The new ‘Mean Girls’ falls flat, but not without something ‘fetch’ for Gen Z

Jan. 31, 2024, 1:42 a.m.

Twenty years have passed, but it seems there is still a place for “Mean Girls” and a Burn Book in our hearts. 

Tina Fey’s new “Mean Girls” (2024), released on Jan. 12, is a modernized mash-up of the original and Fey’s Broadway musical. Like the trailer says, the film — featuring social media and explicit language — is definitely “not your mother’s ‘Mean Girls.’”

Contemporary elements and musical numbers occasionally enliven the remake, but the music in particular is lacking. The movie-musical is ultimately enjoyable but not spectacular.

Fey’s casting features new stars along with a few surprise throwbacks to the original. Angourie Rice, who portrays Cady Heron, has starred in several of the Marvel Spider-Man movies. Regina Rapp played Regina George in the Broadway musical. Jenna Fischer, widely known from “The Office,” plays Ms. Heron. 

Original actors Fey and Tim Meadows reprised their roles as Ms. Norbury and Principal Duvall, respectively. The film also featured a cameo by Lindsay Lohan as the moderator of the mathletes competition.

The plot

I found myself reminiscing about the original characters; I wasn’t initially drawn to their strikingly different personas in the 2024 release. 

In the original, Regina (Rachel McAdams) is the ultimate feminine queen bee at North Shore High. Dressed in pink, she gossips, shops and dates guys on the football team. Rapp portrays a darker and more dangerous version of the character in the 2024 film. Donning black leather, Regina sings songs that are eerie and manipulative.

In “World Burn,” Regina wants to destroy everything around her because she is insecure about her own popularity, using her power to attack anyone who poses a threat. Rapp adds a layer of complexity to Regina’s surface-level charisma, leaving me torn in deciding which Regina I preferred.

Other characters were dull in comparison to the originals. In the original, Cady Heron (Lohan) is forced to adjust to an American high school after her family relocates for her mother’s new job. In the movie-musical, Rice’s Cady sings about her desire to leave Africa to maintain a social life and achieve her full potential in the song “What Ifs.” 

It was hard to discern Cady’s actual reasoning behind her desire to attend a real high school — she had never known what this would be like, having lived in Africa for most of her life. Cady’s eagerness to leave Africa for America seems to further the trope that Africa is inferior, whereas America is full of excitement. 

In the rest of the movie, however, “Mean Girls” (2024) exhibits less bias against Africa than the 2004 original. In the original, Cady’s classmates frequently joke about her upbringing in Africa; these jokes are less prevalent in the remake.

The themes

“Mean Girls” is also overconfident about its ability to contribute to pop feminism on film. In a year with an abundance of acclaimed movies with something meaningful to say — think “Barbie” or “Poor Things” — “Mean Girls” pales by comparison.

Sexy,” a number about the liberating experience of wearing sexy Halloween costumes, is entertaining but feels a little odd when you remember these are meant to be 16-year-olds.

Janice’s contrarian anthem, “I’d Rather Be Me,” has its own set of tonally incongruous lyrics. In the midst of her condemnation of her female classmates’ petty tendencies, she pivots to tepid statements about girls needing to share while boys get to fight. These lyrics are wholly out of place both in the original production and this adaptation.

The thematic value of these attempts at feminism are minimal — and frustrating due to the lost potential for the film to say something worthwhile.

Music and performances

Key performances by musical theater actors propel the film forward. 

Rapp serves up a delightful, vaguely sapphic Regina. Unsurprisingly, her vocal performance is stunning. The red-lit shots of her concocting her revenge during “World Burn” are uniquely exciting and fun to watch. Jaquel Spivey, most well-known for his breakout role as Usher in “A Strange Loop” on Broadway, also delivers a standout performance as Damien, a delightfully flamboyant new friend of Cady’s. 

Together, Rapp and Spivey speak to the strategic benefit of casting seasoned musical theater actors in a movie-musical. By comparison, much of the main cast lacks the skill and experience needed to execute such vocally demanding material.

Rice’s performance in “Stupid with Love” is particularly disappointing. Between the low energy and overproduction of her vocals, she seems unable to carry her primary number. Paired with bizarre camera angles, it feels like Rice is being sabotaged: Rice’s Cady didn’t at all embody the same naivete and confidence that Lohan did in the original.

Between the casting choices and music direction, this movie feels ashamed of being a musical. Compared to the Broadway production, the songs are shortened, downplayed and stripped of their more boisterous orchestration. Even the ensemble dances feel lifeless despite the talent of the performers. 

Our take

Despite its problems, the remake isn’t entirely lacking in heart. The adult characters, all celebrity cameos, are genuine and truly funny. Intelligent cuts were made to both the original script and the book of the musical, avoiding some of the more questionable comedic bits. For the most part, the jokes that remain land.

The movie is quite flawed. However, through some standout performances by young talent and older standbys, many moments manage to sing, regardless.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

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