Get in, losers, we’re going back to North Shore High for the 2024 revival of the iconic Mean Girls. This new version of the film shares the name with the original and is a musical remake of the 2004 flick. Stay with me here. Mean Girls started as a movie, became a Broadway show, and is now a movie adaptation of the musical. That life cycle sounds like a cheap nostalgia cash grab, but Mean Girls (2024) is so totally grool.
Cady Heron (Angourie RIce) has been homeschooled in Kenya for her entire life, but her mom (Jenna Fischer) is suddenly offered a job in the American suburbs. Cady is thrown into the world of teenage high school drama. She’s taken under the wing of Janis (Auliʻi Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey), who guide her through the ins and outs of what it’s like to go to high school. The most popular clique at school is composed of three girls known as The Plastics. There’s Gretchen (Bebe Wood), the school’s secret keeper, Karen (Avantika), the dumbest person at school, and North Shore’s Queen Bee: Regina George (Reneé Rapp). The Plastics take Cady under their wing, but her new social standing could come crumbling down thanks to Cady’s crush on Regina’s ex-boyfriend, Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney).
It’s so refreshing to watch a musical movie directed by people who understand that a movie version of a Broadway show needs to be adapted for the new medium. A person on a stage belting out a song works well because the audience is drawn to the spectacle of the singer’s ability to perform live. A person standing mostly stationary, singing their heart out in their “I Want” solo doesn’t work on film because we lose the sensation of goosebumps experienced during a live performance. So what’s left? That’s where creative staging and camera work come into play to bring life back to the performance. First-time feature directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. completely understood what was required of them in this film. It’s difficult to say the songs make a lasting impression, because a mere twenty-four hours later not one remains bouncing around in my brain. It is, however, a testament to Jayne and Perez Jr.’s vision. They took a musical with zero Tony wins (but plenty of nominations), no famous songs, and a limited run on Broadway and turned it into something energetic, exuberant, and fun. What a joy it is to hear an audience come alive with raucous laughter, delighting and sharing in something together.
Even without the most memorable songs, Mean Girls would be missing something were this to be a straight remake of the original. Obviously, updates were made. Some popular jokes were cut and Janis and Damian finally got to be the out queer characters they should’ve been to start with. Rapp even admitted to leaning into Regina George’s queer undertones that existed in the original. Her “get in, loser” to Cady should absolutely be interpreted as flirting. Not to mention, this updated version gives a more nuanced, complex backstory to Regina and Janis’ falling out. The changes don’t stop there. Aaron Samuels has more personality (and even swoopier, dreamier eyes), Karen is dumber and better than ever, and Gretchen may not be descended from Toaster Strudel royalty, but her hair is still full of secrets. There’s no massive change to the source material and that’s fine. The fact that it’s a musical is enough of a change to feel both refreshed and familiar.
In the current sea of remakes, reboots, and sequels, Mean Girls unexpectedly stands above because it doesn’t follow the original beat for beat. It pays just enough homage to its beginnings while making a brand new path. The problem with nostalgia dictating content is that studios, producers, directors, whoever it may be, are too focused on paying fan service without making sure the film they’ve created can stand on its own. Mean Girls doesn’t beat a dead horse. There are brief nods to the original, but a lesser version of this film would drown itself in the nostalgia, breaking its back, falling over itself to shove in every tired joke, weak cameo, and uninspired repetitive reference until the film becomes more a shell of a movie than a work that stands on its own. Someone who walks into this new version of Mean Girls knowing nothing of the inside jokes will not be left behind. It’s a simple concept, not to alienate the newcomers, but the superhero-dominated box office we’ve been living in has made audiences feel like they need to know an entire decades-long backstory to appreciate the movie. Even though Mean Girls is known for “you can’t sit with us,” this new version welcomes all, making jokes for audience members old and new.
Jayne and Perez Jr. also lean into the camp absurdity of it all. There isn’t a single frame of the film that doesn’t exude joy, which is quite infectious. They accomplish not taking anything seriously, very seriously. It’s a hard act to juggle, especially when it comes to musicals. There’s something inherently ridiculous about breaking out into song and dance. In order for the audience to buy into this charade, the film needs to treat it seriously or embrace fantastical freedom and create a world of magical realism. It doesn’t work if even one of the actors starts taking themself seriously in a different way. Mean Girls is not so bad it’s good. It’s good, smart, goofy fun. A riotous great time supported by a phenomenal cast of young talent. No one is attempting to mimic the performance from the original and everyone brings their own voice to these characters. Mean Girls isn’t really known for the depth of its characters. They’re stereotypes who show how insecure and mean teenagers can be. This allows for the young actors to make the roles their own. Rice has proven time and again that she’s one of Hollywood’s most exciting young actors, and some of us have been singing her praises for years. Her version of Cady feels grounded, earnest, and sweet in a way Lindsay Lohan’s did not. Rice’s rendition of “Stupid with Love” isn’t a powerhouse vocal performance, but it is the perfect summation of being a high schooler who’s completely lovestruck. Much of the cast comes from Broadway and musical theater backgrounds, with Cravalho and Spivey being the clear standouts. They open the film with their fourth-wall-breaking narration and they’re immediately charming, bringing a larger-than-life sensibility to the screen.
There’s nothing quite like the theatrical experience of a comedy where the whole audience is wrapped up in the joy of what’s on the screen. Mean Girls gives that experience to those who are willing to embrace its charming, hilarious take on the seminal teen movie. Perhaps this rendition of the film will have its own effect on the movie industry and inspire more movie musicals to make their way onto our screens. If Mean Girls has proven anything, it’s that this is the best version of what a reboot can be. Something familiar, yet new and fresh, standing on its own. Dare I say, Mean Girls stands taller than the original.