‘Mean Girls’ Review: Renee Rapp Can’t Save This Muddled Musical Remake

The film was initially planned as a Paramount+ release before pivoting to theaters

"Mean Girls"
"Mean Girls" (CREDIT: Paramount)

In 2004 audiences felt personally victimized by Rachel McAdams’ Regina George, learned the word “gruel” (a combo of cool and great), and set out to mimic a salacious dance tuned to “Jingle Bell Rock” thanks to Tina Fey’s teen comedy “Mean Girls.”

Not only was the film a financial success, it treated teens like adults while being wickedly funny and smart. Since that time, the world of teen filmdom has changed extensively and in the grand tradition of the snake eating its own tail Hollywood has gone back to “Mean Girls” to tell the same story, again, albeit in a slightly different way.

Paramount’s new take on “Mean Girls” is a hybrid mash-up of both the original film and elements from the 2017 Broadway musical. (Though you wouldn’t know that as the trailers for this new iteration haven’t played up the musical component.)

The game has changed though the players are the same, with the story still involving white African transplant Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) moving to an American high school and coming under the sway of the Plastics, teen royalty led by the villainous but fabulous Regina George (Renee Rapp).

Initially planned as a Paramount+ release, the biggest problem “Mean Girls” 2024 has is its uncertainty with regards to its audiences. It clearly wants to cater to fans of the Broadway show and Gen Zers who love Renee Rapp, but also wants the millennial fanbase that still quotes the original film. But the script, which Fey returned to write, is so lean as to have no story at all. Despite being 15 minutes longer than the original, there’s no fat to be found nor is there any real meat.

In the time it takes Cady to sing one song we’ve already learned about her life in Africa, met her perpetually dizzy mother (a wasted Jenna Fischer), and dropped her into North Shore High. All that in the time it takes to watch a Tiktok video. And that sparsity of exposition extends to Cady meeting friends Janis and Damien (Auli’i Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey, respectively), who emphasize their deep friendship with Cady in spite of having one scene of genuine interaction. Even the meanness of the Plastics comes down to one sequence where Rapp growls — yes, growls — at another girl sitting with the boyfriend of fellow Plastic, Gretchen Weiners (Bebe Wood).

Elements like the original film’s narration gave audiences a glimpse into the character’s headspace where here it’s just baldly presented with no context. Most importantly, the original film told audiences how teen girls were acting and thinking in a post-9/11 landscape where three-way calling attacks allowed them to spy and talk trash without getting their hands dirty. Here, Fey tells us nothing about how teen girlhood has changed with the rise of social media, and while we know what Tiktok and Instagram have done for girls’ self-esteem, the movie almost feels afraid to say anything too negative. This isn’t “Euphoria,” after all.

Instead, the film becomes a preachy story of not being a mean person, with all the bite (and the best jokes) being replaced in favor of musical numbers that jarringly drop in with little rhyme or reason. That being said, the musicals do give “Mean Girls” 2024 a much-needed shot in the arm. But for all the moments that, quite literally, sing, they only emphasize how wasted some performers are. Renee Rapp is the highlight of the movie, playing Regina George less like a teen and more like a grown woman who has seen it all in a teen girl’s body. She prowls, she’s funny and the movie is far too content to shuffle her to the background. Outside of the showstopping “World Burn,” you’ll just keep asking where she went.

Cravalho and Spivey are also great, giving us a new take on Janis and Damien that is fresh and fun. The two have such wonderful chemistry and their opening song, “Cautionary Tale,” while setting up the preachy tone of the movie, is a lot of fun. The rest of the cast is there and just don’t have the energy to elevate the already lifeless script. Angourie Rice has given great performances in the past but as this new take on Cady she’s left to be sweet and meek. Even when she takes on the Queen Bee mantle towards the middle of the movie, it’s just not vibrant.

And that’s not including all the adult actors who are only present because they’re associated with Fey in some way. Busy Philipps and Ashley Park — both part of the Fey produced series “Girls5Eva” — are nice to see. Philipps gets some weirdly melancholic one-liners as Regina’s mom while Park has 2 scenes, just two, and none of them involve singing. Jon Hamm is also present as Coach Carr, though he serves zero purpose other than to remind audiences of the character’s original backstory which, like most of this movie, was removed to make things a bit more sanitized.

That’s really the best way to sum up 2024’s “Mean Girls.” It’s a sanitized, Cliff’s Notes version of the original with a few songs thrown in. It’ll be great for audiences to see Renee Rapp, if they don’t know of her already, but she’s not in it enough to help save the rest of the film. This may not be your mother’s “Mean Girls” but it’s doubtful it’ll be anyone’s.

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