Unlike the marketing for the film, I won’t go out of my way to hide the fact that latest “Mean Girls” film is in fact a musical. This has been the most confounding releases of a film. Originally slated to be a straight to streaming release, it was then changed to have a theatrical drop at the top of the January. We all know that’s were films go to die. But even worse, the marketing decided that people don’t like musicals and pulled a bait and switch.
This created all kinds of misconceptions of what “Mean Girls” actually is and why it exists in the first place. So, yes. “Mean Girls” is a film adaption of the Broadway musical, which in turn is a musical based on the 2004 film, which is (if you didn’t know this already) an adaption of a book. So, this latest outing is thrice removed from the beloved film, which is why it constantly feels at odds with itself. “Mean Girls” isn’t quite the train wreck the marketing would lead you to believe, and possesses some genuine fun to be had if you’re willing to let it have its cake and eat it too.
Samantha Jayne and Arturo Pedro Jr. make their directorial debut with “Mean Girls” 2024, with Tina Fey once again returning to writing duties. Original broadway music and lyrics composer and writer Jeff Richmond and Neil Benjamin return as well for the music, along with Reneé Rapp (“The Sex Lives of College Girls“) reprising her stage role as Regina George. Being an adaption of the original work, the story overall remains unchanged. It is merely updated to fit both the screen and appeal to the Gen-Z generation. The film stars Angourie Rice as Cady Herron, Auliʻi Cravalho as Janice, Jaquel Spivey (making his screen debut here) as Damian, Avantika Vandanapu as Karen, and Bebe Wood as Gretchen. Both Fey and Tim Meadows reprise their roles from the original film, and John Hamm has a much smaller role as Coach Carr. Oh yeah- and of course Megan Thee Stallion shows up briefly, because it wouldn’t be a Gen-Z film if their queen didn’t at least say SOMETHING about Regina on Tiktok.
There was always going to be strong apprehension and even outright rejection of anything attempting to touch the classic. Which is why both the marketing and desperation to connect it to the film rather than the actual broadway musical bogs “Mean Girls” down and keeps it from really taking off on its own. I’d venture to say that most of the eye rolls at the tarnishing of legacy stem from the moments that feel ripped out of the film rather than pulled from the stage. Even people like Fey and Meadows are far more distracting than welcomed, forcibly trying to pretend like they’re a part of this new interpretation when in reality they simply don’t belong. It bares repeating, “Mean Girls” is a film adaption of the broadway musical, and largely succeeds when it weaves that connective tissue instead of trying to constantly harken back to the film itself. I know the internet has probably already spoiled it, but there is a cameo towards the end that just tears you out of the film entirely because it is so egregiously pandering to wrong audience.
This is where experience comes into play. While a commendable effort from both Jayne and Pedro Jr., “Mean Girls” never really lands on what it is actually trying to adapt. It feels hacked to bits, trying to build two different puzzles shuffled around in the same box. You simply can’t pander to a younger generation while proclaiming that this is for those who remember. And you also can’t make a musical adaption that feels like that very material is an afterthought. “Mean Girls” has some manic editing because of this, moving from classic film renditions (many of which don’t make sense at all, like keeping the “We’ve already paid the DJ” line because it worked in the film but then have the musical inspired band play at the Spring Fling) to bombastic broadway numbers that never quite feel like they belong. That goes for the sound editing as well. I don’t know what went wrong here, but the sound mixing is as bad as regular cable television when the dialogue in the show is inaudible and then the commercials blow out your speakers unexpectedly.
“Mean Girls” also feels more claustrophobic than it should be. Even the big and loud musical numbers are framed in ways that feel like they were somehow drastically restrained for production space and had to repurpose the same hallway over and over again. I’m not familiar with the broadway show, but from what I’ve gathered from those that are, some of the best numbers and songs have been cut. This includes any song by Aaron Samuels because Christopher Briney can’t sing and they cast him anyway. “Mean Girls” makes all kinds of mistakes like this, so most if not all of your criticisms about its construction, its obvious pandering, and misguided attempt to have it both ways are entirely valid. Were it not for the stellar performances of cast (sans returning film renditions and Briney because why are you IN a musical if you can’t SING at all? At least Russell Crowe tried and albeit failed in “Les Miserables” but A for effort ya know?) “Mean Girls” would end up being everything you might have feared.
Thank god for Reneé Rapp, who slays dragons with how hard she goes as Regina. This adaption simply does work without her mesmerizing charisma and powerhouse vocals. Even when the sound editing feels like it’s trying to do her a disservice, Rapp is so captivating and frankly, too talented to let technical difficulties hold her back from being 100% that bitch. All of the new performers taking on classic roles are solid, with real standouts being Spivey, Cravalho, and Avantika rising to the challenge of embodying beloved characters. They all work hard to add their own layers to the characters instead of rehashed imitations, and all three of them are given some of the best numbers and moments to shine in the entire film. “Mean Girls” doesn’t have a lot of memorable numbers, but “Revenge Party,” “Sexy,” “I’d Rather Be Me” and “World Burn” are vibrant enough and delivered by some of the best performers in the entire film. It serves as highlights for each of the aforementioned stand outs, with Avantika in particular given an opportunity to go full Halloween thot in the absolute best and hilarious ways possible.
And that is where the fun and strength of “Mean Girls” truly lies. Not in the gimmicky, lazy attempts to connect it to the film, but in the opportunity to really create something that feels more fresh and well, musical. This young group of talented individuals are clearly having a blast and seem genuinely passionate about their love for the characters they’re trying to bring to life. So it’s a shame that “Mean Girls” constantly stifles them from really embracing the differences and thriving in their own sunlight. Every movie reference and line of dialogue and yes, Fey and Meadows, hold down the budding stars and tie this adaption to the wrong source. Every moment that feels like a musical from the standouts who clearly understand the assignment are the ones where the film feels the most interesting. Letting Avantika layer Karen with a different kind of stupid while also giving her a moment to celebrate slutty Halloween with “Sexy” feels right. Rapp absolutely chewing through scenery during her burn book exposure ballad in “World Burn” is when things get interesting. and Cravalho belting out her reclaimation of identity or a bouncing duet with Spivey in “I’d Rather Be Me” and “Revenge Party” is what the film is constantly begging for more of.
All in all, “Mean Girls” is bound to leave many disheartened and probably don’t right mean about how this latest (and at times confusing) adaption hits them. I’d even go as far as to say that some may find it insufferable, an outright insult to everything that came before it and a mess of a film regardless of its origins. And you’d be right, honestly. “Mean Girls” has plenty of problems, and the inexperience and forced connections are on display throughout. But if you’re willing to lighten your grip on the things you hold dear, namely the 2004 film and let the new additions and standouts take hold, there is actually some fun to be had in “Mean Girls.” It most certainly won’t have the longevity or cultural impact of its predecessors, and ranks relatively low on the ranks of good musical film adaptions. But “Mean Girls” isn’t the insult it could have been, landing somewhere in the middle of decent but problematic cinema experiences.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need go down a Reneé Rapp and Avantika rabbit hole and add two newcomers to my celebrity crushes.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
“Mean Girls” is now playing in theaters. You can watch the trailer below.