‘Mean Girls’ musical remake fails to escape the shadow of the iconic original

February 8, 2024 — by Sasha Prasad
Lackluster casting, poor musicality and unnecessary plot changes combine to undermine the production.

Though first aired what feels like lifetimes ago in 2004, “Mean Girls” has remained a comfort movie  — and cautionary tale — for teens around the world ever since. 

The plot is fairly simple: Cady Heron, who has been homeschooled in Africa all her life, moves to Chicago and enters high school, where she encounters “the girl world,” otherwise known as toxic popularity, for the first time. 

She quickly figures out the system and steals the spot of Regina George, queen bee of the “Plastics,” a clique at the top of the social hierarchy. In the process, though, she loses her love for math, empathy and real friendships in her new position of power, and in the end the girls realize their divisions are trivial and disband the “Plastics.” 

The original “Mean Girls” transcended typical box office success to become a cultural phenomenon. What makes the movie so iconic that it has stayed popular for two decades? Many teens can relate to the body image and social insecurities the movie addresses while indulging in its sharp comedy and colorful characters. 

Twenty years after the original movie aired, Paramount released “Mean Girls, 2024,” an adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical “Mean Girls” (yes, they made a musical version and then a movie-musical from it). The 2024 adaptation, for the most part, follows the same plot as the 2004 version — oftentimes actors recited the exact same lines as the original. The key difference between the two versions is that the film’s creators also tried to appeal to a younger audience in the newer version, specifically Gen Z viewers, by excluding outdated aspects of the original such as the Plastics hanging out at the mall every day and using flip phones. 

Unfortunately, as a result of these changes, the film found itself caught between its millennial and Gen Z audiences. The original film fit perfectly in its era, when early 2000s films starring blonde girls surrounded by drama (think “Legally Blonde” and “Gossip Girl”) were all the rage. 

The new film? Not so much. While the writers attempted to “modernize” the film through TikTok filters and pop culture references, much of the film’s subject matter does not reflect typical teen behaviors today. In order to resonate with the audience, the movie either needed to be set in the early 2000s or rewritten based on current “mean girl” high school trends. Neither of those options happened; and consequently, the message of the movie became diluted. 

Moreover, the producers made a crucial mistake in cutting out a large amount of the original humor. It is understandable that many of the jokes in 2004 would not pass in 2024s cancel culture — such as Regina’s homophobic comments about Janice, or a scene where Cady walks in on a pedophilic coach and a student together in the janitor’s closet. However, instead of substituting offensive bits with sharp and witty (and socially acceptable) humor, the writers inserted unfunny jokes. In short, the new movie lost the original’s humorous edge.

Many watchers were also caught off guard when a song played in the first five minutes of the film, because the movie was not properly promoted as a musical.  These songs may have worked on Broadway, but they fell flat in the film production. The vocals, besides pop powerhouse Renee Rapp singing “World Burn” as Regina George, were dull, and the choreography resembled generic Tik Tok dances. 

While Rapp had prior experience playing Regina on Broadway, the 2024 movie swerved and took Regina’s character in a different direction. Here, the producers made the decision to make Regina more overtly mean as well as vulnerable. Though Rapp captured Regina’s character for the most part, she lacked the deceptively sweet appearance and sense of passive aggressive underhandedness that made Regina so unique in the original. 

On the other hand, fellow members of the “Plastics”: Gretchen (Bebe Wood) and Karen (Avantika Vandapo); the outliers: Janice (Auliʻi Cravalho) and Damien (Jaquel Spivey); and the main love interest Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney) all added more depth to their characters than the original actors. 

The same cannot be said for Angourie Rice, who played the main character Cady Heron. In this rendition, Cady was timid and shy instead of charismatic and confident, which makes her revenge arc all the less compelling. Even when she plotted and came to power as the “new” Regina George, she came across as being more misguided than malicious. Ultimately, Rice was not convincing in her role and the essential parts of Cady’s character were absent.

The musical film also fell short in terms of wardrobe, which was a large aspect of the original. Mini skirts, pink pumps, flared jeans, Converse, flannels and velour tracksuits are only a few of the Plastics fashion staples in “Mean Girls” 2004. In the Gen Z paradox, the outfits looked effortless and cheap. Rather than leaning into Y2K, stylist Tom Broecker attempted to modernize the looks — but the outfits worn by the Plastics were not unique and prominent, nor were they realistic depictions of what teens wear to school in today’s world.

A movie remake is successful only when it elevates the original. While the “Mean Girls” 2024 attempted to merge the 2004 and 2024 high school experiences in order to attract viewers across both generations, the result lacks cohesion. It fell short in far too many departments: the music and dancing, the casting of key characters, the fashion and the humor. It lost the essence of both Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” on Broadway, as well as the original Mean Girls — maybe the bar was too high to begin with.

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