Image: Paramount

20 Years Later, ‘Mean Girls’ still makes fetch happen

After a staggering 20 years, Northshore High has re-opened its doors, and Mean Girls has returned to cinemas to take the world by storm once again. This new adaptation, based on the cult classic from 2004 and directed by Samantha Jayne & Arturo Perez Jr., sports familiar jokes and faces, but perhaps most shockingly, ‘new’ songs, taken directly from the film’s Broadway musical adaptation. Tina Fey’s new addition to what could now be referred to as a franchise was released in American screening rooms on 12 January, and globally in the days that followed. But, almost universally, this film has been greeted by mixed reviews from both moviegoers and musical geeks.

Upon its announcement, the film’s ‘identity’ confused many fans, especially after the release of its first promotional materials and strikingly music-less trailers. People wondered if it would be a remake of the original 2004 blockbuster, or a musical reimagining more closely based on the Broadway show. The final product turned out to be a mix of both, in a similar vein to Wonka, which, according to Paramount’s president of global marketing, Marc Weinstock, was intentional. In an interview with Variety, he claimed that “people treat musicals very differently”, and that the filmmakers wanted to broaden their audiences whilst also respecting the original’s non-musical legacy. This strategy also boosted the film’s visibility on social media and YouTube, as creators began to edit the trailers and clips of the 2024 film with the musical’s song – inadvertently creating new publicity for it.

The film, however, struggles to define itself as a musical, as it doesn’t follow the pace its predecessor. The show, which first debuted in 2017 on Broadway, boasted a soundtrack composed of 21 songs, including ‘Meet the Plastics’, ‘Sexy’, ‘World Burn’, and ‘I’d Rather Be Me’, which became highly popular with fans. This film only contains 12 songs, including the new ‘What Ifs’, whilst most old songs were either rewritten or shortened to fit the faster pace of the story – resulting in strikingly silent scenes and a large temporal gap in the soundtrack between its second and third act. Overall, the film’s new cinematography and expanded scenes gift its characters some much-needed emotional depth, and the spoken song in ‘I See Stars’ acts as a bittersweet but emotional finale to a silenced but well-rounded, enjoyable soundtrack that will stick with you even after you leave the cinema.

The new Mean Girls also takes full advantage of its modern setting, as the editing of the film highlights the lighthearted and fun mood that transpires this story. Whether it’s an interesting transition between scenes, a smart use of social media, or a redesign area, this film’s glossy new cinematography enhances the high school comedy and the feeling of walking into a teenager’s story, as told through their overly-dramatic point of view.

Reneé Rapp, the new Regina George, is perhaps the true powerhouse of the film

The cast of the film, other than looking like the age of their characters, can also be praised for their outstanding performances and expressiveness. Whilst Angourie Rice’s wide-eyed gaze perfectly depicts Candy Heron’s naivety and later her ascent into apex predator status at Northshore High, Reneé Rapp, the new Regina George, is perhaps the true powerhouse of the film. Originally playing the character in the Broadway show, she exudes confidence and the role, at times, seems to fit her better than it did for her predecessor, Rachel McAdams. What she doesn’t have in fierce, she makes up in charming, as the film spends more time with Regina towards the epilogue, and builds upon one of the 2004’s film deleted scenes to give her the ending the Queen Bee deserves, and that the audience had long wished for her.

The remaining two members of the Plastics are perhaps the most surprising characters of the film, and Bebe Wood (Gretchen) and Avantika (Karen) both look and play the part perfectly. Gretchen’s emotions are put in the forefront in her first interactions with Cady, and throughout the film, we see a darker, gloomier, and more wounded side of her that the musical had rightfully explored in her solo song. Karen on the other hand boasts a new set of genuinely funny jokes, and you’ll find yourself wishing to have seen more of her. The film also cleverly incorporates social media into their characters, which is a much-needed but also witty creative touch to this reimagining.

The new Janis Ian, renamed Janis ‘Imi’ike, (played by Auliʻi Cravalho), is the first explicitly and openly lesbian iteration of this character since its conception, and this was a huge positive for the film. In this modern retelling, all the previous uses of slurs or sensitive humor were removed, which, whilst holding back some of the characters and their ‘meanness’, allows the film to be a more broadly enjoyable experience. At first, Janis appears to have benefited the most from this rewriting: her solo song is a powerful motivational anthem, full of her sass, and edgy, though perhaps a bit tone-deaf in regards to Janis’ initial manipulation of Cady to enact her vengeance on Regina. But, regardless, her colourful outfits and new dialogue with Cady won’t save the “art freaks” Queen Bee from having a new but nameless love interest – or for the film ‘robbing’ us from seeing a lesbian Janis kiss after 20 years of waiting. And despite the changes, this pretense of representation is perhaps a little too shallow for a 2024 remake.

If you’ve seen the original a healthy amount of times, you’ll find yourself quoting it at an almost unfun frequency

As a film, Mean Girls 2024 struggles to stand without its predecessors and in creating its own identity without referring back to them. The storylines, characters, and quips are mostly taken from the 2004 film, and if you’ve seen the original a healthy amount of times, you’ll find yourself quoting it at an almost unfun frequency. The musicals’ songs are the very soul of this adaptation, as much of the fun comes from watching the well-choreographed dance sequence or transition scene. And as a final nail in the ‘adaptation coffin’, it is worth remembering that Tina Fey’s story for Mean Girls was heavily based on Rosalind Wiseman’s book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, and everything from the “rules of Halloween” to Cady’s own “Party from Hell” owes its existence to Wiseman’s initial research.

In the end, Mean Girls 2024 has all it needs to be enjoyable even without the background reading, but to a longtime fan, this film is a hybrid of an old plot and a new cast and modern storytelling conventions and leaves little to be surprised by. Perhaps this film was never meant to replicate the nostalgia of the 2004 original, or the awe of seeing the Plastics on a stage in front of us. Perhaps Tina Fey’s gift is in writing familiar characters, whilst never letting us stop from caring about their stories, or the reason we fell in love with them – and that’s what’s actually fetch about this modern, but familiar reimagining.


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