Review: TikTokified Mean Girls Fails as Both a Movie and a Musical | Westword

Review: TikTokified Mean Girls Fails as Both a Movie and a Musical

The movie-musical remake of Tina Fey's beloved 2004 film is a cinematic disaster.
Avantika plays Karen Shetty, Renee Rapp plays Regina George, Bebe Wood plays Gretchen Wieners and Angourie Rice plays Cady Heron,  in Mean Girls  from Paramount Pictures.
Avantika plays Karen Shetty, Renee Rapp plays Regina George, Bebe Wood plays Gretchen Wieners and Angourie Rice plays Cady Heron, in Mean Girls from Paramount Pictures. Courtesy of Jojo Whilden/Paramount
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Given the general lack of originality in Hollywood, every generation is destined to encounter a remake of a cherished film from their childhood that breaks them. Well, consider me broken. As a self-proclaimed theater geek, I approached the Mean Girls movie-musical remake with a mix of trepidation and cautious optimism, almost prepared to defend it.

But then I saw the film. The new Mean Girls is a cinematic disaster.

Despite a star-studded team including screenplay writer Tina Fey, this latest rendition falls drastically short of the charm and wit that defined both its 2004 film predecessor and the 2018 Broadway musical. Directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. in their feature-film debut, it feels more like a pale imitation than a worthy successor or even an homage.
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Avantika, Angourie Rice, Renee Rapp and Bebe Wood on the set of Mean Girls from Paramount Pictures.
Courtesy of Jojo Whilden/Paramount
I have always held a soft spot for the original Mean Girls, led by Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams, and even found merit in the Broadway adaptation, despite its arguably unnecessary musicalization of a non-musical film. The stage version had its charm, embracing the campy elements of high school life with gusto. Regrettably, many of these engaging moments — including Damian's delightful tap dance and the infectious "Whose House Is This?" rap — were conspicuously absent in this new adaptation, replaced by generic pop songs seemingly designed for fleeting social media fame.

As expected, the film did cause a stir online, but not for reasons worth celebrating. Instead, it provided ample fodder for dismayed fans and a plethora of cringe-worthy moments rather than memorable musical highlights. The narrative — and even the character names — remain unchanged, with Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) navigating the treacherous social dynamics of high school, pitted against queen bee Regina George (Reneé Rapp) and her followers Gretchen (Bebe Wood) and Karen (Avantika). But the film's execution lacks the original's vibrancy and fails to capture the musical's spirit.

"This is not your mother's Mean Girls," the trailer boldly claims, and while the film diverges from its source material, it's not for the better. It's a visually lackluster production, bereft of the sharp wit and incisive satire that made the original an instant classic. The direction by Jayne and Perez Jr. is disjointed, with musical numbers that come across as low-budget music videos rather than pieces of a cohesive cinematic narrative. And the screenplay, while attempting to update the classic for a new generation, ends up stripping away the original's hilarity.
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Jaquel Spivey plays Damian, Angourie Rice plays Cady Heron and Auli'i Cravalho plays Janis in Mean Girls from Paramount Pictures.
Courtesy of Jojo Whilden/Paramount
In this sea of movie mediocrity, there are a few redeeming performances. Auli'i Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey bring a much-needed vibrancy to their roles as Janis and Damian. Both are seasoned musical performers — Cravalho voices the titular Moana and Spivey was transcendent as the lead in the Tony-Award-winning A Strange Loop — and they don't disappoint. Their spirited rendition of "A Cautionary Tale," despite being shot as a TikTok video, starts the film on a high note as they play instruments together and rock out — but it's a spark that doesn't last long.

While Cravalho and Spivey add much-needed energy to the film with each appearance, other casting choices leave much to be desired. Rapp's portrayal of Regina lacks the subtlety and charisma required of the queen bee, rendering her character cartoonish. Taylor Louderman, of the Broadway version, and McAdams perfectly captured the character's nuanced meanness; Rapp's portrayal is more suited to the Disney Channel.

It becomes apparent that the film doesn't know what to do with Gretchen and Karen, especially considering how they remain mute during "Meet the Plastics" — a song that is meant to introduce the trio. This musical number is one of the highlights of the Broadway musical and perfectly establishes each character, but in this 2024 version, you don’t even meet the plastics — you just watch Rapp sing a functional solo that lacks the personality of the musical or humor from Cady's initial introduction to these characters in the movie.
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From character names to scenes, much remains unchanged except for a striking lack of humor.
Courtesy of Jojo Whilden/Paramount

Even with so many misses, the film's greatest disappointment lies in its music. The pop remixes of the Broadway score lack the original's charm and theatricality, and appear to be designed to go viral on social media rather than have artistic integrity. If the producers were afraid that mainstream audiences would mock the Broadway-style musical numbers, why would they greenlight a musical? After stripping the songs of all their joy, all we are left with are soulless singles that are too bland for musical theater fans and too cheesy for contemporary audiences.

And then there are the egregious product placements for Elf, Seat Geek and Jeep, to name a few, which are glaring distractions that undermine any artistry; costuming choices, particularly for Regina, are also tragically misguided, highlighting a larger issue of misinterpretation of the source material.

This 2024 remake of Mean Girls is a cautionary tale of how not to adapt a beloved film into a musical. Instead of innovating or adding depth, it dilutes the original's essence, leaving fans of both the movie and the musical disappointed. It's a clear example of a remake that loses sight of what made the source great, proving that not every classic needs a musical reinterpretation...and that Hollywood could use some original material.
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