18 June 2024

Film Review – Mean Girls (2023)

As someone who loves both the original Mean Girls and the stage musical version of the 2004 movie, I was equally excited and sceptical about the new version. After all, screen adaptations of stage musicals do not always translate the original material well, and revising such a beloved classic as Tina Fey’s film was never going to be easy. The new version certainly had a big challenge ahead of it but it is safe to say that it stepped up to it, creating a fun product for theatre kids who grew up with Mark Waters’ film.

Plastics circa 2024 follows almost the exact same plot as the original as it begins with sixteen-year-old Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) moving to the United States from Kenya. This change is particularly significant for Cady as she goes from being homeschooled to having to figure out the ins and outs of American high school. On her first day, she meets two outsiders Janis ‘Imi’ike (Auliʻi Cravalho) and Damian Hubbard (Jaquel Spivey) who warn her against the Plastics, made up of the three most popular girls in school: Gretchen Wieners (Bebe Wood), Karen Shetty (Avantika) and the queen bee, Regina George (Reneé Rapp). When Regina invites her to join their group, Cady infiltrates the Plastics as she attempts to ruin Regina’s reputation.

The songs are catchy and work well to convey the plot. I also really liked how they integrated them into the film while staying true to the stage inspiration the musical itself originates from. Unlike many other screen adaptations of screen musicals, this one is not afraid to lean into the theatricality of it all by featuring dance choreography as part of the musical numbers. Similarly, it also takes some clear inspiration from 1950s sound stage musicals in its aesthetic, such as in the “Revenge Party” dance sequence. This was certainly helped by the fact that the entire cast is quite literally a triple threat, doing an excellent job at acting, singing, and dancing, in which Rapp and Cravalho particularly shine.

The film also reflects on this theatricality and artificiality of the musical numbers in some moments where it becomes very meta-cinematic as our attention is drawn to the narration or presence of music. Making another Mean Girls is also a chance to revisit its story. While a lot of it remains the same, I appreciated some of the changes, particularly the expansion of Janice’s story. In this version, the audience gets a lot more background on her feud with Regina, which goes much deeper than in the 2004 film, and on her character as a whole. Similarly, I felt like the movie also showed some new nuances to the characters of Cady and Regina.

On the other hand, while this was a great opportunity to expand on some main characters, others get entirely left out. Damian, Karen, and Gretchen are all played by great actors, who can pull off not only their respective characters but also the singing level required to be part of this film, and yet most of the songs – or parts in specific songs – end up cut, thus not giving us a clear idea of who these characters truly are. Compared to the musical, there are quite a significant amount of songs cut. This is understandable but still disappointing for fans of the musical, especially as the film chooses to include two reprises of songs we have already heard rather than featuring more of the original songs present in the Broadway musical.

The inclusion of social media and phone footage was an interesting choice that I am not entirely sure I was a fan of. On the one hand, it is a fascinating way to update this timeless film to what life in 2024 looks like, especially in the high school world the film is set in, with the inclusion of social media and all its implications. On the other, some of this footage felt very much out of place in the movie and took me out of the narrative too much. It also seems more of an excuse to feature in cheap and easy cameos from influencers than anything else.

Admittedly, this does play a lot on the nostalgia that naturally comes with the original film. In fact, there are many – perhaps even too many – references to the 2004 film, from the outfits and cameos to the very script itself. So much so that the movie takes some of the most iconic lines and dialogues from the original film to translate them into this one. The problem is that it ends up feeling very derivative, especially in the way some of these are performed which is with the exact same delivery as the original film rather than seeing the new cast take on these iconic roles and truly make them their own, except for a few notable exceptions with Janice and Regina.

Mean Girls had a tough act to follow with the inevitable comparison to the original film but it is a film that works for fans of the musicals and one that I thought was a lot of fun to revisit the 2004 film 20 years later. It is true maybe we did not need a new spin, given the way the original still manages to stay relevant to this day, but there absolutely is an audience for this film who will enjoy seeing their favourite songs performed on screens and a somewhat new take on a classic many of us grew up with.

★★1/2

In UK cinemas January 19th / Angourie Rice, Reneé Rapp, Auliʻi Cravalho, Jaquel Sprivey, Avantika, Bebe Wood / Dir: Samantha Jayne, Arturo Perez Jr. / Paramount Pictures / 12A


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