Making Mean Girls fetch again was never going to be an easy task. Some might even say it was an impossible one. The source material is so widely beloved. This story has managed to resonate with generations of teens, and its quotes are so ingrained in popular culture that they barely feel old. Unfortunately, however, it really has been 20 years since Mean Girls was released, and now the Hollywood cycle has brought it back to us.
This challenge is one that has already been completed to some success with the Mean Girls Broadway musical, and now, 2024’s Mean Girls attempts to do the reverse, by turning the musical that was based on the movie into a movie musical. It’s an unenviable task for anyone, even Tina Fey, the mastermind who has been with this movie since the beginning.
The good news is that there’s a lot that Mean Girls gets right, and if you can check your high expectations of the original at the door, it makes for a genuinely fun time at the cinema.
Mean Girls hits all the same beats as the original movie, but this time, with a bit of musical flair. Homeschooled student Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) is thrown into an American high school where she has to navigate the jungle politics of teenagers. She’s quickly taken under the wing of two misfits, Janice (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey). After she catches the eye of the popular ‘Plastics’, Regina George (Reneé Rapp), Karen (Avantika) and Gretchen (Bebe Wood), Cady and her friends plot the downfall of the queen bee and her followers.
Speaking as someone who adores the original movie but hasn’t seen the Broadway show, I found Mean Girls to be familiar enough to its roots yet infused with enough fresh musical sequences and updated jokes to avoid being a cut-and-dry remake. It’s the blending of these parts that doesn’t always work.
Some of the best moments in the new Mean Girls are the times it breaks away from the constraints of the original and tries something different.
One noticeable instance of this is the prevalence of social media in the film, provided almost exclusively through TikTok trends. Portraying social media onscreen isn’t easy, but the way Mean Girls does it gives the film a sense of momentum that successfully distils a lot of the major turning points in a modern way. There are times that the film clings too hard to its 2004 roots, like its insistence on keeping the relic of the physical Burn Book, which feels a little out of place in the social media whirlwind the film predominantly pushes, but for the most part, it feels true to this generation of teens.
Of course, another major difference is the fact this is a musical. The film’s shameless embrace of the musical genre is one of its strengths. The songs aren’t always that memorable, but the musical sequences are flashy and fun, with a youthful camp tone that is reminiscent of Glee or High School Musical. Unfortunately, the sound mixing often makes it difficult to hear every line that’s being sung, which is disappointing given that this is where a lot of the crucial inner dialogue is coming out.
The strong performances are easily the backbone of this new Mean Girls. Angourie Rice infuses Cady with sweet naivety in both her dialogue and singing. She’s so likeable it’s almost a disservice, making it hard to believe she would so easily turn to the dark side, particularly when a lot of the pivotal songs are given to Janice and Regina – who are both stand outs, by the way.
Reneé Rapp (a returnee from the Broadway musical) owns the high school, she owns Regina George and she owns this movie. She nails everything that is asked of her, whether it be Regina’s intimidating prowess, her emerging vulnerabilities or her roaring musical numbers. Her portrayal of Regina doesn’t attempt to replace Rachel McAdams; instead, she completely formulates a version of her own.
Auli’i Cravalho benefits from an updated version of Janice, who is allowed to embrace her sexuality in this iteration of the story and is all the better for it. While her character arc falls short some of the time, she is a powerhouse and, paired with scene-stealing Jaquel Spivey as Damian, they give some of the best performances in the film.
There are times when Mean Girls really tries to do something new with the material. Its songs offer hints at new facets to characters like Regina, Karen and Gretchen, and it’s a shame these are never really explored to their full potential. It would’ve been nice to see some new sides of these characters after 20 years, particularly when some of the most cheerworthy moments come from updates to the originals, like Ms Norbury and Principal Duvall (both played by OGs Tina Fey and Tim Meadows). Jon Hamm, as Coach Farr, is also an example of excellent casting, but he is not really given anything to do.
Fey has written a lot of new jokes for a new audience in this Mean Girls, which keeps the film feeling fresh and the audience laughing.
The film has made a few welcome updates to the material, but along the way seems to have mellowed out some of the meanness of Mean Girls. One of the harshest jokes is actually in the film’s marketing, telling audiences that this isn’t “your mother’s Mean Girls“.
While, as a millennial, I am of course offended by this, I actually would’ve liked to see the film draw on some more daring jokes and social criticisms. They are what made the original so iconic, after all.
Mean Girls is a story about finding your own identity amongst the confusing formative years of high school and its cutthroat social politics. It’s something that 2004’s Mean Girls was so good at exemplifying, and it’s something the 2024 movie musical version also seeks to achieve.
This is a film that balances both fan service to the original and faithfully representing the musical it is trying to adapt. In these areas, it excels, creating vibrant musical sequences and spotlighting some incredible new talent. But it struggles to forge an identity that is really its own.
Man, was it a fetch time at the cinema, though.
Mean Girls Review (2024): The verdict
Pros: Strong performances, fun musical sequences, enjoyable fan service.
Cons: Lack of memorable songs, jokes have been watered down.
Watch it if you liked: Mean Girls (2004), Glee, High School Musical, Pitch Perfect
Mean Girls is in cinemas now.
Lead Image Credit: Paramount Pictures
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