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Mean Girls Review: Movie Musical Edition is So Fetch

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by bad idea Hollywood remakes. Indeed, the limit does not exist, at least when it comes to the lengths that Hollywood will go to for a potentially easy buck. Tina Fey in fact made “fetch” happen with her now iconic, arguably brilliant 2004 comedy Mean Girls. It was then predictably made into a musical, and that production has now been retrofitted back into the big screen.

Not to sound like a clichéd burn book, but this new version leaves much to be desired. Principally, the actors cannot escape the shadow of the now heavyweights that first took these roles. In the end, however, 2024’s Mean Girls is entertaining—at least enough for me to recommend you incur the price of admission. All the credit goes to Fey’s undeniable original source material and to the subtle but clever additions she made around the edges.

Hopefully, the story of Cady Heron, the home-schooled, Africa-raised, shy math nerd and her encounter with the devilish, titular mean girls known as “The Plastics,” needs little introduction. Immediately though, two problems emerge as one is writing a review of the musical version of the movie on offer by Paramount Studios this weekend. The first is that it seems apocryphal to write that this lead character is played by… Angourie Rice. Who? Shouldn’t I be typing “Lindsay Lohan”? Her principal frenemy nemesis is portrayed by… Reneé Rapp. Again, what? Where is Rachel McAdams, whose career went to the stratosphere after this role?

(L-R) Jaquel Spivey, Angourie Rice, Auli’i Cravalho in Mean Girls (Paramount/Jojo Whilden)

The second problem is that one wonders whether I am even allowed to write that Cady was raised in Africa. In the original, that became her nickname at the hand of the amusing mathlete nerds that want to recruit her to their math Olympiad, while she was busy hatching revenge schemes against Regina for stealing the man of Cady’s dream, Aaron – here played Christopher Briney. However, they now refer to her oddly as “Golf Bird” and, in an even more awkward, stunted moment for the script, they explain the parallel between Cady and Golf, and Bird and Heron. Groan. 

This being 2024, however, the Grand Age of Neutering, you can see those subtle alterations to the identities of the characters, and some of the jokes that touch on issues of sexuality and gender, from miles away. They are such a constant reminder of all the unnecessarily controversial things that have happened in the last 20 years that, despite Fey’s obvious best intentions, inure to the film’s persistent detriment. 

This is not an objection to changing standards persé—it is a lament about Fey and her producers’ unwillingness to understand the brilliance of their own original material, which touched upon the cruelness and vapidness of the social media generation before it even fully existed. The splices of Instagram and TikTok videos to replace the odd interviews of the North Shore students to explore their perspective on Cady and the Plastics are fine—what is remarkable is how their content does not need to and was not in fact changed in any significant way. That is how prescient Fey’s original tale was at understanding the darker side of Millennials.

Christopher Briney in Mean Girls (Paramount/Jojo Whilden)

Worse still, is that the new group playing the principal characters—talented Broadway actors as they are—simply cannot live up to the standard of those they are replacing, again, despite their best intentions. All of them, from Rice to Rapp to Bebe Wood (the comedic anchor character, Gretchen Wieners), can rarely find the comedic timing, delivery, or cattiness that characterizes the original actors. Though it may seem unfair to compare them to a prior version, in the movie world we do not only wear pink on Wednesdays—if these mean girls want to sit with us, they need to earn their keep. And the musical numbers are only mildly entertaining, certainly not enough to appear to be erasing a lot of the amusing delivery of lines that made the original so effective.

In short, none of this needed to happen, particularly given the obvious potential for a disaster. But, as it turns out, Mean Girls 2024 version is not a disaster.

Credit the inherently compelling nature of the original story as well as a few additional jokes that Fey clearly either left on the cutting board of her original script, or has been hatching for two decades. In these new, risky quips, Fey and her actors display their true talent. Most credit goes to Rapp, in a particular scene where Regina is high on narcotics, as well as to Busy Phillips, who plays Regina’s “cool mom” – a role Amy Poehler had 20 years ago. When you are not expecting to see McAdams’ signature lip snarl, Lohan’s genuinely panicked, confused perspiration deliver a by-now classic line, and you are surprised with a new one, the new Mean Girls is delightful. You will be roiling with laughter by the end of it, despite the new cast’s utter inability to emotionally connect with you, because the story is just that good, just that familiar in a classic Hollywood way.

(L-R) Bebe Wood, Avantika, Reneé Rapp in Mean Girls (Paramount/Jojo Whilden)

Few movies achieve the type of – in the vernacular – absolute classic at every turn status that the 2004 Mean Girl did. It is a wonderful, by now old school Hollywood tale. They really do not make movies like that anymore, as an old curmudgeon might say, and 2024’s Mean Girls proves that point. Revisiting, rewriting, and reimagining already great material rarely works, and this film is no exception. What saves it is that the brilliant writer behind it still had a few more quips up her sleeves—a good, additional helping of cheese fries, if you will—to serve the hungry audience.

It’s like she has ESPN or something.

Talent: B-
Story: A
Crafts: B-
Awards Potential: None
Box Office Potential: Medium
Renewability: Mean Girls 2 was made, so why not the second musical?

Overall Score: B

Mean Girls will be released in North American theaters on January 12, 2024.


Studio: Paramount
Principal Cast: Angourie Rice, Renee Rapp, Auli’I Cravalho, Chris Briney, Jaquel Spivey, Bebe Wood, Avantika, Tina Fey, Tim Meadows, Busy Phillips, Jon Hamm
Director: Samantha Jayne, Arturo Perez Jr.
Screenwriter: Tina Fey
Producers: Lorne Michaels, Tina Fey
DP: Bill Kirstein
Production Design: Kelly McGehee
Costume Design: Gregg Barnes
Editor: Andrew Marcus
Score: Jeff Richmond

Twitter: @jdonbirnam

Instagram: @awards_predix

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