In 2004, I was 11 years old, and Mean Girls was everywhere—including in my middle school. Which is why, on principle, I boycotted my classmates’ new favorite film until I was several years older and slightly less sensitive to fictional displays of bullying. While I can’t say it’s become one of my favorite movies, I can appreciate a great Lindsay Lohan performance as much as the next gal.
But even as a moderate Mean Girls liker, I want better for the superfans than this year’s official “It’s October 3rd” stunt: chopping the entire film up into 23 parts on TikTok. To no one’s surprise, it’s a terrible way to watch a pretty good movie.
Across 23 low-quality parts of variable length, Paramount has made all 97 minutes of Mean Girls available to watch for free, without ads. The trade-off, of course, is that you have to be as active a viewer as possible. TikTok doesn’t automatically move forward once you’ve finished watching a video, which is normally fine. But what if you want to watch the movie on your desktop, as I did, in a separate window while you “work”? You may end up watching the same five minutes on a loop, lest you stop paying attention before it ends.
The better way to watch is on your phone, but that means you have to be aggressively involved with your bad-looking Mean Girls viewing. TikTok still doesn’t offer picture-in-picture mode, which is why I never use TikTok; I have a very bad attention span and can’t just do one thing at a time. (For context, I’m watching a YouTube video, navigating between multiple Reddit threads, and editing two other stories while writing this piece.) So if you’re watching Mean Girls on TikTok on your phone, you’re going to be using your phone to watch Mean Girls and nothing else.
Maybe if you could watch the film in landscape mode, this would be less egregious. But watching it in 480p, with huge black bars filling the excess space above and below the video, is just plain unpleasant. The sound quality is great, which helps, but that doesn’t make up for the annoyance of flipping between poorly transferred, weirdly edited segments of Mean Girls. Nearly every one of the 23 parts ends in the middle of a scene, which, sure, might ensure that you’ll watch the subsequent clip. But when each scene is so grainy to start with, it’s just another bullet point on the list of turnoffs.
Absurd as watching Mean Girls in chunks sounds, this is far from an original idea, as many TikTok devotees know. The social media phenomenon of watching bite-sized versions of popular movies and shows is now well-documented. Scenes from shows as different as Ugly Betty and Chicago Med can pop up on your For You Page without warning or context. Netflix’s 2021 miniseries Maid even experienced a sudden resurgence in popularity this spring, thanks to fans giving it the TikTok-clip treatment.
As cringey brand accounts often do, the official Mean Girls TikTok page is hitching its wagon to this trend. The low-effort promo also capitalizes on both the omnipresent nostalgia for and the recent fervor around the 2004 film—today is known as Mean Girls Day; the movie version of the musical version of the original movie is out in January—to create this altogether terrible viewing experience. But there is a positive takeaway here: The TikTok stunt got me to rewatch Mean Girls for the first time since I was a surly high schooler, and this slightly less surly adult enjoyed it a lot more this time around. Yes, even with that ugly-looking video quality.