Mean Girls – movie review

The movie musical of the Broadway musical of the movie of the book. That’s what we’ve got in 2024, with a film adaptation of the successful 2018 Mean Girls musical being released twenty years after the original hit movie penned by the wonderful Tina Fey. It made a household name out of Lindsay Lohan, and teen girls everywhere started saying that cool things were ‘fetch’. Or maybe not…

There’s a reference to ‘fetch’ here, acknowledging that even if it might’ve been considered the word de jour in that 2004 fictional world, it’s not ever going to be a thing now. The movie probably isn’t going to make the impact the original did either because it obviously doesn’t have the benefit of being so fresh. Fey tapped into something quite profound with her screenplay based on Rosaline Wiseman’s book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, about cruel female cliques that made life hell for many students.

This time, Aussie actress, Angourie Rice plays the Lohan role of Cady, who turns up at a U.S. school after being home-schooled by her research scientist mother (Jenna Fischer) in Kenya. She’s observed antelopes being attacked by lions in real life, but nothing prepares her for being the naïve new kid in the jungle known as high school.

Immediately, she draws attention from the ‘Plastics’ – led by mean girl extraordinaire, Regina George. Regina is played by Renee Rapp, the star of the Broadway musical. She has the arrogance and meanness down pat, and a killer singing voice perfect for the role. She also towers over most of the cast so is a natural at commanding the room.

Her minions are the insecure, put-upon Gretchen (Bebe Wood) and the incredibly stupid Karen. Avantika plays Karen pretty much as a caricature, which you can get away with more so in a stage musical for comedic purposes, but her performance seems OTT on the cinema screen. She’s got an amazing voice though, evidenced in her funny number about teen girls feeling the need to dress sexily for Halloween (‘I can be a sexy pirate or a sexy ballet dancer, I can be a sexy doctor, and cure some sexy cancer! That’s not right, is it?’)

Meanwhile, Cady relies on the first people who befriend her when she comes to the school to help her navigate how to keep Regina onside. Outsiders Janis (Auli’I Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey) often break the fourth wall by narrating the goings-on directly to the camera, with Spivey in particular hilarious. And Janis’s old storyline regarding her history with the head mean girl is given a reasonably successful but necessary update. Cravalho, who voiced the titular Moana in the movie, gets a chance to show off her glorious voice in the emotionally wrenching I’d Rather Be Me.

Angourie Rice (Spiderman: Homecoming) has a sweet presence as Cady, even if the role might not propel her to the same heights the original did for Lohan. And her singing voice is more than adequate. Cady falls for the good looking Aaron (Christopher Briney from The Summer I Turned Pretty) and soon starts to think that to win him over, she’ll have to relinquish a lot of her pride and smarts. Unfortunately, she also starts to relinquish her authenticity and sincerity in an effort to be popular. It’s here that Rice doesn’t quite convince as she transforms into being the very thing she’s previously hated.

Fans of the original will get a kick out of seeing Fey again playing the teacher, and another star from that movie pops up unexpectedly as well. Meanwhile, Busy Phillips gets a lot of laughs as Regina’s desperate mother who has a ‘Cool Moms’ Instagram account. Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. make their feature debut here as co-directors.  It’s no mean feat, particularly with the big musical numbers and the dizzying quick-cut montage social media scenes which naturally weren’t around twenty years ago.

Vicki Englund

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