8 Reasons Why the New ‘Mean Girls’ Is *Actually* So Fetch
Feb 1, 2024   •   Mikhail Lecaros
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Feb 1, 2024   •   Mikhail Lecaros
The musical remake of Mean Girls is here! 20 years after trying to make “fetch” happen, the new film combines elements of the 2004 classic and its 2018 Broadway adaptation. With original creator Tina Fey and actor Tim Meadows reprising their roles as teachers alongside a new cast of stars, can lightning strike twice?
Read on to find out!
In 2004, Mean Girls solidified Lindsay Lohan (The Parent Trap) and Rachel McAdams (The Notebook) as bona fide movie stars, while etching its own indelible mark on pop culture. Written by Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live) with inspiration from non-fiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes, the film was smart, funny, and endlessly quotable. 20 years on, the fashion may have changed, but Mean Girls has lost none of its relevance or appeal.
Cady Heron (Angourie Rice, Spider-Man: No Way Home) is a new student at North Shore High School. Freshly arrived from Kenya, Cady is introduced to the ways of her new surroundings by Janis (Auliʻi Cravalho, Moana) and Damian (Tony Award-winner Jaquel Spivey). Cady soon crosses paths with the Queen Bee of NoRegina George (Reneé Rapp, The Sex Lives of College Girls), North Shore’s resident Queen Bee and leader of the so-called “Plastics”.
Flanked by fellow mean girls Karen (Avantika) and Gretchen (Bebe Wood, Love, Victor), Regina George is at the top of the school’s social ladder. When Cady learns of how Regina George treated Janis in the past, the new friends will set out to teach her a lesson she’ll never forget.
Seeing as the new film largely adapts the 2018 Broadway musical (with bits of the 2004 film woven in for good measure), it’s insane that Mean Girls’ trailers went the Wonka route of pretending the movie isn’t a musical at all. For some reason, Hollywood studios seem scared of musicals these days – unless it’s a Disney animation, a Stephen Spielberg-directed, or Lin-Manuel Miranda-produced affair, chances are you’d be surprised when characters burst into non-diegetic song.
It’s a shame, too, as the Broadway angle puts a whole new spin on the proceedings, with the cast singing and dancing their hearts out in a manner that honors what came before while recontextualizing it for the TikTok generation.
Right off the bat, we’re in new territory, as Janis and Damian take on the narrator duties previously fulfilled by Lohan’s Cady. Cravalho, known to audiences as the lead in Moana, pairs well with the Tony-nominated (for 2023’s A Strange Loop) Spivey, and the duo’s chemistry adds punch to their many comedic scenes. Their take on “Revenge Party” is particularly infectious, with lyrics alluding to hilarity (“Imagine a party with dresses and cake”) and homicide (“A party that ends/With entrails all over the lawn”) in a high-energy dance tune. Cravalho’s side of the duets is impressive enough, but she outdoes herself with her solo number, “I’d Rather Be Me”, which adds much-welcome layers to the Janis character.
Starting out on the side of the non-plastics, Rice brings the right amount of wide-eyed optimism and innocence to Cady. While her acting hits a lot of the same beats we saw before, Rice distinguishes herself in the musical numbers, particularly “What Ifs”, which was written specifically for this film. While the 2004 version presented Cady as simply naïve, the new song reframes her as a (Disney Princess-esque) dreamer seeking to go beyond her safe zone.
In theory, this should have opened Cady up to all sorts of new situations, but the film is content to stay in safe, familiar territory. This is exacerbated by stripping Cady of her narrator role – there’s a disconnect between her being the main character, and having her story told by the supporting cast, who (unlike her) have all benefited from their Gen Z glow-ups. The result is Cady being a little too vanilla, which ultimately lessens the impact of her character’s eventual Plastic turn.
The one character who will have everyone talking is Reneé Rapp’s Regina George, and rightfully so – the girl kills it every time she’s onscreen. Having assayed the character on Broadway (as a replacement for Taylor Louderman, who originated the part) from 2019-2020, Rapp’s take is as iconic, twisted, and brilliant as the material demands. She nails her character’s self-centered nature, and her stunning vocals are the icing on the cake. Seeing Rapp perform in “Meet the Plastics” and “Someone Gets Hurt” is worth the price of admission, and if they announced a remake or spinoff entirely from Regina George’s point of view, we’d all be on board, without question.
Rapp’s fellow Plastics are equally memorable; Bebe Wood as secret-keeper Gretchen Wieners makes an impact with her mournful rendition of “What’s Wrong With Me?”, to be sure, while Avantika brings the house down as lovable ditz Karen. Indeed, one of the film’s best-staged sequences has Karen calling out everything from sexy doctors to sexy corn in the appropriately-titled “Sexy”, and it’s hilarious. Wood and Avantika may have less to do here than in the stage version, but their spirited portrayals make Gretchen and Karen more than just Regina George’s sidekicks.
Tina Fey’s writing is sharp as ever, the overall theme of female solidarity ringing true and clear (but now with social media updates). Cady has to learn her lesson the hard way, and the script thankfully doesn’t sink to the level of schmaltz or cheap sentimentality to drive that notion home.
In revisiting two-decade-old work, it was probably inevitable for the writer to take a couple of victory laps, which Fey does via specific lines and callbacks. For the most part, these are worked organically (as in the case of the students acting like jungle animals during the “Apex Predator” number), while others were too cloying and self-congratulatory. To wit: there was literally no reason for, “She doesn’t even go here!” to be reiterated three whole times, while the execution of Glen Coco’s infamous shoutout draws so much attention to itself, it’s embarrassing.
Sure, these bits of fanservice got a couple of chuckles, but when a joke’s hilarity is almost entirely dependent on one’s familiarity with the 2004 version, then it negates the purpose of reaching out to a new audience in the first place. In any case, most of the new jokes land without any help (the iCarly gag was priceless), which makes the relentless pandering to nostalgia stick out even more. Fey finds things for the likes of Ashley Park (Broadway’s original Gretchen, Emily in Paris) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men, Top Gun: Maverick) to do, so it’s not like she couldn’t have come up with new stuff, one just wishes there was more of it.
Renée Rapp’s Regina George almost justifies the Mean Girls remake all by herself, while the many obvious winks and nods will probably drive people to rewatch the original classic to make sure they get all the references. All things considered, the strength of the material shines through, and there’s more than enough here to make for a fun night at the movies.
After all, plastic is forever.
Mean Girls opens on February 7.
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