Review: ‘Mean Girls’

The Iconic High School Comedy Gets A Toothless Musical Makeover

Almost twenty years ago, Tina Fey, Lorne Michaels, and Paramount released the seminal high-school comedy Mean Girls. It brought us iconic lines like “You go Glen Coco,” “She doesn’t even go here,” and “On Wednesdays we wear Pink.” Ten years later after its initial release, Tina Fey, her husband composer Jeff Richmond, and lyricist Neil Benjamin announced that a Broadway musical version was in the works. After a successful run, the Plastics are returning to the silver screen, this time in song. 

For those who don’t know or are die-hard fans of the film, the story of 2024 version follows very closely to the original film. High-school student, Cady Heron (Angourie Rice), moves from her home in Africa to a Chicago suburb when her mother (Jenna Fischer) gets a job at Northwestern. Unaccustomed to school life she struggles to fit into an American high school and falls back on two outcasts in her class, Janis ‘Imi’ike (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian Hubbard (Jaquel Spivey).

They introduce her to the Plastics, the clique top of the social hierarchy, consisting of queen bee Regina George (Renee Rapp), lackie and gossip Gretchen Weiners (Bebe Wood), and hot weirdo Karen Shetty (Avantika). After they offer Cady an open lunch invitation, Janis eventually convinces her to sabotage the group from within leading to disastrous physical and emotional consequences. 

Your mileage may vary with this version of Mean Girls. Going in not knowing the original film (but how could you not?) or with some familiarity with the staged version is probably the safest bet. The orchestrations are stipped away slightly from the musical, so some fans may have issues with that. But for those whose only touchstone to this world is the beloved Lindsay Lohan version, this attempt may fall short.

Carrying the vocals and story along are Auli’i Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey. Both give heartfelt performances. The latter’s version of Damian is on par with his predecessor, which is an issue with this film. I wanted more screen time for both of them. Renee Rapp’s voice carries this very beautiful but sinister tenor to it but there’s an aloofness about her Regina that doesn’t quite work here. 

Tina Fey and Tim Meadows return to their roles as math teacher and principal respectively, and both still knock it out of the park for the little time they are onscreen. Comedian Connor Ratliff, Ashley Park (who played Gretchen on Broadway), and Jon Hamm pop up as critically underused teachers. 

The musical version needs the bite and sharp wit of the original. The lyrics lack the insightfulness and depth that Lohan’s voice-over provided. In Janis’ triumphant song “I’d Rather Be Me,” she sings “I won’t twist in knots to join your game/ I will say, ‘You make me mad. And if you treat me bad/ I’ll say ‘You’re bad.’” Besides rhyming ‘bad’ with itself, it doesn’t have the same impact that the speech Lizzie Caplan delivers before diving off the table in the 2004 version. There’s no humor and gall to it. Its hollow. 

Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr.’s visuals are hit or miss. There’s a brilliant black-and-white French film nod during the Christmas talent show that made me laugh hard. However, how they handle the transitions into song feels jarring. The choreography feels very forced and sometimes tonally out of place. The updating of material from 2004 for a Gen Z audience doesn’t always hit. They rely heavily on the TikTok format, something I’m sure won’t age well in five years.

Musicals can be known for their earnestness which can hurt a film about the bitchiness and cruelty of growing up. I still don’t know if Mean Girls was the best source material to adapt into a musical and this cinematic version proves it.

Mean Girls hits theaters Friday. Watch the trailer below.