‘Mean Girls’ Still Rule the School in Tina Fey’s Musical Remake

Trends in music, fashion and technology may change through the generations, but certain aspects of being a teen, particularly a young woman, remain timeless. This is evident in “Mean Girls,” the film version of the Broadway musical based on the hit 2004 comedy, which itself was adapted from Rosalind Wiseman’s nonfiction book “Queen Bees and Wannabes.” Seasoned young actress Angourie Rice stars as Cady Heron, the bright former homeschooler who finds herself in over her head as she navigates the social hierarchy at a suburban Chicago high school.

“Mean Girls” mostly follows the same plot of the original, with co-producer Tina Fey once againing penning the screenplay and playing Ms. Norbury, Cady’s slightly neurotic calculus teacher. Tim Meadows also makes a welcome return as Principal Duvall, who may have a little something happening after hours with Ms. Norbury this time around. The story begins a little earlier in this version, as Cady is first introduced in Kenya, where she has spent most of her childhood with her anthropologist mother (Jenna Fischer). Cady longs for a more “normal” life, so Mom takes a teaching job at Northwestern University. Almost immediately upon Cady’s arrival at North Shore High School, she befriends artsy outsider Janis (Auliʻi Cravalho) and her bestie Damien (Jaquel Spivey), who is still considered “too gay to function” here. Like his predecessor Daniel Franzese, Spivey delivers some of the film’s funniest lines.

Cady also attracts the attention of the Plastics, a clique of three popular girls led by Regina George (Reneé Rapp). Rapp at times comes across like she was created in a lab to play Regina, the toxic blonde who is feared almost as much as she is admired. Avantika is a worthy heir to Amanda Seyfried as mostly harmless dummy Karen Shetty. Bebe Wood lacks the crazy-eyed intensity of Lacey Chabert, but brings an endearing quality to lackey Gretchen Weiners. At first, Cady agrees to infiltrate the Plastics at the behest of Janis, who has her own score to settle with Regina, but soon becomes intoxicated by the power and prestige that come with being a part of a cool crowd. Complications arise after Cady falls for Regina’s erstwhile boyfriend, dreamboat Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney), and she soon finds herself playing Regina’s game.

In the years since the release of the original “Mean Girls,” the detrimental effects of bullying have been discussed more openly in society, with the term “mean girl” becoming a byword for female bully. But has high school really become a kinder, gentler experience? If this new film is any indication, the answer is no. If anything, camera phones and social media have only amplified the toxicity that comes with being a teen in the wild. Fey does have a little fun playing around with more modern terms, such as when Gretchen accuses Cady of “slut-shaming” her by not wearing a racy Halloween costume. The writer/co-producer does, however, omit some of the more poorly-aged gags from the original, such as Regina being fat-shamed out of a juniors clothing store and references to Coach Carr (played in this version by Jon Hamm) seducing students. Despite this, there is still plenty of biting humor to go around, and a lot of the old jokes still land.

Fey and her team also deserve props for having a more diverse cast this time around, as well as for making Janis a proud member of the LGBTQ community, instead of just being coded as a lesbian. But the main change in “Mean Girls” 2024 is, of course, the addition of the musical numbers, which were written by Fey’s husband and frequent collaborator, Jeff Richmond, and Nell Benjamin. While the cast is clearly talented, the musical numbers do not add a whole lot to the story. They take the place of Cady’s funny voice-over from the original film, in which she sees high school through an anthropological lens, which actually worked better, and the film loses pacing when the characters break into song. One can somewhat imagine how fun it might be to watch the musical numbers in a bustling theater, but some things just do not translate well from stage to screen.

 “Mean Girls” releases Jan. 12 in theaters nationwide.