“Mean Girls,” the iconic 2004 high school comedy directed by Mark Waters, originally struck a chord with its sharp wit and biting portrayal of teen dynamics. Screenwriter Tina Fey, adept at crafting relatable humor and memorable characters, turned the film into a cultural touchstone. The transition of “Mean Girls” from a film to a Broadway musical in 2018 was another successful leap. Fey kept the helm, ensuring the adaptation retained the film’s original charm, with the added dimension of musical theater’s expressiveness.
In the Broadway adaptation, although the tunes by Jeff Richmond, Fey’s husband, weren’t groundbreaking, they were serviceable and complemented the narrative well. Nell Benjamin’s clever lyrics contributed to the humor, and Casey Nicholaw’s energetic direction and choreography infused the show with a vibrancy reflecting the tumultuous nature of high school life. The stage version was buoyed by a top-notch cast, keeping the essence of the film alive while adding new layers.
Fast forward to 2024, and “Mean Girls” has morphed into a movie musical. With a release date of January 12 and a cast featuring Angourie Rice, Reneé Rapp, Auli’i Cravalho, and others, the film is directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. and penned again by Tina Fey. Despite its PG-13 rating and a running time of 1 hour 51 minutes, this latest adaptation struggles to find its footing.
The transition from stage to screen in musical adaptations is often tricky, and “Mean Girls” is no exception. Jayne and Perez Jr., while coming from promising backgrounds, seem to have missed the mark in translating the musical’s energy to the screen. The songs, rather than emerging organically from the plot, feel shoehorned and disrupt the flow of the story. The over-production of the musical tracks also detracts from the rawness and authenticity that live singing brings to musicals.
In the realm of performances, Auli’i Cravalho as Janis stands out, bringing a natural flair to her role. However, the other cast members, particularly Reneé Rapp as Regina George, fall short of the charisma and impact of their predecessors. Regina George, a character synonymous with the archetypal teen queen bee, loses her comedic and menacing edge, perhaps reflecting a broader cultural shift in attitudes towards bullying and mean-spirited humor.
The movie follows the familiar storyline of Cady Heron, portrayed by Angourie Rice, as she navigates the social minefield of North Shore High School. Rice delivers a solid performance as the naive Cady, but the movie’s adherence to the original plot points without any fresh interpretation makes it feel stale. The attempts to modernize the story with constant references to social media and technology feel more like a desperate bid to appeal to a Gen Z audience rather than a genuine effort to update the narrative for contemporary times.
From a technical standpoint, the film also falters. The visual treatment and musical direction do not blend seamlessly, often clashing rather than complementing each other. The use of social media as a framing device for the songs is overdone, making the movie feel gimmicky rather than innovative. The choreography and direction, which should elevate a musical, here seem to confine it within a limited and uninspired creative scope.
In comparison to the original film and the Broadway adaptation, this movie musical version of “Mean Girls” falls short. The sharpness, wit, and heart that made the original a standout are notably absent here. The film’s tone lacks the subversive edge of the 2004 movie and the vivacity of the Broadway show. Even cameo appearances by cast members from the original film serve more as a reminder of what this version lacks rather than enhancing it.
The movie’s inability to effectively translate the stage musical’s energy to the screen is its most significant downfall. It feels like a series of missed opportunities – in capturing the essence of the characters, in delivering the musical numbers, and in updating the story for a new generation. The result is a film that neither resonates with fans of the original nor stands on its own as a fresh take on the material.
The 2024 movie musical version of “Mean Girls” is a disappointing addition to the franchise. It struggles with narrative pacing, musical integration, and character depth. The film lacks the innovative spirit and emotional resonance that made “Mean Girls” a beloved story in its earlier forms. This adaptation serves as a reminder of the challenges inherent in translating stage musicals to the screen and the importance of bringing a fresh perspective to well-known material.
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