Film review: “Mean Girls” (2024): Not so “Fetch”

by Tilly Jones

The new “Mean Girls” movie is far from “fetch.”

The original “Mean Girls” film was released in 2004 with widespread success and love from the general public. Written by actress Tina Fey, the film was heavily inspired by the book “Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence” by Rosalind Wiseman. The film became a cult classic with iconic one-liners and a killer cast, starring Lindsay Lohan as Cady Heron and Rachel McAdams as the queen bee, Regina George.

It took about 10 years for the next rendition of this storyline to enter the world. “Mean Girls: The Musical” premiered in October 2017, eventually leading to a three-year run on Broadway. The musical was nominated for 12 Tony’s and gained immense popularity throughout the theater community. It was approved by “Mean Girls” lovers everywhere (mostly).

With two huge successes and the story now existing in practically every form of entertainment, many may have assumed they would close the chapter on the “Mean Girls” franchise. However, Hollywood often doesn’t know when to stop. Instead of leaving the franchise alone, they chose to bring the musical back to its original form: the big screen.

Whenever Hollywood decides to remake an older film or adapt a musical to a movie, we tend to cross our fingers, close our eyes and hope they don’t screw it up too badly. However, “Mean Girls” (2024) seemed like it could be an exception, with many promising green flags raised following the announcement of Hollywood’s newest unrequested project.

One was the involvement of Tina Fey, who was planning to return to her role as Ms. Norbury in the newest adaptation, along with writing and producing it. Having written the original film and the book for the musical, Fey had proven not once but twice that she could create a great product with this material.

The next green flag was the hiring of Reneé Rapp as Regina George for the new film. Rapp starred on the Broadway show when she was 19 and was beloved by fans of the musical for her performance. Her powerhouse vocals and queen bee energy were a sign the casting was off to a good start. Often, for musical film adaptations, singing ability can be overlooked and compensated with autotune and over-production, which leads to a feeling of inauthenticity. Hiring a proven Broadway singer like Rapp was a sign this new casting team could avoid that common mistake (spoiler alert: they didn’t).

Because “Mean Girls” (2024) was supposed to be a combination of both the musical and original film of this story, it’s important to point out where they fell flat compared to both.

First off, let’s talk about the music. The film features 11 songs from the original Broadway musical, with two additional new songs written specifically for the movie. Due to the time constraints of a film format, the movie cut 10 of the 21 songs originally in the musical. Some songs were removed for the better, but it was sad to see others sacrificed.

The movie committed a classic Hollywood faux pas from the start by trying to “pop-ify” many songs from the musical that were beloved for a reason. They took away the energy and drama from the original soundtrack, trading powerful rock bands for soft backing vocals and poppy drum beats.

One example is the musical number “Stupid with Love,” the song Cady sings after meeting Aaron for the first time, explaining her lack of success with love and how she finally understands the feeling. In the musical, this is a passionate and exciting song with upbeat backing instrumentals reminiscent of her old life in Africa to emphasize her status as an outsider. In the movie, they swap out this exciting band for a capella doo’s and da’s paired with an acoustic guitar. The elation and energy are completely stripped from the song. It does not help that Angourie Rice’s vocals are utterly devoid of emotion.

Now, here is where that over-the-top autotune and hiring of people without vocal talent comes back to bite them. Cady Heron is the lead of this story and is rarely off-stage in the original musical. It’s a demanding part, and both Lindsay Lohan who played the role in the movie, and Erika Henningsen who originated the role on Broadway, gave this role the star quality it deserved. For some reason, it seems like the casting department prioritized other roles more than the lead, making it feel like Rice was thrown into this last minute.

Her vocal talents are extremely average and the audio engineers were forced to autotune her vocals, creating a plastic-sounding vocal delivery and robbing this role of the feeling and emotion it craves. She is quite literally just singing notes; there is no feeling behind it. There are incredible vocalists in this film, but somehow they overlooked the lead role of Cady, which hurt the overall quality.

The pop-ifying of songs continues throughout, butchering previous musical favorites like “World Burn,” “Someone Gets Hurt,” “Apex Predator” and countless more. The original song that was added to the movie was written to replace “It Roars,” Cady’s power ballad at the beginning of the musical, signifying she’s ready for a change in her life and looking for a more classic teenage experience. The new song, called “What Ifs”, sounds like it was put together by an elementary school music class. The song is lazily written, filled with clichés and predictable rhymes, almost feeling AI-generated. I can only assume this was another attempt to appeal the film music to younger viewers, but it fell flat. Note to the writers: the 12-time Tony-nominated Broadway musical didn’t need a rewrite.

Ignoring the changes to the musical, the movie itself took once complex and multifaceted characters and turned them into caricatures of their 2004 version. Part of the intrigue of the original film was the different sides of each character: Regina’s overwhelming confidence contrasted by her insane insecurities, Karen’s shocking stupidity with her sudden sincerity and Cady’s naivety mixed with her calculated social climbing. In the 2024 film, each character is reduced down to their simplest form and their character arcs are non-existent. Cady is naive until she’s not, Regina is confident until she’s not, Karen is exclusively dumb and Aaron…is just there.

Despite this long list of issues, the movie is not entirely bad. Auli’i Cravalho, who plays Janis Imi’ike, and Jaquel Spivey, who plays Damian Hubbard, consistently steal scenes with their dynamic duo energy and consistently strong vocals (a personal favorite moment is Damian’s rendition of the “iCarly” theme song). Rapp can sing and carries the confident popular girl energy well, though it is incomparable to Rachel McAdams when it comes to the part. Both Bebe Wood, who portrayed Gretchen Weiners, and Avantika Vandanapu, who played Karen Shetty, did the best they could with the content they were given. Christopher Briney, who played Aaron Samuels, was a believable and charming heartthrob. Unfortunately, the character sometimes lacked personality and felt more like a prop to move the story along (but again, the writer’s fault).

All in all, the movie was fine at best, but it didn’t need to be made. On their own, these cast members are strong, yet they weren’t able to overcome this poorly executed production. If you’re looking for a campy, colorful movie without much quality, watch it. However, if you don’t want to damage the reputation of the original “Mean Girls” for yourself, I recommend sticking to the 2004 version and giving the Broadway soundtrack a listen.

Featured Image by Jojo Whilden – © 2023 Paramount Pictures.

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