Get in loser, Mean Girls is back…in musical form.
There are a few elements working against the latest iteration of Tina Fey‘s comedy:
- It’s a musical: This was a bigger issue before Wonka won the holiday box office crown (and The Color Purple performed admirably). Previous to that, however, there were a string of high profile musical failures, and the marketing team of the new film seemed reticent to even acknowledge that this version was an adaptation of the Tony-nominated Broadway production (for which Fey wrote the book and Jeff Richmond wrote the songs).
- It’s familiar: If fans have seen the original Lindsay Lohan version from 2004, they’ll immediately note how similar the musical version is, not just the plot beats, but word-for-word dialogue. There’s very little new here aside from the cast and the songs.
The latter point isn’t a deal breaker so long as the songs/singers are good. BroadwayWorld reported that fourteen songs were cut from the film, though obvious favourites such as “Apex Predator,” “Sexy,” “Revenge Party,” and “World Burns” have been included.
The songs are where the new cast (mostly) shines. The strongest singers are Reneé Rapp as Regina and Moana‘s Auliʻi Cravalho as Janice, with Jaquel Spivey as Damien doing good supporting work. Angourie Rice as Cady is *fine*, though none of her songs are particularly exciting and she’s saddled with boring protagonist syndrome and she doesn’t get the benefit of a voice-over like Lohan (hypothetically that’s what the songs are meant to cover off).
Co-directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. struggle to maintain the pacing and energy throughout. The pair keep the camera moving, but the choreography is relatively slight. The film works best in long takes as characters sing and weave their way through school (Janice’s “I’d Rather Be Me” is particularly strong) or parties, such as when Avantika‘s Karen sings “Sexy.”
For the most part the songs offer an adrenaline shot, although it often highlights just how rote and familiar the plot beats are. This is particularly evident in the back half of the film when the songs dwindle and the film occasionally forgets it is a musical.
Mean Girls is fun, and makes some smart changes to address the OG’s dated elements. Still, it’s hard to shake the sense of deja vu in Fey’s script. If you’ve seen Mark Waters’ 2004 version, you’ve essentially already seen Mean Girls 2024. 3/5
- It’s hard to undersell how revelatory Rapp and Cravalho are. Powerhouse singers and dynamic performers; both absolutely command the screen, especially when they’re singing.
- Notable updates include removing some of the queer stigma around Janice & Regina’s history (the focus is on a pyromania incident rather than gay panic) and there is lack of slut shaming. There’s also a greater emphasis on diversity (the cast isn’t as white as a mayonnaise jar!) and body positivity (the cast can’t all shop at 1/3/5!)
- It should also be noted how queer the film is. Janice is a confirmed lesbian in the plot and many cast members identify as queer in real life.
- There are several meta-references that acknowledge both the existence of the 2004 film and that this is a musical. At one point a member of the chorus complains that another member is always a beat behind and the film’s big climax is one big celebration of the original film.
- It’s very fun that many members of the adult cast reprise their roles (with nearly the same dialogue).
- MIA is Amy Poehler as Regina’s mother, though the addition of Busy Phillips is *amazing.* She and Rapp are perfectly cast as mother and daughter.
- A late-in-the-film moment between Ms. Norbury and Principal Duvall (Tim Meadows) is inspired and emblematic of the kind of fan service that Fey should have incorporated more of. It acknowledges fans awareness of the film without calling attention to itself.
- Best Songs:
- “Revenge Party”: Jayne and Perez Jr. weave together fantasy and reality in a way that feels uniquely cinematic compared to the other songs.
- “Someone Gets Hurt”: Regina’s Halloween party ode to get back with Aaron (Christopher Briney) features some exciting, understated choreography.
- “Sexy”: Avantika is the film’s secret MVP (she’s hilarious) and the fan favourite Broadway number doesn’t disappoint.
- “World Burn“/”I’d Rather Be Me”: Lots of tracking shots and big action/ensemble work in the two songs, which (not coincidentally) feature the best singers of the film.
- Worst Songs:
- “What Ifs”: Rice is a *fine* singer, but this transition from Kenya to LA number is blaaaaand
- What’s Wrong With Me: Love, Victor‘s Bebe Wood is an OK Gretchen Wieners (she plays it too similar to Lacey Chabert for my money), but the staging of this number is visually boring and stale.
- “I See Stars”: wooooof. This is not the kind of song you end a film/musical on, and the staging at the Spring Fling feels half baked and underwhelming. A big disappointment.
Mean Girls is in theaters Jan 12, 2024