'Mean Girls' (2024) Review: The Musical Remake Is Too Nice to Bite – The Daily Beast

PLASTIC SURGERY
A peppy soundtrack and killer cast makes up for this remake’s frustratingly familiar script.
Entertainment Critic
Remaking Mean Girls is basically like remaking Citizen Kane: The one shot you have of doing it successfully is if you make Charles Foster Kane a beautiful bisexual who sings a bunch of songs. And if it were judged by that metric alone, Mean Girls (in theaters Jan. 12), the musical revamp of the revolutionary teen flick—and adapted from Tina Fey’s successful Broadway version—would be a triumph.
But remaking a worldwide cultural phenomenon with an everlasting legacy should involve more than just the same, high-functioning parts, souped-up for a new generation. The Mean Girls movie-musical barely differentiates itself from its predecessor. Watching the remake is often akin to throwing on the original movie and turning your head to see your friends quote every line by heart. Most of it is a word-for-word duplicate, one that has had its sharp bite shaved down to avoid the kind of thorny provocation that made the first film an instant classic.
A sanitized version of one of the 21st century’s greatest movies should be insufferable. But some respectably catchy music and a couple of breakout stars do wonders for lifting the 2024 Mean Girls onto its own two feet, just tall enough to stand confidently next to its progenitor. While it still has no decent reason to exist other than to make a few bucks off of nostalgic millennials and curious newcomers, Mean Girls prevails by leaning hard into its own pointlessness and letting its stars live out their catty dreams—even if their claws don’t scratch hard enough.
The new Plastics in 2024’s Mean Girls.
This iteration of the story is predominantly the same as the original, but if you became a monk in the spring of 2004 and have just renounced your vows, here are the basics: Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) is your classic fish out of water, a homeschooled teenager who just landed in suburbia after spending her childhood in Africa. Unfamiliar with the ways of the locals, Cady finds herself beholden to Janis (Auli’i Cravahalo) and Damien (Jaquel Spivey), the two gay art nerds who elect to help out the new girl in hopes that they can keep her from certain destruction. At this high school, that ruin comes courtesy of the Plastics, the titular trio of mean girls made up of Gretchen Wieners (Bebe Wood), Karen Samuels (Avantika), and their devious leader Regina George (Reneé Rapp).
Naturally, nothing goes quite as planned. Since Janis still holds a grudge against Regina from a mysterious event that happened when they were younger, she decides to have Cady do her dirty work by infiltrating the Plastics. This includes Cady macking on her new crush, Regina’s ex-boyfriend Aaron (Christopher Briney), and pretending to be the same brand of unfeeling femmebot as Regina and her lackeys. All of this follows the 2004 film beat-by-beat, complete with largely the same dialogue and punchlines. Except, this time, there are songs sprinkled throughout!
The familiarity of the story, script, and jokes make for an unpleasant viewing experience; it’s impossible to watch this Mean Girls without yearning for the more confident line deliveries of stars like Rachel McAdams and Lindsay Lohan, simply owed to the dialogue being said for the first time. There was no standard to live up to, no bar to surpass. And this desire persists throughout the entirety of Mean Girls…except for when a character opens their mouth to sing.
Surprisingly, the musical numbers—which come courtesy of a book by Fey, lyrics by Nell Cunningham, and compositions by Fey’s husband and collaborator, Jeff Richmond—manage to save the film from its rocky start. It’s worth noting that in bringing the musical to the screen, Fey, Cunningham, and Richmond trimmed and reworked the original show, which some critics found both lengthy and wheel-spinning. And while the songs that did make it into the film vary in quality, they accomplish the lofty task of taking viewers somewhere new in the middle of a story they’re probably intuitively versed in. The tracks range from big, Broadway standard showstopper ballads to thumping Billie Eilish knockoffs (non-derogatory, in this case). The lyrics are silly and uber-fun, and even when they nosedive into earnestness, Fey’s writing manages not to be cloying, thanks to a cast of performers who are all dedicated to selling these songs for everything they’re worth.
What’s more, the musical numbers boast some delightful staging and keen, captivating direction. The film’s pair of directors, Samantha Jay and Arturo Perez Jr., keep eyes darting back and forth across the screen, opting for fluid tracking shots and character-specific choreography. These choices make Mean Girls worthy of the theatrical treatment, as opposed to being relegated to Paramount+, where it was originally destined to live.
This version of Mean Girls needs moments like Avantika’s standout bimbo number “Sexy”—about sleazy Halloween outfits and “sexy doctors curing sexy cancer”—or Rapp’s completely seductive “Someone Gets Hurt.” If the film didn’t have these sonic weapons in its arsenal, it would be much more difficult for viewers to bear the script’s sterilized nastiness and archaic punchlines. Iconic lines from the 2004 movie arrive ripe for a refresh, yet clunk down on the floor with the same, old sound they always made. They were funny 20 years ago, and they remain so upon rewatch. But in this remake, the familiar phrases function like regurgitations. Lines like, “We only wear track pants or sweats on Fridays” are practically begging for someone to spitball a Fashion Nova joke or fast-fashion zinger. Instead, there’s a disappointing lack of creativity when revisiting a script that once felt so fresh.
Maybe that reluctance toward reinvention is why these mean girls just don’t feel very mean anymore. They’re more like Cuttingly Sardonic Girls. The original film was (and still is) genuinely nasty, and for the better. This is a story about how evil and unfeeling teenagers are; let them be properly cruel! It’s not that Fey needs to plug back in all of the original film’s slurs. But without some slut-shaming, fat-shaming, homophobia, and internalized misogyny—which, by the way, all still very much exist in real high school life—this setting isn’t believable as the torturous high school experience the movie purports it to be. Fey’s screenplay is too hesitant to be truly mean, likely for fear that the perennially online generation will think that depiction equals endorsement. It’s not an entirely unfounded fear, but it is one that ultimately hinders the movie’s entertainment.
Tim Meadows returns from the original film as Principal Duvall.
But when things threaten to become too homogenous—a sludgy and muddled imitation of another movie—they’re all but saved by Rapp and Avantika, who bring a necessary element of novelty to their familiar characters. Rapp’s Regina George is more physical than McAdams’, which works in her favor, especially in the movie’s final sequence at the junior prom. Rapp, who also played Regina during the musical’s Broadway run, is also the best singer of the bunch; she’s able to control her voice down to a breathy, sensual whisper before belting out into a furious roar. Avantika, on the other hand, takes Amanda Seyfried’s Karen Samuels to splendidly senseless new heights. Her comedic timing blows the rest of the cast out of the water, and Karen steals every single scene that she’s in. Even her most moronic lines get big laughs, like when Regina suggests that she needs to fix Karen’s eyebrows. Karen’s reply; “Can I still have two?”
These cackles arrive just enough throughout the film’s two-hour runtime to make it a memorably enjoyable experience, albeit one that will have little lasting impact other than making viewers want to run home and rewatch the original movie. The Mean Girls of 2024 is destined to be a part of a larger legacy, not forge its own. It’s a solid 20th anniversary present to those of us who were there from the beginning, and an abridged guide to navigating the pressures of high school for new fans. While today’s teens will still find a much more intensive, hilarious manual in the original movie, at least they’ll have some fun new songs to listen to while they eat lunch in the bathroom stalls.
Entertainment Critic
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