Reneé Rapp puts the world on notice in Mean Girls (2024), which honors the 2004 classic film and subsequent Broadway adaptation while also being a blast for audiences.
If you are going into Mean Girls (2024) expecting a straightforward rehash of the original film or an exact replica of the Broadway musical adaptation, you will be disappointed. That is not at all what Tina Fey has cooked up for this big screen outing. Instead, we have something that both honors the 2004 classic and evolves the musical to fit into the present day. This also is not what I would call a cash grab from Paramount either, there is effort put into every aspect. If they did not care about the film, they would have dumped it on streaming and let everyone forget about it in a few weeks. Hopefully their faith in this project will be rewarded, because Mean Girls (2024) is one of the best musical adaptations in recent memory.
Mean Girls (2024) of course centers on Cady Heron (Angourie Rice), a homeschooled new student from Africa dealing with everything high school has to offer for the first time. She catches the eye of a fierce clique called the Plastics, and their leader, Regina George (Reneé Rapp). Unluckily for Cady, she also happens to fall for Regina’s ex, Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney), setting off a wild chain of events.
This narrative is familiar, occasionally subversive, and consistently fun. Obviously, the original story was not really broken, which meant that Tina Fey did not have to overly fix things. However, she adds a few new wrinkles to this tale that you know to keep you on your toes. The biggest adjustment comes from the cutting down of songs compared to the Broadway musical. As much as I’m sure fans hate to lose these songs, a lot of them were not necessary for the plot and the way that most are easily replaced by dialogue or omitted entirely proves that. Cutting down the number of songs really helps the story flow better. As much as I adore the musical, I would be lying if I said I considered every single song to be a critical part of the production.
We get the story we know with a few new sprinkles (such as the use of social media throughout, which, as you know, was not a thing back in 2004) and great musical numbers. There is not much more you can ask for. While some of the changes Fey made to the songs will be jarring to longtime fans, when you see everything play out on screen, said changes will make sense. These are the same songs, but sort of revamped and made fresh for the film so you are not paying to watch the same thing you might have seen on Broadway or the national tour. The new lyrics, songs, and instrumentals bring a sense of revival and energy to a musical that has been out there for a while.
What also makes the musical numbers in Mean Girls (2024) special is not only the performances of the actors involved (more on them in a minute) but also the fact that the crew used every bit of space they had to make each song look unique. Directors and choreographers in a stage musical must take advantage of the space available without it looking bad, and the same was done in this film. It might not always be as visually striking as something like Spielberg’s West Side Story (2021) but 2024’s Mean Girls presents audiences with numbers that are filled with flair and charm.
Tonally speaking, there are not many glaring issues with Mean Girls (2024) and for the most part the transitions into and from musical numbers are smooth. The transitions I found awkward were a bit like when an actor flubs a line, you clean it up as best you can and move on to whatever is next quickly. Fey and company did a great job taking the musical and putting it to screen without everything feeling so stagey. The way they did that is by taking elements of both the musical and original film, combining them, and then resetting the story in the modern age. It also helps to have directors in Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. working alongside cinematographer Bill Kirstein to achieve shots that are simultaneously as different and fantastic as this film’s budget will allow.
While the musical numbers are a treat to watch, the actors truly make them stand out. Reneé Rapp’s redition of “World Burn” in Mean Girls (2024) might as well be playing on a loop in my head for the foreseeable future. What she is able to do with that song is nothing short of insane, no human should have vocals and acting prowess like Rapp does. The entire film might as well be a showcase for her, with “World Burn” serving as the moment that Reneé Rapp announced herself to the world with authority. She is not in competition with Rachel McAdams or anyone for that matter: Rapp makes the role of Regina George her own and adds a ton of flavor to her.
In the same vein, Auliʻi Cravalho is dynamic as Janis ‘Imi’ike and the character, as she did in the 2004 film, is hilarious and filled with heart. With all due respect to Lizzy Caplan and the various actresses that have portrayed Janis, this might just be the definitive version of the character. From the minute that Cravalho appears, she absolutely owns this role in a way that no one has. It just seems to fit her like a glove and while there may be hints of Caplan in parts of her delivery, everything else is Auliʻi. That is best displayed during “I’d Rather Be Me,” which is a triumphant number for Janis and one that Cravalho gives such a spark.
You cannot talk about Janis without discussing Damian and while Jaquel Spivey might not get to do as much with the character as he would have on Broadway, he is a scene stealer throughout Mean Girls (2024). Spivey delivers Damian’s iconic list of lines (and a couple new ones) in a way that is natural and delightful. The scene that got the biggest laughs at my screening involved him and frankly, it is one that you just must see for yourself.
Finally, you have Angourie Rice as Cady Heron and it is tough to follow Lindsay Lohan, but Rice does quite well. She has the character’s positive energy and nerves down from the word go. Her performance in the acting department is of course up to par and any scene that she has with Reneé Rapp’s Regina is basically two future stars going at it. Additionally, I loved that Cady’s songs were adjusted to fit Rice’s vocal range. It would have been so easy for them to go the Beauty and the Beast (2017) route and just drown her in auto tune but instead they let her do her thing. Rice really does sound like she is giving the songs everything she has, and they remain terrific as a result.
This film is a hybrid of the Broadway musical and the 2004 film that surprisingly works. The script strikes the right tone, one that is highly entertaining, and then balances songs and dialogue well. Even with the changes made, it should please fans of the musical. Audience members that enjoy the original 2004 film should get a kick out of it as well, and not just for nostalgic reasons. Best of all, Mean Girls (2024) will introduce this world to an entirely new generation who can relate to it like so many have before.
Mean Girls (2024) does not seek to replace its big screen predecessor from 20 years ago, but rather complement it. In fact, the two films could make quite the double feature if we are being honest even though they are similar. With a spectacular cast led by Reneé Rapp, excellent musical numbers, and a story and comedy that will likely never get old, this new take from Tina Fey is totally fetch.
Mean Girls (2024) will be released in theatres on January 12, 2024.