Get in losers, we’re reviewing the new ‘Mean Girls’ adaptation

My first weekend back on campus, I had one priority: go see the “Mean Girls” (2024) musical movie. Make no mistake, I was not going to see the movie for the nostalgia of the original 2004 version but rather because I am nothing if not a die-hard fan of the 2017 Broadway production. When the original Broadway cast recording came out in 2018, I was absolutely obsessed with it. While I can put my theater kid identity to the side and admit as much as the next Broadway-hating person that some of the lyrics err on the cheesy, undeniably dramatic side, it also has its merits. The Broadway musical expertly transferred the tone of the cult classic early 2000s high school “Mean Girls,” maintaining its beloved gossipy plot and iconic lines while making compromises to win over the hearts of the Broadway community. 

Tina Fey, who wrote the book for the Broadway show, adapted the screenplay for the original movie, as well as for this new iteration. The consistency in the creative team behind all versions of “Mean Girls” is an essential component of creating tonal coherence. Yet this movie posed a set of challenges they had yet to encounter: three completely separate fan bases. Anyone who bought a ticket to see this movie was either a fan of the original film, a Broadway lover or expecting something entirely different. The balancing act of these widely differing opinions meant that the dialogue surrounding the new “Mean Girls” was loud and opinionated. As I left the theater, I knew in my bones that those who did not have some previous love for “Mean Girls,” no matter what version, were not going to enjoy this movie. Honestly, it was made for those who wanted to go to laugh and sing. Keeping all the perspectives in mind, here are three things I thought the new movie did well, in respect to both previous productions, and three  things that I would have changed. 

  1. I thought this new movie perfectly casted Karen and Damian. These two roles are, admittedly, incredibly different, taking up space in two opposite spheres of the story. As other parts of the movie became almost unwatchable, Karen and Damian maintained their expertly crafted, very niche comedic performances. Avantika Vandanapu plays Karen, the traditionally “hot” and “dumb” member of her popular and ruthless trio, the Plastics. While those defining features still ring true in Vandanapu’s performance, she interprets them through subtlety and amazing timing, packing a major punch in each scene. Her signature song, “Sexy,” remains incredibly true to the Broadway version and has some of the only lyrical changes that audiences responded to positively, which is a testament to how much Vandanapu made this role her own. In a similar vein, Damian, played by Jaquel Spivey, was a breath of fresh air anytime he was on screen. I credit this to his Broadway background—he made his debut in “A Strange Loop” in 2022. His confidence and technical training shine, elevating this role to a whole new level. He is no longer just a sidekick; he is taking up his own space and doing it fabulously. Spivey was able to maintain his humor and delivery throughout the songs, which made the transitions in and out of the regular scenes much more fluid. 
  2. Maybe it goes without saying, but Reneé Rapp was a pivotal part of the success and credibility of the film. As the only actor who had been part of the Broadway cast, Rapp was essential in being able to bridge the gap between the musical and brand new fan bases. Even more than her sharp wit and perfectly camp performance as Regina George, her vocal chops were essential in doing right by Regina’s songs. They were meant to be belted and show off the singer’s incredible range. Rapp delivers in spades. Vocal strength was also evident with Janis, portrayed by Auli’i Cravalho. Janis serves as the heart of this story and also underwent one of the biggest transformations from the original film to this movie. Her victorious message-driven arc is enhanced by her songs, some of the best on the score. Cravalho’s voice feels authentic and impressive,  ensuring that Rapp is not single-handedly carrying the musical validity. The fact that the strongest voices are on either side of the main conflict gives a weight to the main plot line, making it more dynamic and interesting. 
  3. I believe the movie was able to create a fun and delightfully playful theater-going experience. Those who came in expecting to see a sharper, more modern version of the 2004 movie had the wrong expectations. The Broadway production was not meant to give a new generation the opportunity to fall in love with these classic characters, create original show tunes and maybe even sneak some tap dancing in between. The musical movie strives for the same lively dramatics and entertaining production design. Once I stopped watching the film with a critical eye, I enjoyed being able to watch some of my favorite Broadway songs played out on the big screen and witness fresh interpretations of these deeply funny characters. 

While I enjoyed those many aspects of the film, here are some things I would have done differently: 

  1. I truly usually give the benefit of the doubt to casting decisions, but after weeks of reflection, I can say without a doubt that Angourie Rice was miscast. I am curious as to how they arrived at the decision that she was the right Cady, due to her underperformance both in her acting and singing. It is an indisputable fact that in the 2004 movie and the Broadway show, Cady is the lead. On Broadway, Cady has the majority of the songs. This is not a small task, requiring plenty of stamina, formal technique and range. Lindsay Lohan, with wit and style, transforms from a shy and nerdy kid into a biting, popular queen bee, and back again. Rice’s performance has no tonal complexity and is entirely unconvincing through all the stages of Cady’s arc. With the extremes of teenage personalities expressed through other characters, Cady must serve as a middle ground through which we understand the effects of peer pressure. Lohan is able to act as this vessel while still remaining individualistic and likable, while Rice feels overly impressionable. Furthermore, she is not a strong singer. Without substantial background support, Rice’s voice audibly fell short from the rest of the cast, which drastically brought down the quality of the entire soundtrack. Cady as a character has the openness and freedom for an actress to deliver an amazingly rich performance, and unfortunately, Rice did not take that chance. 
  2. The second misstep I felt while watching the movie was the Gen Z-ification of the wardrobe and overall aesthetic. It was the element I was most nervous about going in. While I feel that there is a huge crop of films that were able to perfectly capture the fashion and feel of the early 2000s, that same cultural awareness and translation to the screen is not present currently. The stylization of the Plastics and their hyper-artsy counterparts felt out-of-touch and boring. In the 2004 movie, the Plastics felt truly cool, curating an elevated sense of style, which made their reign of popularity feel more feasible. The Y2K look is still regularly referenced in current style, so this was the ideal time to keep some of the more iconic costumes of the original film, like the talent show Santa outfits. This would have been a perfectly subtle way to add some more nostalgic aspects into the modern take, making the overall look more harmonious with the original version. Instead, the design of this film felt tacky and forced, fueled by micro-trends and an abundance of unnecessary accessories.
  3. The last element I felt the new movie got wrong was the marketing strategies leading up to the release. Their team made a distinct decision not to advertise the movie as a musical version, which quickly changed from simply confusing to a baiting attempt to create conversation around the movie without actually creating quality content, trailers and teasers. Much of the anticipation of the film rested on Rapp’s shoulders, so much so that her own individual musical identity seemed to become completely interwoven with her performance as Regina. Chris Briney, who played a lackluster Aaron Samuels, has arguably the most media clout to his name, yet the least important role in the actual film. He is vocal about his inability to sing and lack of knowledge about musical theater and the Broadway production, all of which further cements the film’s endeavor to cover up  the musical side in an attempt to garner a larger audience. In the end, I believe that if their publicity team press was louder and prouder about what the film actually is, the energy surrounding it would be less critical and more supportive of its mission statement.

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