The 2004 Mean Girls was a staple of sleepovers when I was growing up. There’s no way to quantify how many times I’ve seen the movie, but it’s enough to be able to quote the entire thing front to back without it needing to be on. Naturally, when this movie, that's one of the best of the 2000s, was turned into a Broadway musical in 2017, and then a movie musical on the 2024 film schedule, I had to see it. However, despite the latest take on Mean Girls' positive reviews, it was not for me.
As a fan of both the original movie and musical adaptation, I was excited when the musical movie was announced. I became a fierce advocate for the fact that it wasn’t a remake since the trailer left many confused due to the lack of songs. Plus, I was fully behind the Mean Girls cast full of Gen-Z actors. I wanted to love this new version of the story, unfortunately, I left the theater with a ton of mixed feelings and none of them were fetch.
The Cast Is Talented, But They Were Stuck In The Shadows Of The Original Ensemble
Anytime an original story gets adapted in a new form, actors have a chance to breathe new life into beloved characters and make them their own. It worked for Mean Girls on Broadway because the medium was so different from the original, and it was hard to compare the two. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the Tina Fey-penned flick, at least in my opinion.
There’s no denying the new cast is talented and has the acting credits to back it up, but something was lacking in their performances. Even hard hitters -- like Reneé Rapp (who reprised her role as Regina after portraying her on Broadway) and Auli’i Cravalho -- who carried the movie fell into the shadows of Rachel McAdams and Lizzy Caplan’s portrayals.
As for our Cady, Angourie Rice, I've been a fan of hers for years now, but there was something seriously lacking in her portal of Mean Girls' leading lady. And while Christopher Briney might be a heartthrob of The Summer I Turned Pretty, making viewers declare themselves as Team Conrad or Team Jeremiah, he didn’t seem to bring that same charm to the role of Aaron Samuels.
Again, I am a fan of all these actors; they all have long careers ahead of them, but I don’t think this movie was the right fit for them. I’d much rather have seen this ensemble in an entirely new, original story separate from the Mean Girls universe.
Most Of The Updates To The Script Work, But They Could Have Gone Farther
Comedy movies don’t always age well, and there are plenty of jokes in the 2004 movie that would definitely not land with modern audiences. Aware of this, Fey adjusted the more problematic jokes and for the most part, it works! The SNL alumni (and potential future showrunner) went even further with her modern adaption by leaning into the social media craze, and she also changed character elements of the original — like Janis’s sexuality and history with Regina.
The thing is, I think the movie could have gone further. For instance, the Burn Book is a classic moment of the original when social media hardly existed, but in today’s age, a physical book of gossip and rude comments seems outdated. It would have worked better if the Burn Book was some kind of anonymous account the ladies shared that Regina could have made public to the school during her revenge.
There’s also the Regina of it all. Fey embraced the fan theories that the 2004 version of Janis was actually a lesbian and just not out/aware of her sexuality yet by making the 2024 version an unapologetic lesbian. However, she failed to do the same with Regina George. For nearly two decades, queer women have analyzed and read the Queen Bee in the original movie as a closeted lesbian. Even Reneé Rapp, who is bisexual, told The Times that she brought her own queerness to the role and definitely didn’t play her as a “straight girl.”
In a time when queer stories are so important, especially for women, it seems like a total missed opportunity not to explore the nature of Regina’s sexuality in a more complex way. I understand why they didn’t, since Fey and the team wanted to stick closer to the original sources, but my point still stands.
If they really did want to make a modern version of this beloved tale, they should have shot for the stars and created a whole new story for this Gen-Z cast to play with (and help us all erase the terrible Mean Girls 2 movie from our memory in the process).
If They Wanted To Give Love To The Musical, They Should Have Professionally Shot It
My biggest issue with the Mean Girls movie is that it shouldn’t have been a traditional movie to begin with. I understand Tina Fey and the rest of the team wanted to bring elements of the musical, like the songs and the original movie, together to create something new, but it just didn’t work.
Both original pieces are spectacular on their own, and they didn’t need this weird hybrid to exist. In my opinion, the movie would have worked better had they gone the Hamilton route and actually filmed a performance of the Broadway musical. After all, the Tony-nominated musical had its New York run cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What better way to bring it back than assembling a new cast and filming it for the masses?
Not only would this have made it clear that the movie wasn’t a direct reboot of the original, but it would have shown audiences how spectacular the songs and performances are in their true form. As the movie stands now, many of the songs land flat and feel out of place, especially the two that open the movie thrusting audiences into the musical world with no warning. Maybe it's not such a bad thing that so many of the tongue-in-cheek songs were left off the soundtrack after all.
Maybe my love for the original runs too deep and I’m just nitpicking (since Cinemablend's Dirk Libbey, who has never seen the original Mean Girls loved it), or maybe the critics’s high praise is wrong and the fan scores actually should be trusted this time. Whatever the case, I implore everyone to go see Mean Girls, and form their own opinions before giving into the social media fodder.
The 2024 Mean Girls is currently playing in theaters now and you can catch the original with a Paramount+ subscription.