by Philip Price
Directors: Samantha Jayne & Arturo Perez Jr.
Starring: Angourie Rice, Renee Rapp & Auli'l Cravalho
Rated: PG-13 (sexual material, strong language & teen drinking)
Runtime: 1 hour & 52 minutes
Like so many movies these days, 2024's “Mean Girls” first had to prove its reasons for existing were valid. And like so many movies these days, I tend to appreciate them for where they succeed rather than condemning them for where they don't. In the broad scheme of things, this new “Mean Girls” movie is perfectly fine, but when remaining within the stratosphere of this movie adaptation of a stage musical that itself was adapted from a 20-year-old feature film based on a 2002 non-fiction bestseller titled Queen Bees & Wannabes it becomes something bigger, something more; an investment in the material and the thought behind it.
"Like all history, this is emotionally layered and culturally dense." I was 17 in 2004 when the original Tina Fey adaptation was released, I remember writing about it for my school newspaper, and realizing Fey had officially made the leap while simultaneously cementing Lindsay Lohan as a figurehead of my generation. “Mean Girls” never didn't feel like a big deal and so it wasn't surprising so many of the jokes and bits from that original film endured, but because of the endurance factor, I couldn't help but wonder what the translation to the modern high school experience might have to say about our less PC and, as a result, more merciless environment. Additionally, I’d never seen the stage play and was thus unfamiliar with the production and music (written by Fey's husband, Jeff Richmond with lyrics by Nell Benjamin).
It's somewhat remarkable how much has changed and/or been updated from the original yet how much has remained the same. This film inherently feels the same as the 2004 iteration, hitting the same story beats, and recycling many of the hallmark jokes, but while Richmond and Benjamin's music and lyrics don't necessarily stick in your head as you drive home after the movie what they do in the moment - when you're existing within the film's world - is further explore the complicated and anxiety-riddled moments that come with navigating the social scene of high school no matter the decade. To boot, directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. (making their feature debut) do well to stage enough of the musical numbers in creative fashions often finding ways to allow whoever is singing lead to spread their wings while simultaneously doing the same for each joke the lyrics drop-in. Moana AKA Auli'i Cravalho's rendition of "I'd Rather Be Me" and Avantika Vandanapu's "Sexy" are the highlights, but there are plenty of small moments sprinkled throughout each number to recognize the material is still sharp in its vacuousness.
Apart from launching the next phase of Fey's career and establishing Lohan as a pillar of that time and presence outside of her film roles the original “Mean Girls” also introduced my generation to Rachel McAdams (who would follow this with “The Notebook” the same year and then with “Wedding Crashers” the following summer, a true Jackson 5-esque level string of initial hits) who is arguably responsible for making so much of the mythos around Regina George as big as it has become. McAdams also has the undying love and appreciation of every male and female of a certain age, I can't stress that enough. All that to say, Reneé Rapp (who I had no prior awareness of, but did learn she played the role on stage) faced an uphill battle and while I didn't mind her take on the role - she is a gifted singer and performer - the plastics as a whole failed to make the indention required despite Rapp's version taking on a more diva-like quality than McAdams’ due to the musical aspect. Furthermore, Angourie Rice and Christopher Briney are perfectly adequate in their "meet cute" of a love story, but Cravalho and (Tony nominated) Jaquel Spivey are indisputably the stars and standouts of a film that didn't need to exist, sure, but I'm glad does.