Mean Girls was a hit book (title Queen Bees and Wannabes), then a hit movie, then a hit musical, now it’s a movie again, and hoping to be a hit once more. The new film is an adaptation of the stage musical based on the 2004 film, and it maintains the exact same structure as the film before it.
Cady Heron, here played by Angourie Rice, is a new student at North Shore High, returning to the States after spending her childhood primarily in Africa, where her mother (now played by Jenna Fischer) studied animals. She is befriended by social outcasts Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey), develops a crush on a hot senior (Christopher Briney), and eventually is persuaded to join and take down the school’s reigning clique of mean girls, the Plastics, led by the vicious Regina George (Renee Rapp).
The cast of the original Mean Girls is iconic, and the new cast, at least, acquits themselves well. No one is “better” than their original counterpart, but at least they’re not worse, either. Rapp, particularly, stands out, beyond her singing, she gets a little extra to chew on with Regina’s character and she makes the most of it. You won’t forget Rachel McAdams, but you won’t waste your time unnecessarily comparing Rapp to her, either. Cravalho is also interesting as Janis, but she gets short shrift in the script (which is once again by Tina Fey), and so doesn’t make as much of an impression as she should. Busy Philipps is also memorable as Regina’s horny mom, though again, she isn’t reinventing the wheel already set into motion by Amy Poehler.
Mean Girls 2024 doesn’t have much to offer beyond the song and dance numbers and updated pop culture references. If the music was memorable, remaking Mean Girls as a musical might be justified, but as it is, the songs are forgettable. (Of the spate of recent movie musicals, only Wonka’s “Scrub Scrub” has even remotely stuck in my brain.) It’s a real bummer because the cast is made of up of talented singers, especially Cravalho and Rapp, both of whom have serious pipes and belt with the best of them.
The main innovation, beyond the more recent references, of the new film is to add some characterization to the Plastics—queen bee Regina, daffy Gretchen Wieners (Bebe Wood), and dumb bunny Karen Shetty (Avantika). The intention is clear, to revisit the mean girl archetype and add some depth, showing that they’re not JUST mean girls, they have their own things going on and maybe there’s a reason Regina is like this, but the film doesn’t do much with the new concept.
Maybe if the musical numbers were more smartly and artistically incorporated, they could do the heavy lifting of filling in these characters and making them more human. But the songs in Mean Girls, with music by Jeff Richmond and lyrics from Nell Benjamin, are more about exposition than characterization. It’s a relief this isn’t a 2000s pop jukebox musical, but given the attempt made at deepening the shallowest characters from the original film, the music is not doing nearly enough to help realize that goal.
But the iconic lines can still provoke a laugh, Gretchen is still an inherently funny character, Jon Hamm is hugely enjoyable in beautiful idiot mode as Coach Carr, and it’s always good to see Tim Meadows on screen.
There are things to like here, it’s just mostly the same stuff as the original film, which begs the question of what we’re doing except making more money for Tina Fey (but not Rosalind Wiseman, the author of the book that inspired it all). Also, in the wake of Barbie, the “be nice” moral comes across as particularly shallow, as Mean Girls does not update to include an acknowledgment of the outside pressure and forces that put women into conflict with each other in the first place. It’s not like Barbie is all that complicated, but at least it acknowledges in-group competition and conflict isn’t solely the responsibility of women being, you know…mean girls. Still, Mean Girls is Mean Girls, and this is Mean Girls. If you like Mean Girls, then you’ll like Mean Girls.
Mean Girls is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Attached: The Mean Girls premiere in NYC the other night.