Musical version of Mean Girls boasts breezy tunes and easy storyline
The cycle of non-musical movies being turned into Broadway musicals and then back again into a movie musical is a fascinating one for those who love both sides. Other attempts at the trifecta – including The Producers, Hairspray, and The Color Purple – have taken up to 40 years to make the journey; Mean Girls went from film in 2004 to musical in 2017 and now back to movie musical in 2024, one of the shortest turnarounds on record.
It’s easy to see why it’s been a success in each form, as the story is mostly light and breezy. Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) is a new student at North Shore High School, one which – according to besties Janis (Auli’I Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey) – is divided into cliques. At the top of the heap are the Plastics, a trio of rich girls led by Regina George (Reneé Rapp).
Cady, who quickly gets a crush on Regina’s ex-boyfriend, Aaron (Christopher Briney), schemes with Janis and Damian to take Regina and her friends down a peg by infiltrating their group. But the more Cady hangs out with them, the more she starts to take on their traits, and it’s not long before Cady loses the sense of the person she was, and the person she wants to be.
Directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr., and written by Tina Fey (who’s written all three versions), the film is easy to like if you don’t overanalyze it. There are few major changes from either the original film or the stage musical, with all of the characters following roughly the same arcs. Many personality traits are heightened for comedic effect, giving any potential emotional connection a backseat in lieu of comic set pieces.
The focus is mainly on Cady’s interactions with the Plastics, but the best pairing on screen is Janis and Damian. The artistic duo, both of whom happen to be gay, are a delight every time they’re on screen not just because of their outsized personalities, but because they – and Cady for most of the film – seem to be the only genuine characters in the whole film.
If you didn’t know the musical’s songs prior to viewing, this version probably won’t have you humming them on the way home. The staging is mostly unmemorable save for the opening “A Cautionary Tale” and Regina’s big showcase in “Meet the Plastics.” Rice is clearly not a Broadway caliber singer, and you might find yourself straining to hear her soft tones in her handful of solo performances.
What ultimately makes the movie a fun one to watch is the actors. Rice has been on the rise in recent years, appearing in the newest Spider-Mantrilogy and HBO series Mare of Easttown, and she has the perfect demeanor to play both sides of this role. Cravalho (the erstwhile voice of Moana) and Spivey are magic together, turning their side characters into the heart of the story.
Rapp, reprising her role from Broadway, is the strongest singer of the bunch, even if she doesn’t quite have the appeal that Rachel McAdams had as Regina in the original film. For the adults in the room, appearances by Fey, Jenna Fischer, Tim Meadows, Jon Hamm, Busy Phillips, and Ashley Park (who originated the role of Gretchen on Broadway) are all greatly enjoyable.
While the movie musical version of Mean Girls doesn’t prove its existence as absolutely necessary, or as good as the original movie, it’s still much better entertainment than moviegoers are typically given in the middle of January. The story is easy to understand, the songs breeze by, and the actors bring everything they’ve got.
Mean Girls opens in theaters on January 12.