One of the most cherished, highly quotable comedies of the 21st century, Mark Waters and Tina Fey’s Mean Girls has stood the test of time as the teen comedy to end all teen comedies. Taking a page out of the recently released The Color Purple’s book, Mean Girls (2024) adapts the 2017 musical back into a film, once again bringing Cady, Regina, Karen, and the rest of North Shore High back to movie theatres.
Despite the fact that Mean Girls adapts not one but two successful projects of the same name, this new reimagining of the movie-turned-musical is a haphazard dud, doing a disservice to the stage production’s musical numbers and lacking the outlandish ferocity of the original film’s humor. Though the mixed-bag of an ensemble cast (led by a fearsome Reneé Rapp) give their best, Mean Girls fails as both a musical and an homage to the original—soulless and utterly plastic.
Mean Girls follows Cady Heron (Angourie Rice), a sheltered teenager whose life flips when her mother (Jenna Fischer) decides to uproot their family, moving from Kenya to Chicago. Clueless as to American teen culture and desperate to fit in, Cady initially bonds with misfits Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey) but quickly enters the thrall of the plastics, a group of uber-popular mean girls led by the unflappable Regina George (Rapp).
In terms of its script, Mean Girls is an interesting case. It’s an adaption of a musical adapted from a movie, adapted from a book—all of which (save the novel) from writer by Tina Fey, who also serves as a producer and reprises her role as Mrs. Norbury. Returning to write yet another reimaging of Mean Girls gives Fey the opportunity to punch-up jokes from the original, though the 2024 script remains clearly reverent of the 2004 original.
The 2024 script of Mean Girls still contains all the lines fans know and love (Glen Coco, “Fetch”, on Wednesdays we wear pink, etc) but makes a few changes to accommodate a more modern setting. Mostly this pertains to the lines from the original that haven’t aged particularly gracefully—cracks about “unfriendly Black hotties” and so-called “cool Asians.” Tossing around racial slurs are nowhere to be found.
Mean Girls’ most curious changes, though, come with regard to Janis’ backstory with Regina. In the original film, Regina casts her out by lying and telling everyone in school she’s a lesbian, while in the updated version, she outed Janis, who actually was a lesbian. It’s a strange, not particularly effective change that’s indicative of how Mean Girls treats the original like gospel, cashing in on as many recognizable moments as possible and not meaningfully engaging with the changes it dares to make.
Speaking of changes, the 2024 Mean Girls has no such reverence regarding the songs written for the 2017 musical. While Fey’s book is gospel, the original Broadway arrangements (composed by Jeff Richmonds) meet decimation. Instead, we find monotonous synth-pop which transforms even the musical’s strongest numbers into forgettable sludge.
While Mean Girls on Broadway may not have boasted an original script or a cast with names like Amanda Seyfried, Lindsay Lohan, and Rachel McAdams, what it did have was a cheeky, self-aware sense of humor that embraced the ridiculous grandiosity of musical theatre. Numbers like “Where Do You Belong”, “Sexy”, and “Stop” aren’t lyrically dense, but feature stereotypically Broadway-esque choreography and have a charming, tongue-in-cheek vibe that made the musical breezy and entertaining, if not quite a sharp as the original.
In attempting to translate Richmond’s songs (with lyrics by Nell Benjamin), Mean Girls razes its songbook of any personality, humor, or referentiality. Certainly, it’s understandable why producers might opt to cut a tap number in a film full of TikTok references and Shein clothes, but even some of the musical’s tamer numbers like “Stupid With Love” are sanitized into near unrecognizability.
Yes, the arrangements are somewhat salvageable when seasoned performers like Rapp, Cravalho, or Bebe Wood (Gretchen) lend their vocal prowess. Wood’s sweetly vulnerable “What’s Wrong With Me” is a breath of fresh air and a rare moment of genuine emotionality. In that same breath, though, poor arrangements become all the more noticeable whenever Angourie Rice’s Cady attempts to warble her way through one of them, which is a shame, because she’s the lead.
Rice is certainly a formidable actress and comedienne (she gives a particularly memorable turn opposite Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys) but her Cady is bone dry and utterly lacking in personality, not to mention vocal talent. Clearly, co-directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. recognize Rice’s voice isn’t of broadway caliber. Countless Cady songs go to other characters or cut entirely and the efforts they go to to keep Cady from singing makes one wonder why they didn’t simply cast an actress who could sing the part.
As for the rest of the cast, it’s difficult to wholeheartedly identify any comedic standouts. Even the bits that do land are marginally unfunnier rehashes of jokes from 20 years ago. All the pieces are on the board, sure, but Mean Girls rests on its laurels, thinking that simply regurgitating all the right aesthetic trappings and quotable moments is enough to cobble together a cohesive reimagining of this iconic chick flick.
Between the inconsistent vocals, bizarre musical arrangements, and misguided script updates, Mean Girls (2024) is a letdown, whether you’re a fan of the 2004 film or the 2017 musical. Though co-directors Jayne and Perez Jr make some interesting and ambitious choices with cinematography and staging, a few experimental stylistic flares and an admirable effort from Rapp aren’t enough to save this high school comedy from musical ruin.