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Home » Is The ‘Mean Girls’ Movie Musical A Glorious Revisitation Or The Worst Idea In Forever?

Is The ‘Mean Girls’ Movie Musical A Glorious Revisitation Or The Worst Idea In Forever?

A cinematic cultural touchstone launched in the early 2000s. A Broadway musical that made the Plastics and everyone else, well, sing, in 2018. And now a movie version of that same musical. “Mean Girls” is either the gift that keeps giving or, at this point, it’s the white elephant present that nobody wants.

Predictably, perhaps for such a beloved and also two-decades-old property, the response to the newest iteration has been all over the place. Embedded in those responses is a treatise on the capabilities of retreads and movie musicals themselves.

‘It’s flashy but lacks emotional weight’20 years can do a lot — or little — to a movie’s script. Much of the allure of the original “Mean Girls” film was its biting commentary and quotability. Well, as times and taste have changed, Tina Fey updated a number of the original script’s jokes and plot points. For example, in the new “Mean Girls” movie musical, the queerness of Janis, played by Auliʻi Cravalho, is not the butt of jokes. “But also gone is the line, ‘Oh my god, Karen, you can’t just ask people why they’re white,'” noted Kristy Puchko on Mashable. “This suggests that Fey’s revision was less aimed at clearing away dated or problematic jokes and more about dulling the edges of anything that might risk being provocative.” An edgeless “Mean Girls” is just “Harmlessly Unkind Girls.” As Maureen Lee Lenker of Entertainment Weekly put it, “Part of the genius of the original Mean Girls was how it captured the downright viciousness of teenage girls, and some of that predatory bite has been muzzled here.”

Much of the original’s now-timeless humor had to stay, of course, but in the new movie those references are often played with a knowing wink-wink nudge-nudge. That relentless homage to the original, according to some critics, doesn’t play well. “It’s bizarre for a film remake to couch itself so heavily on that same familiarity, recycling jokes enough times that it comes across as cynical. It begs the question of why you wouldn’t just watch the original again,” wrote Leigh Monson for AV Club.

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And, oh, the varied gripes people have about the right way to make a movie musical. “All the effervescence and fun have been drained out of the material in this labored reincarnation, a movie musical made by people who appear to have zero understanding of movie-musical vernacular,” said The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney. “The songs seldom spring organically from the story and more often feel so awkwardly shoehorned in that you come to dread them.” 

‘A surprising alchemy occurs’Others would beg to disagree, and instead celebrate the new film’s deft handling of the movie-musical genre. “Not every movie — indeed, almost no movie — was meant to be turned into a musical,” wrote Owen Gleiberman of Variety. “But the trend of doing so has become more common over the last two decades, and when you see a movie-to-musical transformation that really works, a surprising alchemy occurs,” and, for Gleiberman, “Mean Girls” the movie musical very much works. Similarly, “not since Rob Marshall and “Chicago” has a feature film debut shown such a confident, innate understanding of the musical genre and how to make it cinematic for a modern audience,” noted Lenker of Entertainment Weekly. 

This, fans of the singing movie version of “Mean Girls,” argue is the preternatural impact of putting music in the mouths of these iconic characters. Take queen Plastic Regina George, as played by Renee Rapp, in the new “Mean Girls”: “From the moment her smirking lips appear in close-up, sultry-singing, ‘My name is Regina George, and I am a massive deal,’ she has us hooked,” said Puchko of Mashable. So much so that, according to Gleiberman, “you may wonder for a moment how Rachel McAdams, in the original film, made the impact she did without that song.”

Retreads are terrible; retreads are sublime when handled astutely. Movie musicals are terrible; movie musicals are sublime when handled astutely. No easy consensus to be found. The best assessment of the 2024 “Mean Girls” movie musical might be an Instagram story posted by the new film’s Damian, Jaquel Spivey.

He compiled a screenshot of a news headline from Screen Rant, “Mean Girls Box Office Nearly Recoups Movie’s Entire Budget in Opening Weekend,” alongside Angela Bassett’s “If God be for you, who can be against you?” moment from her 2019 acceptance speech at Black Girls Rock. The sweetest revenge of all is not the Burn Book, but those box office receipts.