the DIY nature of what a self-proclaimed “art freak” would have available to them and the friends that they would pull in to be the Greek chorus in a way to help tell the story. So that’s what excited us about this version.

And then also the fact that there’s a whole new host of ways to be mean these days with social media, oh my god, and all those terrible things that I do not envy teens for [having] to deal with at all. They are so brave, and just weaving all those in to be able to tell Tina’s message of “Young women should support each other,” is such an important thing. And if we could reimagine it, have this be its own thing for this generation and also for the OG fans, then that’s what made us the most excited about it.

Going back to when Damian and Janis start making the video on their phone, can you talk more about incorporating modern-day technology into the film?

Perez Jr.: We didn’t overdo it. If Janis and Damian are truly quote-unquote “the directors” of this movie, then they wouldn’t want it to feel just on the phone either. They’re making a movie, but they want to play with the social media and they want to keep surprising you.

When they do use social media, it’s to highlight the message is a movie. If you really think about it, why do this again? And why should people watch it again? Not only is it for the incredible music and all the performances and the craft, but more importantly, I think for the message.

Auli’i Cravalho [as Janis] approached her role as if she did have a crush on Regina back in the day. What does that update to the backstory of how they were friends and their falling out change for your film?

Jayne: It was really important to Tina to get that right and to make that hit with kids now. She has two girls herself. It was something that she discussed with them. She wanted that to feel dimensional and authentic, and dive deeper into Janis a little bit. Experiencing that kind of shame and embarrassment and betrayal when you’re in middle school is a massive feeling.

Fully fleshing out that story and telling it really adds this important backstory so that later, when she’s singing “I’d Rather Be Me,” you understand how she’s really triumphed over that and really become resolute from where she was then to where she is now. It dimensionalizes Janis in a really beautiful way. 

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