MEAN GIRLS (2024)
Release Date: 01/12/24 [Cinemas]
Genre: Comedy. Musical.
Studio: Paramount Pictures.
"Cady Heron is a hit with the Plastics, an A-list girl clique at her new school when she makes the mistake of falling for Aaron Samuels, the ex-boyfriend of alpha Plastic Regina George."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
The impending release of the new Mean Girls movie has sparked widespread confusion, with many questioning the necessity of revisiting this iconic film through a remake. This bewilderment is a deliberate outcome of the marketing strategy, which purposefully obscures the fact that this isn't a direct remake of the 2004 classic. Instead, it is a film adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical, itself inspired by the original film. The updated version incorporates the musical's songs but takes a different approach by attempting to rejuvenate the original screenplay rather than adapting from the musical's script.
Despite some commendable aspects, such as the enjoyable music, the elimination of problematic elements, and Reneé Rapp's standout performance as Regina George, the film falls short. It largely relies on recycling the 2004 script in between musical numbers, limiting the space for the actors to breathe life into these iconic characters and risking lapses in cohesion. This duality of success and shortcomings sets the stage for a nuanced exploration of the film's overall impact.
Paramount Pictures chose to conceal the musical nature of the film in its initial marketing, purportedly influenced by the belief that contemporary audiences are less inclined towards movie musicals. While this assertion is open to debate, ironically, Mean Girls excels precisely because it embraces its identity as a musical. The film maintains a consistent suspension of disbelief, allowing the transition from dialogue to musical numbers to occur seamlessly, in contrast to other movie musicals where songs may feel abrupt. With musical interludes punctuating the narrative regularly, the film cultivates a lively atmosphere, ensuring an enjoyable and sustained viewing experience for audiences throughout its entire runtime.
The 2018 musical adaptation of the film managed to address certain problematic aspects, although it introduced a few issues of its own. In the 2024 film, a conscious effort is made to complete this transformation by entirely eliminating problematic elements. Any jokes targeting specific races or gender identities are removed, and characters' last names are replaced with culturally appropriate ones, reflecting their identities rather than resorting to generic stereotypical names associated with minority status. This subtle alteration, noticeable primarily to those intimately familiar with the film, renders it considerably more timeless and rewatchable for future audiences. In contrast to the 2004 version, which occasionally prompts cringe-worthy moments due to its choice of humor, these changes contribute to a more inclusive and enduring viewing experience. While some may fear that this adjustment "tones down" the film to align with modern notions of political correctness, rest assured that the classic, raunchy Mean Girls humor remains prevalent throughout the narrative, opting not to rely on jokes related to characters' identities.
While this minor adjustment significantly enhances the film overall, the screenplay compensates by choosing not to update any other aspects. Aside from the seamlessly integrated musical numbers, there is virtually no deviation between the dialogue in this rendition of the film and the original 2004 version. It appears as though Tina Fey literally divided her script and inserted the musical segments in between, resulting in a jarring, Frankenstein-esque adaptation and remake. Entire sections of dialogue are repeated on numerous occasions, and rather than evoking nostalgia from the original film, they only detract from the new version's intended impact, hindering the performances of many main characters.
In any remake or adaptation of a classic or cult piece of media, the primary challenge for actors lies in creating a fresh version of the characters they portray. While it's tempting to replicate existing characters, it can be overly redundant for audiences. Regrettably, the script doesn't provide much room for improvement for several characters. Although Angourie Rice initially charms as the socially awkward and naive Cady Heron, her transition to a mean girl feels abrupt and almost out of nowhere. In one moment, she's doe-eyed and enthusiastic, and after a relatively lengthy musical sequence, she appears dressed differently, sporting a new personality. The lack of character development accompanying this sudden shift makes it seem like a desperate attempt to fulfill necessary plot points rather than a natural progression in the narrative.
Additionally, Karen is another character that struggles in this version. While I believe the shortcomings may stem more from the actor's portrayal or the director's instructions for the character, she still comes across as shallow. Although that might seem paradoxical, given that Karen is the quintessential shallow character of the mean girls clique, her portrayal lacks authenticity for me. Despite having plenty of new and genuinely funny lines, distinct from her 2004 version, her presence in the film feels more like an actress instructed to "play dumb" rather than an actor creating a fully fleshed-out and realistic character. While this may seem subtle, it makes the difference between a character fully immersed in the film as someone genuinely oblivious, and someone who is clearly acting, merely putting on a funny performance for intentional laughs.
Conversely, Gretchen is a surprising character who benefits from subtle nuances in the script, carving out her own distinctive identity in this new film version. As my personal favorite Mean Girl, Bebe Wood skillfully embraces the essence of this character, seizing every opportunity to embody her. Wood's rendition of the solo piece "What’s Wrong With Me?" is notably transformed in the film. While it stands out as one of my least favorite songs from the musical version—coming off as whiny and cringe-worthy on stage—Wood uses this cinematic opportunity to internalize the profound insecurities and anxieties that Gretchen faces. The result is a scene that, while still infused with comedy, becomes one of the more heartwarming moments in the film. It focuses on a character desperately yearning for approval and placing blame on herself, adding depth and poignancy to Gretchen's portrayal.
In the titular role, Reneé Rapp adeptly tackles the character of Regina George, completely redefining her for her own interpretation. While Rachel McAdams' Regina George remains an iconic portrayal as the cunty Queen Bee of the Plastics, Rapp fully embraces the character's description, authentically embodying a true mean girl. Whereas Adams' portrayal could easily be seen as embodying a persona celebrated in gay spaces—being mean for the sake of being fierce—Rapp goes deeper, portraying a girl who is not only mean for the sake of it but is downright cruel in an attempt to veil her own insecurities. This version of Regina George genuinely feels like a girl who could have been a high school bully, yet she still manages to evoke the same cuntiness and iconography as McAdams' original portrayal. As an up-and-coming, arguably already successful musician, this performance undoubtedly marks Rapp's star-making turn, showcasing her prowess both as a singer and an actor.
The new Mean Girls undoubtedly offers an enjoyable experience for audiences, providing a fun revamp of a classic teen flick, however, it's not without its shortcomings. The songs are uplifting and leave a positive impact, yet the repetitive script, in comparison to its 2004 original, might pose a challenge for some viewers to overlook. Nevertheless, it's an experience that I personally enjoyed, and I would by no means discourage anyone who wants to give it a chance from seeing this film.