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MEAN GIRLS (2024) Was Definitely... a Movie...

Everyone knows the story of Mean Girls: new girl Cady Heron enters high school for the first time after having been homeschooled in Kenya for all her life, and finds her way to the top of the social hierarchy while balancing her nightmarish crush on queen bee Regina George’s ex boyfriend, Aaron Samuels. It’s a tale as old as time that turns 20 years old this 2024. Since its release, the movie has become a staple icon of the 2000s that even has its own Tony-nominated Broadway musical that ran from 2018 to March 2020.


In the months leading up to January 12, 2024, fans of the original movie and the Broadway musical alike waited in anticipation for the new era of Mean Girls, a musical film directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. The movie stars Angourie Rice (Betty Brant on Spiderman: Far From Home) as Cady Heron, Reneé Rapp (who’d last played the role on Broadway prior to the show’s closing) as Regina George, Auli’i Cravalho (the voice behind the iconic Moana) as Janice Sarkisian, and Chris Briney (Conrad on The Summer I Turned Pretty) as Aaron Samuels. 


Sitting down with two of my friends to watch the movie at AMC opening weekend, I didn't know what to expect; all I really knew was that Regina George would be wearing cargo pants (a choice, fans criticized, the 2004 Regina would never be caught dead in) and that Aaron Samuels had been stripped of his singing parts once again. Leaving the theater, however, I couldn't help but feel a tinge of disappointment.


For a movie based on a Broadway musical with songs taken directly from the musical soundtrack, the movie’s instrumentation was underwhelming, to say the least. For instance, while Erika Henningsen’s—the original Broadway Cady Heron—rendition of “Stupid with Love” contained full, upbeat instrumentals coupled with a “fangirlish” tone of voice, Angourie Rice’s rendition felt emotionless, with a more subtle backing track and almost expressionless phrasing. “Stupid with Love” wasn’t the only problem song, either; it was almost the whole soundtrack, because, seriously, where were the trumpets? Fans on social media had even resorted to questioning why the directors felt the need to turn the original soundtrack into a playlist of “trap remixes”.


The new Mean Girls takes place in the present day, so it makes sense that producers took the initiative to have the movie head in a different sonic direction. Still, if you’re going to make a musical movie explicitly stated to be based on a Broadway musical, the movie needs to maintain the same momentum brought forth by its predecessor. I’m not saying a word-for-word adaptation was what we needed—there’s always bound to be discrepancies between an original and an adaptation regardless of the medium—but I am saying that, for an adaptation to be successful, fans need to interpret consistent energy. This means that, in Mean Girls specifically, more effort could have been put into maintaining a similar sound to that of the original. Even the ensemble vocals in “Revenge Party” felt empty, a striking contrast to the ominous, panicky tone of the original.


To be clear, I do not blame Angourie Rice for the issue in her role; rather, I blame the casting directors. In a musical movie, it would only make logical sense to cast actors who have a strong vocal background; Rapp and Cravalho appear to be the most notable of the cast. Pointedly, as Cady Heron is supposed to be the main character of the film, it would also make logical sense that Cady’s actress be just as strong a singer as the precedent Erika Henningsen; Angourie Rice was not a singer to begin with.


Though there have been occasions in the past where non-singers took on musical roles—Emma Stone in La La Land, for example—those actors had guidance from vocal coaches to ensure that their performances were up to par. Rice, so far, has made no mention of having help from anyone else in these recordings other than Rapp. Aside from her vocals, Rice made a decent Cady; it was her lack of enunciation and expression that made her casting questionable, especially next to two of the most distinguishable and strongly-trained performers of this generation. 


There are some musical changes that I do condone, Reneé Rapp’s execution of “Someone Gets Hurt” being one of them. An iconic moment within both the film and the musical, the song occurs when Regina George seduces Aaron Samuels in an effort to get him back following her discovery of Cady’s crush on him. She succeeds, and the presentation of this moment is only enhanced by Rapp’s siren-like manner. The instrumentals—minimal and not as grand as the original—actually brought more depth to the scene in the sense that there was more visual, symbolic focus on the dynamic between the two. In the movie, everyone freezes; Aaron and Regina are the only ones who are active in the moment, with Regina wading through the crowd in a seemingly-taunting manner. These elements combined arguably best portray the manipulation of Aaron Samuels in the most complex, film-analysis-worthy way.


With “Someone Gets Hurt”, Avantika’s version of Kate Rockwell’s—the original Broadway Karen—“Sexy” proved to be another example of an altered soundtrack done well. The song conveys a message of self-expression and an embraced, chosen identity, and unlike “Stupid with Love”, Avantika’s “Sexy” proves to be the perfect mix of Broadway and recent pop music. She doesn’t act with just her face in the scene, but her voice as well. In the track alone, we can hear how she resembles the ditzy, heartwarming Karen we all know and love, making “Sexy” another track that has my particular stamp of approval.


Lyric changes sung by both Rapp and Avantika are also welcomed and embraced. In “Meet the Plastics”, the song that introduces you to the infamous Plastics, Regina originally sings “I never weigh more than 115”. In the movie, the lyric was changed to, “That filter you use looks just like me”. This lyric is not new, as the alteration has been used in off-Broadway performances, but this subtle change avoids challenges and controversies that may have risen if the original lyric had been kept. 


My main complaint with “Meet the Plastics” lies in the fact that both Gretchen and Karen’s parts were cut out. The only Plastic we got to meet was Regina George. 


Similarly, “Sexy” has a very subtle lyric change that re-enforces the song’s original message. From “I expect to run the world in shoes I cannot walk in”, the lyric Avantika sang was, “Watch me as I run the world in shoes I cannot walk in”. Fans took the lyric change as a way of eliminating any sort of mockery that might have been interpreted from the original song, which was meant to be satire in the first place. This lyric change makes the song more serious rather than satire, and while some may have a problem with this, I personally find the change to add to the song’s empowering implications.


Unfortunately, the pacing of the movie in it of itself made the movie harder to sit through. It runs for approximately one hour and 52 minutes, but the distribution of the musical against non-musical movie parts felt uneven. In a well-executed musical movie, the timing of the songs keeps the plot moving forward; in this case, it felt like there was too much musical and not enough movie, which only stagnated the actual storyline.


Yes, the movie is based on a Broadway musical, but there still has to be room for the musical to translate well on the big screen. Because of how much was happening in the realm of music, character development felt inconsistent and incomplete. Cady’s transformation as a mean girl felt as though it happened in chunks rather than over time, as seen in the original 2004 movie, and at some point during the movie, it felt as though the songs kept piling up on top of one another with very little breathing time in between each song.

Overall, Mean Girls fell horribly flat in some places and exceeded surprisingly well in others. Would I ever go back to the theater to watch it again? No, probably not—but I’ll give the movie credit where credit is due, if anything, and that’s what matters.