Reel Talk: Getting mean with remakes and “Mean Girls”


With every fairy-tale classic seemingly getting its own live-action remake and with superhero franchises churning out formulaic installations with the same handful of comic book characters, it seems like no matter what you do these days, you can’t escape “the remake.” We as a society do default to predictability — in our chain restaurants, our cookie-cutter houses and, yes, our movies. However, once a source material has been through multiple rounds of adaptation, as is the case with “Mean Girls” (2024), audiences are right to question the necessity of another iteration. 

A film adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical, which was based on the 2004 film of the same name, “Mean Girls” follows largely the same plot as the original: homeschooler Cady Heron, (played in this version by Angourie Rice), is forced to adjust to the cutthroat social scene of an American high school. In the film, she is taken in by the Plastics, a ruthless, popular trio led by Regina George (played by Reneé Rapp). As she begins to infiltrate the clique and rise through the social ranks via increasingly conniving schemes against Regina, Cady suffers the consequences of her cruelty and learns the value of empathy in the face of high school girls’ universal pettiness. 

I went into this movie prepared for disappointment. As a die-hard theater kid, I am a fan of the 2018 Broadway musical, and I was lucky enough to see it live with much of the original cast. So, the inner middle-schooler in me had high standards for the film adaptation in terms of the music, comedy and staging. 

And to give credit where credit is due, “Mean Girls” was overall a fun watch. Being a fan of the musical actually ended up contributing to my enjoyment of the film, as the sheer joy of seeing familiar songs and lines reimagined on the big screen made for a generally exciting, if not groundbreaking, viewing experience. In my opinion, the points where this movie shines are where it embraces its origins in musical theater. 

The film’s opening number hearkened back to the musical’s staging, embracing the spectacle of theater in creative ways: tearaway costumes, changing LED-screen backdrops, desks that rotated to switch classroom settings at the ring of a bell. Likewise, the movie began in a garage whose door opened to the African Savanna, where a lifted tent flap revealed an American high school. However, these transitions lack the same pizzazz in a medium where seamless cuts are customary. 

I also felt that many performances were not Broadway-grade. Notably, Rice fell flat as Cady. Her energy evoked less of the quirky, unaware optimism of previous actresses, reading as shy at best. In “Stupid With Love” — an ode to a math class crush — Rice lacked expression, and her vocals were weak and highly autotuned, giving an air of monotony to what was written as a jubilant, unhinged inner monologue. In fact, most of the film’s vocals reeked of autotune, and the production of the musical numbers was heavily pop-ified, as if composer Jeff Richmond forgot he was arranging a Broadway musical rather than a TikTok.

Standout performers did emerge, as the plot progressed. As Rapp’s Regina offhandedly delivered cutting insults and swooped in on Cady’s calculus crush, she captured the cruel entitlement of a queen bee high-schooler, making Cady’s revenge plot all the more understandable. After discovering Cady’s so-called weight-loss bars had set her up to gain weight, Rapp belted out the vocally stunning “World Burn” number, where she framed Cady for writing a book of insults to the entire class. Auliʻi Cravalho, who played outcast Janis, was equally compelling as she embraced the playful energy of her number “I’d Rather Be Me,” in which she rejected forgiveness in the fallout of the “burn book” while running and dancing through the school. Unsurprisingly, both performers have a musical background, with Rapp reprising her role from the Broadway production and Cravalho having starred in Disney’s “Moana.”  

Since watching the movie in January, I’ve seen my fair share of criticism toward this instance of remake-ception. Fans of the original chick flick expressed outrage at iconic lines being left on the cutting room floor. Meanwhile, lovers of the musical lamented the multiple songs excluded from the film, including both numbers led by Cady’s fabulous friend Damien, which was a glaring missed opportunity to spotlight Tony Award nominee Jaquel Spivey as one of the only Broadway talents in the cast. On the flip side, some viewers expressed frustration at the redundancy of having a remake at all. Why mess with, or milk the success of, a classic when you could — perish the thought — maybe write something original?   

I can’t help but agree with the anti-remake rhetoric. Regardless of my personal enjoyment, if the film’s best offerings are moments where it just emulates a previous adaptation, and to varying degrees of success at that, it seems unnecessary on premise and has failed before it even began.   

But of course, movies are made for more than artistic value, and this movie shows in no uncertain terms the dollar signs in its eyes. The incessant product placement, including constant use of e.l.f Cosmetics that are distinctly out of character for the high-status Plastics, was laughably unsubtle. With each tube of lip gloss, the whole undertaking became a clearer and clearer cash grab. While “Mean Girls” may offer its audience some powerhouse vocals and moments of nostalgia, at what cost? Originality?


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