Mean Girls (2024) is a movie based on a Broadway musical, based on a movie, based on a book. I have not seen the musical on stage, but I have read the book (Queen Bees and Wannabes), and the first movie came out when I was barely still in high school. So, the bar for the musical was high in this Elder Millennial’s opinion. The new Mean Girls features some great songs and funny new writing but still pales in comparison to the original.
The plot of the musical is familiar. Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) and her mom (Jenna Fischer) move to Chicago after living in Kenya for years. During an awkward first day in public school, Cady is befriended by outsiders Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey) and introduced to the popular clique, the Plastics: Regina (Reneé Rapp), Gretchen (Bebe Wood), and Karen (Avantika). Because Cady is conventionally attractive, the Plastics welcome her into their group, and Janis takes the opportunity to use her insider status to knock Regina down a peg. Cady goes along with the plan so she has cover to flirt with Regina’s ex-boyfriend, Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney). Tina Fey and Tim Meadows reprise their roles as the math teacher, Ms. Norbury, and Principal Duvall, only this time they’re in a relationship after that flirtation twenty years ago. Fey’s bestie Jon Hamm has a tragically small cameo as Coach Carr. Ashley Park of Emily in Paris fame plays the French teacher (wink wink). And Lindsay Lohan also appears.
I laughed often during the new Mean Girls, but rarely at lines reprised from the original. Oddly, the delivery of those moments usually fell flat, as though iconic lines pulled the actors out of the performance for a beat. Plenty of nods to the first film worked well, including outfits inspired by original costumes and jokes about the elapsed time between. The new movie, however, is at its best when it allows the performers to own their portrayal of the characters. The chemistry between Janis and Damian may be the best part. Auli’i Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey give the iconic friendship a more joyful spin. Avantika plays Karen with extra airheadedness and garnered many of the biggest laughs.
Weaker than the clunky line reads was the styling of the characters. The production seems torn between paying homage and giving the teenagers a Gen-Z update. Many of the costumes make no sense or are so ill-fitting I was distracted by the costuming—rarely a good sign. Regina’s pink outfit and her weirdly baggy leather outfit were awful. Auli’i Cravalho’s makeup as Janis, however, was especially cool.
So, what works about Mean Girls? The music added a fun, energetic new layer to the story, and the production quality of the musical numbers made a new movie feel worthwhile. The chemistry between the actors also delivers. No, this Mean Girls does not recapture the magic of the original, but setting aside the comparison, it stands on its own as a funny sendup of cliquishness with talented performers and plenty of new laughs.
Mean Girls was written by Tina Fey and directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. It runs 112 minutes and is rated PG-13.
During the holiday break between issues of The Waynedale News, a flurry of movies hit theaters and streaming services ahead of Award Season, including May December and Maestro on Netflix. May December, loosely inspired by Mary Kay Letourneau takes a critical look at a woman (Julianne Moore) who got involved with a young teen, ultimately marrying him, through the eyes of an actress (Natalie Portman) set to star as her in a movie. The plot is disturbing enough on its own, but the incredible performances of Moore and Portman, mirroring each other and toying with each other’s heads take the story from Lifetime fodder to a fascinating character study. The story has a real ick factor, but the actresses’ work is worth seeing.
Maestro, Bradley Cooper’s long-promoted biopic about conductor Leonard Bernstein features some strikingly beautiful cinematography and a knock-out performance by Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre, Bernstein’s wife. In Cooper’s performance, however, there are notes of caricature and times when you can see him swinging for the fence. The whole production feels like his bid for greatness more than an attempt to do justice to Bernstein and Montealegre’s complicated lives and relationship. The film superficially addresses Bernstein’s Jewishness and his queerness and wholly overlooks the couple’s activism, especially Montealegre’s. It is a boring, self-satisfied movie.
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