The new adaptation of Mean Girls (Screenplay by Tina Fey, Directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr.) skillfully brings the beloved coming-of-age story to a new generation. The production is slick, the storyline updates are effective, and Renee Rapp is phenomenal as Regina George. While the now-classic lines in Mean Girls may not land as well twenty years later, the 2024 film brings to a fresh audience important lessons on genuine friendship and the trap of “have it all” feminism.
“Mean Girls” (2024) is the Latest in New Movie Musicals
Mean Girls is a “cautionary tale” about a teenage girl who loses her sense of self to gain the approval of others. When Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) moves from a homeschool life in Kenya to an American high school, she is unexpectedly accepted into the popular clique, the Plastics. She endeavors to take down the school’s Queen Bee, Regina George (Rapp), only to transform into an even more ruthless version of her. Fortunately, it’s never too late to say sorry, do the right thing, and get your life back on track. (Although it’s preferable to do all that before someone gets hit by a bus.) The new adaptation is quite faithful to the original, but with one major twist: it’s a musical.
Mean Girls is the latest in a series of movie musicals that were not promoted as such, including The Color Purple, Wonka, and (to a lesser extent) Barbie. Much has been written about this odd trend, but in the case of Mean Girls, the confusion within the trailer (which featured music from Olivia Rodrigo, but not from the musical) reflected the identity crisis within the movie itself. Why does Mean Girls (2024) exist? Was the goal to do an updated version of the story, catering to a Gen-Z audience? Or was the goal to bring the Broadway musical (music by Jeff Richmond, Lyrics by Nell Benjamin) to the screen? As is, the movie seems to be doing a little of both, and neither fully.
Mean Girls is best when it gives over fully to being a musical and it’s funniest when the jokes are new. While almost all of the quotable lines from the original are in the new version (“She doesn’t even go here!”), they don’t land as well after two decades. The joy of a punchline is in the surprise, and there are very few surprises here. However, riffs on these lines and self-referential jokes got big laughs in the theater. (“She sounds great, but she STILL DOESN’T GO HERE!”) Tina Fey is an incredibly talented comedic writer with no shortage of new material. It’s a shame that so much of the new movie is filled up by fan service to old material.
“Mean Girls” (2024) Updates the Beloved Story for Gen-Z
In the few places where they did update the story, the changes were refreshing. The backstory between Regina and Janice (Auli’i Cravalho) is fuller and more heartbreaking. Now we know that Regina’s homophobic bullying eventually drove Janice to act out violently, cementing her bad reputation for years to come. Deemphasizing the Burn Book in favor of TikTok was also the right choice. Today, the nastiness of the Burn Book seems downright quaint when compared to the brutality of social media. Cady’s bad actions are no longer confined to just her school: She goes so viral that Megan Thee Stallion knows about her shenanigans. And that kind of shame sticks with a person.
Another high point of the movie is Renee Rapp, who played Regina George on Broadway (the role was originated by Taylor Louderman). She brings a raw, hypnotizing authority to the role that has us truly believing she is “the Apex Predator.” She also brings a new layer to the character. As a true Gen-Z teen, she knows just enough psychology to be dangerous, playing on Dylan’s (Christopher Briney’s) emotions as she intentionally guilts him into choosing her over Cady. In “Someone Gets Hurt” she croons, “Poor little me / All trapped in this fabulous show. / You could set me free. / But if you’re going… go!” 2024’s Regina has a high degree of emotional intelligence, and she’s unafraid to use it for ill.
“Mean Girls” Teaches Gen-Z Important Lessons on Friendship and Feminism
The heart of Mean Girls is a message about the value of genuine friendship, inherent dignity, and honoring our values. For all its flaws, the new adaptation delivers this message in a whole-hearted way to a new generation. It also takes a step further in acknowledging the very real traps that a “have it all” brand of feminism has set for young girls. As Karen (Avantika Vandanapu) sings in “Sexy”: “This is modern feminism talking / I expect to run the world / in shoes I cannot walk in.” Girls today aren’t just expected to be thin and hot – they’re also expected to be self-confident, leaders, intelligent, and self-actualized. By the time you’re 16, you should have done enough therapy to overcome your childhood trauma and be ready to take on the world. Of course, none of this is realistic. No adult on Earth has it all figured out, much less teenagers. But where we are in our journey is good, and true friends are the people who love us the way we are while also pushing us to be better.
As Cady sings as she breaks her plastic crown, “You are so real / you are so rare / I see you there I see you.”