Mean Girls (2024) : Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on January 10, 2024 in / No Comments

 

Rated PG-13 by the MPA for sexual material, strong language, and teen drinking. Contains a post-credits stinger. Running time: 112 minutes. Released by Paramount Pictures.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Mean Girls, Paramount PicturesWhen the original Mean Girls made its debut in April 2004, it found an audience eager for its classroom drama and its comedy which showed us at our backbiting worst. Twenty years on, its legacy can be found in the numerous “Get in, loser, we’re going _____” memes that pervade social media and the evergreen “Stop trying to make ___ happen” line whenever an unstylish trend threatens our existence. Not to mention the recent Wal-Mart commercial that included several of the film’s stars lampooning their original roles.

They’ve also cooked up a stage musical, which premiered right here in Washington, D.C., in 2017 and ran for almost two years to the day on Broadway before COVID shut it down. And just in time for its 20th birthday, a filmed adaptation of the Mean Girls musical is making its bow in theaters after being originally scheduled for Paramount’s streaming network. This isn’t a straight-up Broadway show being taped, à la Hamilton from 2020; this is, essentially, a remake of the 2004 original, only with the characters’ inner monologues converted to pop-driven songs backed by smashing choreography.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Mean Girls, Paramount PicturesBut somehow, this particular version made me care more about the film and its inhabitants than the original, and its performances had everything to do with it. The songs by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin are striking in aural and visual execution, but the actors sell the hell out of every moment, adding nuances and depth that take Mean Girls to new heights. Fresh meaning is given to the original’s themes of identity and insecurity through this cast, and I’d go so far as to say that this is one of the rare times when an update bests its original.

We’re still here to see how homeschooled transplant Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) finds her place in North Shore High School society, befriended by outcasts who almost instantly ask her to spy on the “Queen Bee” clique, who see Cady as more of a social project than a friend. Right away, Angourie Rice seems more believable than role originator Lindsay Lohan; Rice, known mostly for her appearances in the MCU’s Spider-Man films and Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, has flown under the radar and comes off as a relative unknown, perfectly suited to be the wide-eyed fresh face among a group of old peers. She makes Cady’s swing from smart and capable high school junior to cold-hearted member of The Plastics feel more real and more accessible in this outing. As the film’s anchor, Rice displays the chops needed to pull this role off, and she does it with a natural feel, as if she’s been there and remembers it all too well.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Mean Girls, Paramount PicturesOn one side of Cady stands the duo of Janis ‘Imi’ike (Auli’I Cravalho) and Damian Hubbard (Jaquel Spivey), two students who don’t fit in with the popular crowd, the band geeks, the stoners, or the nerds. Reaching out to Cady when everyone else slides over to fill the empty seat at their lunch table, Janis and Damian are the only two in the film who don’t assume; they’re the chorus of reason in a place where hyperbole reigns and friendships are made and broken with the tides. Known to most as the titular character in Moana, Auli’i Cravalho is a firework, pumping Janis full of snark and bluster which masks her own pain. Aiding and abetting her is newcomer Jaquel Spivey, who ekes out a wonderfully lovable character in Damian – a loyal, caring gay teen who only wants to see his friends happy. These two create sparks whenever they’re on screen, fairly stealing the film away from the rest of the cast.

To the other side stand The Plastics, a nickname given by Janis to a trio of alpha-type girls who rule the high school social castes with impunity. Led by the ruthless Regina George (Reneé Rapp), The Plastics pretty much dictate how life should be around them; everyone else is left with the choice of bowing or getting out of the way. Regina’s blessed with the brains, beauty, and sheer will to get what she wants, however she wants. Reneé Rapp – having played Regina on Broadway from 2019 to 2020 – slinks perfectly into her fiendish part, keeping everyone on her hooks as a way of self-preservation. There’s something more sly and cunning in Rapp’s portrayal versus that of Rachel McAdams in 2004; where McAdams went more for brute force, Rapp takes a more underhanded, understated approach to the character, imbuing Regina with a more tactilely merciless, subversive feel.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Mean Girls, Paramount PicturesRounding out The Plastics are the bubblehead Karen Shetty (Avantika) and neurotic Gretchen Wieners (Bebe Wood), who balance Regina’s bullishness with their own brand of antics. Karen’s just there to be the dimwit who spews clueless nonsense and serves as a whipping girl for her two compatriots; Gretchen has dirt on everybody and, since she can’t keep a secret, serves as Regina’s (and later, Cady’s) resident intel officer. Avantika is hilarious as the babbling Karen, so blithe in ignorance, yet endearing in an odd fashion. And as mile-a-minute talker Gretchen, Bebe Wood carries a lot of weight as someone whose need to be part of the popular clique comes with an enormous amount of self-image issues that come with being a slave to what others think of her.

Aside from its musical theater adornments, there’s little new in the way of plot or story (or even photographic choices) about this iteration of the beloved original. It’s a decidedly more inclusive film, blunted to avoid body- and sexuality-shaming and racial jokes that no longer fly in this day and age. (Well, except for the plot point about its lead character scheming to make another student gain weight.) The scourge of social media adds another layer to this little slice of high school hell, allowing for this facet of our lives to be used as another weapon young people wield carelessly. But at the heart of it, the best of the story and parts of the script remain almost wholly intact; it’s everything you loved about the original Mean Girls with the ultimate facelift.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on 4k or Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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