MEAN GIRLS

★★★★

A MUSICAL? THAT’S SO FETCH

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Chris Dos Santos
10th January 2024

2004's 'Mean Girls' is one of the most influential films of all time; that is an undisputable fact. 20 years later and it's still a cultural phenomenon, from its endless quotable lines, a time capsule of the early 2000s, and its everlasting relatable message to high schoolers, it's just fetch! With something as successful and timeless there was also the need to turn it into a franchise, which didn't begin until 2011 with the direct-to-TV film 'Mean Girls 2' and that film quickly ended any hope of that franchise coming to light. Then like most things, a Broadway musical was born in 2018 with Tina Fey once again penning the book.

The musical was a huge success, but due to the pandemic its run only lasted for two years. While it was successful it was also was a part of the end of musical stage adaptions. The same Broadway season saw 'Frozen' and 'SpongeBob Squarepants' make it to the stage. Audiences where fed up with Broadway becoming adaptation central and needed more original content... sounds similar to what's happening in cinema right now. No matter, 'Mean Girls: The Musical' had its die-hard fans and became the musical for that generation of teens. The musical was set to be adapted to film quite quickly and was originally slated for a streaming release on 'Paramount+', but after the success of 'Barbie' in September 2023 it was switched to a theatrical one. With all of that in mind, just how does 'Mean Girls' (2024) stand up to both the 2004 film and a movie musical?

Following the plot of 2004 film, Cady Heron (Angourie Rice, 'Spider-Man: Homecoming', 'Ladies in Black') moves to the United States from Africa after being home-schooled her whole life and is entering high school for the first time. She feels out of place, so Janis (Auli'i Cravalho, 'Moana', 'Crush') and Damian (Jaquel Spivey, Broadway's 'A Strange Loop') find her and quickly become friends - until The Plastics see her and invite her have lunch with them. Gretchen (Bebe Wood, Disney+'s 'Love Victor'), Karen (Avantika, 'Spin', 'Senior Year') and leader Regina George (Reneè Rapp, TV's 'The Sex Lives of College Girls') quickly change her into a hot popular girl and introduce her their Burn Book. But when Regina makes out with Cady's crush, Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney, Amazon's 'The Summer I Turned Pretty'), she turns back to Janis and Damian to take down the popular girls.

'MEAN GIRLS' (2024) TRAILER

The new 'Mean Girls' is already one of the year's best surprises. It's the perfect blend of nostalgia and a fresh take, so unafraid to indulge in being a musical; it's an outright blast. It's no secret Reneè Rapp is a fricken star, and her Regina is so incredible and encapsulating, Auli'i Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey steal the show as Janis and Damian, and Avantika's Karen absolutely floored me. The cast is truly Hollywood's best young talent and they all deserve the world.

The film, of course, has lines directly lifted from the 2004 film yet it never felt odd or cheap. This version doesn't feel like an impersonation or make me think back to the original cast - the entire run time felt like it was its own thing while still paying the perfect homage to what had come before. The only joke from the original that didn't land was Mrs George's "cool mum" line - here it's a Twitter joke saying she is @coolmum06, but Busy Philipps ('I Feel Pretty') truly delivered every line flawlessly and was incredible casting for that role.

Since it was only September 2023 that they made the switch from a streaming to theatrical release the film does look like a TV film - a really good one, but putting it on the big screen there were moments, very few, that didn't feel grand enough. The set and cinematography are very television level and that's not a bad thing and goes mainly unnoticed, but there were moments it didn't land. The film, in TV speak, is in full screen but then for musical numbers it's in widescreen, meaning on a cinema screen most of the film has black bars on the side and then musical numbers have black bars all the way around. I know it was filmed to be watched on a TV so it would be almost impossible to change this and in theory the different aspect ratio for musical numbers I like, but I wish they spent a little more time making it fit better to cinema screens. Also most of the time the change between the two is fine but sometimes they jump back into full screen and the musical number isn't finished, I just wish the whole aspect ratio decision was cleaner.

A whopping 14 songs were cut from the stage show and while some of my favourites got the chop - most notably and devastatingly 'Where Do You Belong' - it made sense to make this work as a movie musical. Cady's original Broadway number 'It Roars' is removed for a new original song 'What Ifs' which it's fine; both songs are kind of on the weaker end of the track list. 'Meet the Plastics' gets shortened to just be about Regina, with Gretchen and Karen's verse turning into dialogue. But this is where we first get to see Reneè and I was just absolutely bulldozed with her insane talent. Highlights are 'Apex Predator', 'Sexy', and 'Someone Gets Hurt'. The way they constructed the number on the latter was incredible; it's very Billie Eilish-inspired and they lean into Regina's singing voice like a siren that you can help but be drawn into. 'Revenge Party', my favourite song from the show, is incredibly well done and fully leans into the musical genre, which I adored. Finally, Janis' 'I'd Rather Be Me' is always a showstopper. Like a lot of adaptions, it does popify a lot of the songs which I don't usually like, but here it really worked and also assisted with the modern setting.

The new 'Mean Girls' is already one of the year's best surprises. It's the perfect blend of nostalgia and a fresh take, so unafraid to indulge in being a musical; it's an outright blast.

What was a big surprise was the comedy. The jokes getting the biggest laughs were the new jokes, while most of the rehashed lines got light chuckles. The best was Damian's Christmas talent show - I haven't laughed so much during a film in a long time. One part I thought would be cringy was the TikTok additions; we have a lot of cameos from famous TikTokkers and a lot of scenes of students reacting to things on the app. But they really used it well and worked in the modern-day high school setting. It also helped add a layer to how Regina and Cady reacted to things because it's now not just school gossip but what's trending online.

There are story changes outside of the music, mainly cosmetic. Regina's shirt doesn't get cut into to show her bra, she gets blasted with water and the running mascara look becomes the trend. Porting over from the stage show, Cady's father is not present or mentioned. The talent show also pans out differently - instead of the track skipping, they fail at a lift in the dance and they fall. It all worked and for a remake to make these changes, while minor, it all helps make this feel different and new. Some of the more problematic "name-calling" from the 2004 film is removed; even Cady's nickname being Africa isn't present, as well as Karen's line about that.

Just quickly, there is a cameo in this that made me react the way people did in 'Spider-Man: No Way Home'. I can't wait for everyone to experience it.

The biggest crime of the 2024 film is the marketing trying to hide the fact this is a musical, which is a misstep and I hope that it doesn't hurt the box office. The audience I saw it with laughed during the first couple of songs because they didn't know there would be singing. The musical aspect is truly exceptional and we should celebrate that.

The original 'Mean Girls' will always be there, but if you must remake something the 2024 'Mean Girls' is the new blueprint. A celebration of the film that came before it and of the musical genre, I was not expecting to have this much fun and such an unapologetically great time. Get in loser - we're a musical now and it's so fricken fetch!

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