‘Mean Girls’ Review: Powerhouse Performances and Endless Energy Save Messy Adaptation

Kevin Taft reviews the film adaptation of the musical retelling of Mean Girls, which is largely saved by its strong vocal performances.
User Rating: 7

The musical that Paramount doesn’t want you to know is a musical, except that it really is a full-on musical…. is here.

Mean Girls (aka “Mean Girls: The Musical”) is the celluloid adaptation of the Tony-nominated Broadway sensation, spawned from Tina Fey’s 2004 cinematic brainchild, which in turn was inspired by Rosalind Wiseman’s novel, “Queen Bees and Wannabes.”

The film opens with a zippy musical, Tik-Tok-inspired “let’s tell you a story” moment before diving into the narrative.

That begins with Kenyan native Cady (Angourie Rice), who laments living abroad with her mother (Jenna Fischer) and just wants to live a normal kid’s life. Seeing her daughter’s yearning, Mom packs up their tent, and the two head to California.

See Also: Theater Review: The Plastics are Back and (Kinda) Meaner Than Ever!

On the first day of school, Cady is saved from social alienation by the school outcasts: rebel lesbian Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and the “too gay to function” Damian (Jaquel Spivey). They help her navigate the school’s cliques, finally landing on the crème de la crème of mean: the Plastics, a modern-day iteration of the “Heathers.” Picture vain, mean, and untouchable girls, led by Regina George, brought to life by the Broadway-darling singer/songwriter Renee Rapp. Joining her are the dim-witted Karen Shetty (Avantika) and the smart lap-dog Gretchen Wieners (Bebe Wood).

When Regina takes an interest in Cady, Janis and Damian convince her to infiltrate the Plastics and get the dirt. Naïve to Regina’s true nature, Cady’s admission of affection for Regina’s ex, Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney), sparks a comedic war.

While the plot mirrors the original film and musical, the standout is its unequivocal commitment to actually being a musical – despite what Paramount’s advertising might have you believe.

That said, Broadway aficionados, brace yourselves – nine songs bid adieu, making room for two fresh tunes, “What Ifs” and “Not My Fault,” crafted exclusively for the film (the latter being the end credits anthem).

This revamped iteration delivers much amusement, showcasing a cast brimming with energy and talent. Auli’i Cravalho as Janis steals the film with infectious charm and incredible vocals. Angourie Rice’s portrayal of Cady leans towards the grounded side with vocals akin to a shy Taylor Swift.

Renee Rapp, the focal point of Paramount’s promotional blitz as the “villain,” oddly gets lost amidst the chaos, disappearing for an extended period after her infamous bus incident. Nevertheless, her powerhouse vocals remain a spectacle.

Entertaining as it may be, the film grapples with an identity crisis. First-time feature directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. never quite find the rhythm for this film. Rice’s portrayal of Cady and some of the tepid songs create a tonal mishmash that feels like a cross between “Dear Evan Hansen” and a more cartoony spectacle during numbers like the eccentric “Apex Predator.” Cutting nine songs also does the film a disservice, adding to the confusion in tone and never feeling like it wants to truly embrace what it is – even though the stage show has been a roaring success.

Despite that, this harmless film offers fun performances, enjoyable tunes, and an updated message. It may not incite a “sing-along” revolution, but it’s sure to tickle the fancy of musical theater enthusiasts and its targeted teenage girl audience.

Mean Girls opens in theaters on January 12, 2023.

7
Good
Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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