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‘Mean Girls’ Review: The Musical Makes Its Grand Movie Entrance

It’s been twenty years since the release of Mean Girls, adapted by Tina Fey from Rosalind Wiseman’s book Queen Bees and Wannabees. It has become increasingly quotable, with lines like “You can’t sit with us,” “she doesn’t even go here,” and “stop trying to make fetch happen” referenced and repeated often. The success of the film was recaptured with a 2018 stage musical adaptation that earned twelve Tony nominations. Now, the plastics are back on the big screen in a film version of the musical that succeeds very well in the latest transposition of this story.

Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) moves from Kenya to Illinois with her mother (Jenna Fischer) and transitions from homeschool to an utterly cutthroat high school environment. She meets Janis (Auli’I Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey), who brief her on the various cliques that exist at the school and warn her most seriously about Queen Bee Regina George (Reneé Rapp), who rules the school with her sidekicks Gretchen (Bebe Wood) and Karen (Avantika). When Regina takes an interest in Cady, Janis and Damian plot to give her a taste of her own medicine, a plan that leads to considerable collateral damage.

Mean Girls
Jaquel Spivey plays Damian, Angourie Rice plays Cady and Auli’i Cravalho plays Janis in Mean Girls from Paramount Pictures. Photo: Jojo Whilden/Paramount © 2023 Paramount Pictures.

Due to the amount of time that has passed since the release of the original film, it’s now a new generation of moviegoers that might appreciate this film and its content most. The story itself is mostly the same, with certain key events left entirely untouched and others altered only slightly. Yes, these teenagers have smartphones, but the ways that they’re able to hurt each other most hasn’t changed. This isn’t meant to be a modern-day update to a story that still feels quite relevant and timeless, even if it’s obviously exaggerated for comedic effect, particularly when Cady references her time in Africa and pictures everyone at school as members of the animal kingdom.

Musical numbers help to enhance the experience of this film, which feels different enough from the original due to the impressive choreography and the chance for many of its supporting players to shine in solos that flesh out their personalities. It also allows Janis and Damian to take over narration duties with an enticing musical intro, and ensures that this is truly an ensemble where Cady doesn’t even always feel like the protagonist. While Grey Henson and Ashley Park earned Tony nominations for playing Damian and Gretchen, respectively, this film finds its own standouts, namely Cravalho, who launched her career as the voice of the title character in Moana, who brings down the house numerous times throughout the film.

Mean Girls
Bebe Wood plays Gretchen, Renee Rapp plays Regina and Avantika plays Karen in Mean Girls from Paramount Pictures. Photo: Jojo Whilden/Paramount © 2023 Paramount Pictures.

All the roles feel very well-cast here, and the ensemble works in unison during the musical numbers to make it seem like a truly cohesive effort. Rice is the right fit to play Cady, giving her a spunkiness and awkward confidence that distinguishes her portrayal from Lindsay Lohan’s. Wood is a great find, and Avantika does a great job of playing dumb. Spivey pairs well with Cravalho and infuses his scenes with plenty of fantastic energy. Rapp has a formidable ferocious energy that works wonders in her portrayal of Regina, and Christopher Briney brings just what he needs to play Cady’s affable calculus crush.

It’s fun also to see Fey and Tim Meadows back in the same roles, and to have a handful of familiar faces pop up throughout the film in small parts to nod to the previous iterations of this story. But this movie musical version doesn’t get bogged down with harking back to something else, and as a result it’s a perfectly enjoyable specimen of its own, surely enhanced by a familiarity with past material but sufficiently serviceable on its own. It’s nothing revelatory or groundbreaking, but it’s a lot of fun, and definitely well above average for an early January release.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

Mean Girls premieres only in theaters on Friday, January 12th.

Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzer is a film and TV enthusiast who spent most of the past fifteen years in New York City. He has been the editor of and since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them. He has attended numerous film festivals including Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, and is a contributing writer for The Film Experience, Awards Radar, and AwardsWatch.


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