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Wednesday, April 17, 2024 — Houston, TX

Review: ‘Mean Girls’ is kitschy, camp, questionable

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

By Hugo Gerbich-Pais , Sara Davidson and Hadley Medlock     1/16/24 10:03pm

Review: ★★★

“Mean Girls” reminded us of an important truth: If you are going to make a musical, you need to hire actors who can sing and a choreographer with experience. It also proves, though, that bad films can often be great fun.  

Written by Tina Fey and based on both the 2004 comedy and 2018 Broadway musical of the same name, “Mean Girls,” released Jan. 8, already had much source material to adapt and live up to — something that it often didn’t do well. 

First, the film made a rather poor attempt at ushering the early 2000s “Mean Girls” into modernity. With multiple shots meant to make you think that it was being filmed on an iPhone camera, the prevalence of characters using TikTok and social media within the film, obvious product placement (yes, we’re talking about that stupid Samsung flip phone Cady uses and all the ELF lipstick) and a wardrobe that looked like it came from Shein, “Mean Girls” disappointingly declined to pay homage to its Y2K roots.

While the script follows the 2004 film quite closely, many songs from the musical were cut or nearly butchered in this adaptation, with some changes defying explanation. Cady often spoke lines she was meant to sing, and Regina was the only one with lines in “Meet the Plastics,” nearly negating the entire purpose of the song. Poor production changes on nearly all the songs also made it feel like a spoof of a musical theatre performance, not a Broadway adaptation.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the film was its poor choreography. We nearly cringed during “Apex Predator” when hordes of high schoolers suddenly became animals and crawled around the floor, and “Someone Gets Hurt” saw a houseful of teenagers weirdly convulse in slow motion. The culprit was Kyle Hanagami, a celebrity choreographer who works with artists like Blackpink. Instead of feeling like real musical theatre numbers, the film’s dance sequences often felt like protracted TikTok videos and lacked the emotional depth to advance the storytelling. 

Regina George was played by Reneé Rapp who sang phenomenally, though this was expected given her stint as Regina in the Broadway version. The same can be said for Janis, played by Auliʻi Cravalho, who voiced Disney’s Moana at age 14 and also proved to be a vocal powerhouse. While we heard significantly less singing from many of the other characters, Damian (Jaquel Spivey), Gretchen (Bebe Wood) and Karen (Avantika Vandanapu) still carried the little weight they were given in both singing and acting.

Unfortunately, Angourie Rice played Cady Heron and will likely not have a future in musical theater following this performance. Her voice fell flat, and several of her important songs were cut from the movie, likely because of this. Her singing was strained and Rice often lacked any sort of enthusiasm or energy in both her singing and acting. The directors should have put someone in the starring role who could match the vocal power of Rapp and Cravalho, instead of forcing an Australian actress to become an American singer.

Unlike Angourie Rice, Chris Briney was an excellent casting choice for Aaron Samuels— though at times he does seem to be more of a prop than an actor. There were loud gasps in the theater the first time Briney appeared on screen, and the audience is constantly graced by his evocative facial expressions and close-ups of his tousled hair. Although he did not sing in the film at all, the Broadway run does have precedence for a non-singing male lead. Joining the likes of Cameron Dallas and other hot, famous actors who can’t sing, Briney did a great job with what he was given.

We can’t deny that “Mean Girls” was a camp experience at its core. Even when it was trying to be funny, we spent the entire time laughing at it, rather than with it. Rapp and Cravalho’s vocals provided a welcome respite, though, and it was overall an entertaining film. Despite its issues, it does remind us why “Mean Girls” is such a cult hit, even 20 years after the original’s release — sometimes it’s fun to be a mean girl. 

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