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"Mean Girls" (2024) Review

Because entertainment is a flat circle and creativity is too risky for Hollyweird, 2004's Mean Girls which became a 2018 Broadway musical is now back as a film of the musicial based on the film, also named Mean Girls. Confused? Good. Updated by original screenwriter Tina Fey to reflect cultural changes - Tik Tok videos and a whole lot less white people - it's the same old story, but now with singing! (Though you wouldn't know it from its trailer which has about two seconds of footage from musical numbers, so if you hate musicals you're in for a bad time.)

Angourie Rice (she played Betty Brandt in the MCU Spider-Man trilogy) stars as Cady Heron (originally played by Lindsay Lohan), a home-schooled girl raised by her anthropologist mother (Jenna Fischer, originally Ana Gasteyer) in Africa minus any mentioned father. Missing out on social contact, her mother takes a job back in America and Cady enrolls in North Shore High and gets a crash course in cliques. 

She's initially befriended by race-swapped Janis (Auli'i Cravalho, originally Lizzy Caplan) and "too gay to function" Damian (Jaquel Spivey, orig. Daniel Franzese), snarky outcasts, but the focus changes when Janis encourages Cady to infiltrate the notorious "Plastics", the apex predators headed by Regina George (Reneé Rapp, orig. Rachel McAdams) with her sidekicks Gretchen (Bebe Wood, orig. Lacey Chabert) and airhead Karen (Avantica, orig. Amanda Seyfried). Regina takes Cady under her wing and elevates her style and status unaware of how Cady & Co. are conspiring against her. Of course, Cady loses the plot and loses her moral compass, same as last time.

Mean Girls (2024) lives in a weird limbo as a hybrid of a musical and a rehashing of a movie that's never really left the collective cultural memory - there was a Mean Girls-themed Walmart Black Friday 2023 commercial campaign reuniting Lohan, Chabert, Seyfried and others - to the point where any new take couldn't help but be constantly held against the original. As a result, most of the time you're waiting to see how closely the new movie tracks with songs tossed in of varying effectiveness. While the songs are new, the closeness with which the plot beats are the same.

This familiarity is confounded by the new cast being led by Rice whose voice is thin and passable, but she lacks the charisma and charm of Lohan. (Sidebar: It's hard to remember now, but in 2004 Lindsay Lohan was hot stuff coming off the tag team of the Freaky Friday remake and Mean Girls. She was poised for an interesting career, but went down in tabloid flames and the fact she's still alive at 37, recently married with a child in Dubai, and making rom-coms for Netflix a minor miracle.) Rice's Cady is a passive pawn of Janis and Regina's games to the point she's barely the protagonist. According to Wikipedia, 14 songs were cut from the show for the movie and a comparison of the track listings between Broadway cast and movie soundtracks show half of Cady's songs were cut. (Due to Rice's weak voice?)

That makes the stars of this show Rapp and Cravalho. Rapp is a bold brassy bodacious blonde who played Regina on Broadway and also contributed to co-writing new songs for the movie. (She also looks a lot like Busy Phillips so when Philips shows up as her mother, originally played by Amy Poehler, it wins the Most Obvious Casting Duh award.) Unlike McAdams, her presence is more dominating and menacing then hectoring.

Cravalho, who made her acting debut voicing Moana, is the real breakout star here with an effortless nuanced charm embracing her outsiderness and fronting the showstopper number "I'd Rather Be Me" which is shot in a single unbroken take as the camera (operated by Ari Robbins, listed as "Trinity Ninja" in the credits; Trinity being a brand of advanced camera stabilizing kit which is a Steadicam on steroids) races with her through the school in its own complex dance. However, when she suddenly shows up at the finale dance with a girl whom we've never seen before, it's another odd editorial moment.

Rookie directors Arturo Perez Jr. and Samantha Jayne do a fine job staging the modern musical numbers, but they're hamstrung by the choices in the script adaptation by Fey, who returns as Ms. Norbury along with Tim Meadows' Principal Duvall. While the cast as been diversified, it's not woke racism as the underlying characters are the same (e.g. Indian Avantica manages to make Karen both have bigger boobs and be dumber than Seyfried).

While slightly fresh, Mean Girls (which needs ": The Musical" appended) is a mostly redundant and superfluous revising of a teen movie classic. If you like musicals or wished the original wasn't so full of people of pallor, or just want to change up your revisiting North Shore High, this will suffice.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable. (It will be coming soon to Paramount+)


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