I was expecting to hate the new ‘Mean Girls’ movie. I’m a huge fan of the original 2004 Mark Waters-directed film and feel that it’s a perfect movie on its own. It was a cultural phenomenon and the way the movie presented the idea of the high school queen bee archetype was the pattern for later usage of that trope, like that in ‘Gossip Girl.’ It opened important discussions about the way teenage girls see themselves and each other and how they tear each other down. Many of the lines in the film are still used today in memes and gifs and, on social media, October 3 is dubbed as ‘Mean Girls Day’ due to a line in the film that mentions the date.
When I saw the trailer for the film adaptation of the Broadway musical based on the 2004 film, I had to ask why. Why make another movie when the original movie was already perfect as it was? Especially when the whole idea of a nasty, mean queen bee is such an outdated concept in 2024? This is the age of the internet and cancel culture. People like Regina George would be canceled in a heartbeat. How would this version address this shift in the generational mindset? And the trailer made it feel like it was exactly the same movie with some jokes just swapped for a more modern take but was essentially the same.
So, I was sitting in my seat, as the movie began, and when the first song opened, an intro presented like an IG or FB reel or Tiktok with Janis and Damian (Auli’i Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey, respectively) singing a song with the tone of a narrator, I immediately put my walls up and resisted. Despite the excellent vocals of Cravalho and Spivey, I found fault within the song. The two were playing their own instruments in a garage but the moment the garage doors open and it’s the wide-open savannah of Africa and we are introduced to Angourie Rice as Cady Heron, I was turned upside down.
It was an incredible scene transition that would be carried out throughout the whole film. Rice sings Cady’s first song about her life in Kenya and the song was catchy and allowed us into the interior world of our protagonist. One quick, clever transition later and she’s in high school back in the United States and experiencing her first day.
As much as I was resisting it, this musical version of ‘Mean Girls’ found a way through my walls. The full-on musical numbers help break reality and create a world for the film that is entirely of its own. It allows for the presence of a popular girl in school like Regina George to exist because the movie is not set in any sort of reflection of real life. It brought the story to the level of a fable or a modern fairy tale and so it created a space for the less realistic parts to exist.
So, when Renee Rapp makes her entrance as Regina George, the effect is actually quite staggering. Rapp is a powerful presence with a strong, powerful voice that demands attention. Rapp is not your typical svelte or skinny blonde girl. She’s a strongly built, hot young girl with the vocal chops of a diva. She has incredible confidence mixed with deadly charisma. Rachel McAdams, who originated the role in 2004, was perfect for that era’s imagination of the American dream girl but Renee Rapp is the rightful evolution of it. And boy can she sing!
Everything within this version of ‘Mean Girls’ pretty much follows the same narrative beats as the original. What is different is now that instead of Cady Heron’s narration, the voice-over is now song numbers and each girl gets a chance to reflect on their interior worlds. While Karen (played by Avantika) gets a humorous dance song about how young women can dress sexy during Halloween (as a reflection on the misplaced needs of young teen girls to be thought of as hot), it is Gretchen Wiener’s (Bebe Wood) song about her own insecurities that allows her to let Regina step all over her add something new and layered to the character.
Certain jokes remain the same – fetch is still there, and so is “she doesn’t even go here” – though others have been replaced with new jokes; some that work and some that don’t but what is surprising is that the core message of ‘Mean Girls’ has not changed over the years, but it still feels timely and important until now. The usage of the elements of social media and the internet somehow fits perfectly into the story and manages to highlight the overturning of Regina George’s popularity in favor of Cady and this is done really well with this new intrusion. It manages to showcase how shallow and petty all the noise in social media can be. One day they are praising Regina and the next, they are making fun of her and praising Cady.
This new ‘Mean Girls’ doesn’t quite top the original. It’s hard to do. What it does, though, is that it takes everything good about the first and dresses it up in modern sensibilities and makes it sing and dance and have really good scene transitions. With the vocal prowess of Cravalho and Rapp pushing it along for good measure, the film manages to justify its production and gives us a pretty fun time in the cinema in the process.