Mean Girls (2024)

by - January 11th, 2024 - Movie Reviews


Musical Mean Girls Hits Too Many Sour Notes

There is something about the 2024 musical version of Mean Girls that vexes me. It’s very well cast (although none of the newcomers are going to make anyone forget about Rachel McAdams, Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Seyfried, or Lacey Chabert). Directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. stage a handful of impressive sequences with visual dynamism. Several of the songs are fairly catchy, and goodness knows, whenever pop sensation Reneé Rapp or Moana star Auli’i Cravalho were at the microphone, my ears perked right up and my toe reflexively began to tap.

Mean Girls (2024) | PHOTO: Paramount Pictures

But an emotional response? A deeper bond with the characters or the story they were a part of? I felt neither. To paraphrase one of Tina Fey’s memorable lines from her screenplay for the now-classic 2004 version, the limit of my personal attachment to the narrative did not exist, mainly because there was none.

I didn’t care about Cady Heron (Angourie Rice). Her journey with The Plastics Karen Shetty (Avantika), Gretchen Wieners (Bebe Wood), and powerful queen bee Regina George (Rapp) barely registered with me. Her complicated and fragile friendship with outcasts Janis ‘Imi’ike (Cravalho) and Damian Hubbard (Jaquel Spivey) never came fully alive. It all fell strangely flat, the ending particularly so, and I walked out of the theater wondering how this new adaptation became such a Broadway sensation, scoring 12 Tony nominations (if no wins) back in 2018.

It starts out promisingly enough. The opening musical number showcasing Cady’s first day in public high school reminded me of Grease 2, with a freewheeling, enthusiastic vitality similar to that underrated 1982 sequel. I also love that this version’s Greek chorus comes in the form of Janis and Damian, and it’s something of a bummer this production doesn’t utilize the pair more often, frequently giving their stories far too short a shrift.

Fey’s general scenario — loosely inspired by Rosalind Wiseman’s 2002 best-seller Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence — hasn’t changed much from its 2004 incarnation. At its heart, this is still the Cady vs. Regina show, and Janis, Damian, Karen, Gretchen, and the rest of the students (and teachers) at North Shore High School are stuck squarely between the two of them.

While that is expected, the thing about this film that shocked me was how little I connected to anyone and how what they did — or were going through — resonated with me even less. There is a choppiness here that makes it difficult for scenes to symbiotically coexist with those that surround them. Character evolution either happens in fits and starts or doesn’t materialize at all. The music shines and many of the set pieces are impressive (especially one featuring Cravalho after the revelation of The Plastics’ “Burn Book” rips North Shore apart), and yet almost none of it made a meaningful impression.

On the plus side, Rapp and Cravalho are undeniably “grool.” They have a cinematic magnetism that leaps off the screen. While Rapp will never replace McAdams, the wonderful thing in this is that she doesn’t even try to. She tackles many of Regina’s signature lines with a reading that’s entirely her own. Better, she brings an internalized pathos to the teenage titan I wasn’t anticipating. This gives Regina a sympathetic underpinning that helps make her final confrontations with Cady more compelling than they otherwise would have been.

As for Cravalho, she’s sensational. The young actor makes mincemeat out of any opportunity to take center stage that Janis gets. Cravalho rages against the machine with a burning intensity that engulfs everything with a flame of awesomeness that borders on the atomic. As mentioned, it sucks that her character tends to be something of an afterthought, especially as Janis has a great, progressively timely backstory that comes tantalizingly close to being worth crowing about.

Mean Girls (2024) | PHOTO: Paramount Pictures

And yet, I wanted more. Jayne and Perez Jr. can’t maintain a consistent pace, and the haphazard ways in which the proceedings come to a grinding halt at the most inopportune times drove me batty. They reproduce signature scenes from the original — like the climactic mathlete competition, this time with a special guest cleverly emceeing the proceedings —but they don’t mean anything. They make almost no impact.

“Fetch” still isn’t happening. No matter how successful it may have been on Broadway, the same can’t be said about this new Mean Girls. I wish I could bake the film a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy, but that’s not the case. Heck, I’m pretty sure we don’t even go to the same school.

– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)

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