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‘Mean Girls’: The ‘Plastics’ can’t be recycled

Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) and her friends Damian Hubbard (Jaquel Spivey) and Janis ‘Imi’ike (Auli’i Cravalho) spy on “The Plastics” from behind a bush in “Mean Girls.” (Photo: Jojo Whilden/Paramount Pictures)

The onset of phones and technology have shifted the high school experience over the past 20 years, but some things have stayed the same — there will always be mean girls. “Mean Girls” — one of the most well-known and beloved high school movies of the 2000s — is back, and though the girls’ devices and social media habits may have changed, the core story has not.

20th Century Studios released the latest “Mean Girls” movie, directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr., on Jan. 12. It is a film adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical “Mean Girls,” which itself was an adaptation of the 2004 non-musical movie of the same name.

After years in Kenya, homeschooled 16-year-old Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) moves with her family back to the United States and begins to attend North Shore High School in Illinois. She becomes friends with Janis ‘Imi’ike (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian Hubbard (Jaquel Spivey), two social outcasts. During lunch, she is invited to sit with “The Plastics,” three popular girls led by queen bee Regina George (Reneé Rapp). Janis and Damian encourage Cady to infiltrate the group for information and Cady begins to run into trouble from there.

“Mean Girls” obediently follows the plot line of the original movie, scene by scene. The story of the original movie was already excellent, with a strong narrative and moral message about how people should embrace kindness and not succumb to the common hierarchical social structure often seen in schools and other environments. Naturally, by following the same plot, this latest rendition of “Mean Girls” similarly pulls off a nice central storyline.

However, it is also this faithfulness to the original that makes the movie awkward and strangely paced. The original Mean Girls was filled with one-liners that became iconic and well-known such as “On Wednesdays we wear pink” and “Get in, loser.” “Mean Girls” seems to view those lines as checkpoints, rushing from one to the next.

The movie still preserves much of the charm and humor of the first movie, with many of the same word-for-word jokes from the original.

In terms of the musical numbers, the casting provided a solid lineup of vocals, often accompanied by flashy and colorful performances that are amusing for the audience. Most of the movie’s soundtrack came from the 2018 Broadway musical, with some excluded in the latest movie and a few newly added ones such as “Not My Fault” by Rapp and Megan Thee Stallion. Many of the songs taken from the Broadway production had their lyrics or instrumentals adjusted. Rapp, who starred as Regina George in the Broadway musical “Mean Girls” during 2019-2022, belted out songs like “World Burn.” As the previous voice behind “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana,” Cravalho’s voice was captivating as she narrated the plot with her songs.

Some small changes for the sake of modernization are made, such as an altered cast that is more diverse both racially and in terms of queer identity, with minor changes in certain characters’ backstories to match. Overall, these new modifications make the movie feel more relatable for this generation of audiences. Additionally, mobile phones run rampant in the new movie, and social media montages are placed as the characters react to different events within the film. For the most part, these changes are good to see, even though the implementation of phones and social media seems forced at times.

Other changes are less welcome. A film about girls who have reached the top of the social pyramid through appearance and nefarious plots should have stylish characters, but costume designer Tom Broecker failed to deliver. The outfits look cheap — an especially large offense for Regina, who is supposed to be ultra-rich. The outfits do little to show off the characters’ personalities, and their individual dressing styles are not nearly as distinct as in the 2004 film. The clothes do look more modern and in line with what current teenagers wear but they are still subpar.

The movie’s visuals falter in other aspects, most notably in the costuming.  Throughout the movie, the actors drop blatant advertising for using e.l.f. products to the point where Damian even asks what shade of lipstick Cady is using. The movie’s shameless product placements make it seem tacky. Despite the brand deals that have been integrated into the film, their presence doesn’t affect the overarching plot and can be ignored.

The cast is strong overall, with strong acting and vocals to go around. However, the 2024 film does not beat the original movie in terms of acting or the Broadway musical in terms of music.

“Mean Girls” does not meet the bar the first “Mean Girls” set with its characters and acting in 2004. It is difficult to live up to the likes of Lindsey Lohan as Cady and Rachel McAdams as Regina, and indeed the “Mean Girls” cast cannot quite pull off the same flair.  As a whole, the characters are kinder and softer — whether due to the director’s choices or the actors’ — when the whole point of the story is that the girls are mean. Neither Rice’s Cady nor Rapp’s Regina show as much passion in their moments of anger and despair as Lohan’s Cady and McAdam’s Regina.

As for the musical aspect, the plethora of cut numbers — such as “More is Better,” which should have been included to better set up a later track — deliver a less complete experience than the original Broadway production. Without the excluded songs, the movie doesn’t develop the characters as far. Many of Cady’s songs in particular were cut or altered to be quieter and less upbeat than their Broadway counterparts whereas the likes of Janis and Regina got to keep their loud, show-stopping tunes, diminishing her stage presence despite her role as the protagonist.

All things considered, although “Mean Girls” won’t be replacing the 2004 movie or the 2018 musical, it is still a fun way to relive the iconic scenes, offering the same meaningful messages.

“Mean Girls”

1 hour, 52 minutes.

Rated PG-13.

Directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr.

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About the Contributors
Carissa Tsui, Managing Editor
Carissa Tsui (Class of 2024) joined The Voice her junior year and her favorite show is Survivor. Also, her favorite color is red and her favorite animal is the ocean sponge.
Veronica Qiu, Reporter
Veronica Qiu (Class of 2026) joined The Voice in her sophomore year. Outside of journalism she enjoys crocheting and listening to K-pop.

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