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Mean Girls (2024) for The Digital Age, with a Seductive Edge



Following the success of Disney's Hamilton (2020), there has been a concerted effort on the part of executives to bring Broadway to the big screen. Unfortunately, adaptations like Dear Evan Hansen (2021), West Side Story (2021), Waitress (2023) and most recently, The Color Purple (2023) have received underwhelming returns at the box office. Luckily, Mean Girls (2024) seems to be breaking this downward trend, already raking in twice its production budget within its first 11 days in theaters.

 

While this version is not as strong as the 2004 original, there are some new inclusions that I believe validate a ticket purchase.

 

Mean Girls (2024) follows the coming-of-age story of Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) who transfers to a suburban American high school after being home schooled by her scientist parents in Kenya. In this unfamiliar academic setting, she discovers a clicky social environment ruled by an exclusive group of girls known as the Plastics. They are led by blond bombshell Regina George (Renee Rapp). When Cady falls for Regina's ex-boyfriend Aaron Samuels, she finds herself in an undeclared war with the most popular girl in school. As their battle over Aaron unfolds, Cady grapples with the challenges of conformity, self-identity, romantic jealousy, and social expectations.

 

This time, the Regina George character is the standout feature of the film; actress and singer Renee Rapp provides a magnetic burst of adrenaline with a seductive edge. In her first appearance the lights dim, the camera withholds her reveal with a close on her lips and she enraptures the audience like a succubus as the lyrics roll smoothly off her tongue. Beyond her vocal range it’s the way she draws out each word with her voice, seeming to hit a different note on each syllable, that makes these songs so unique, particularly in contrast to the other tracks in the film which run at a faster, less patient tempo.

In moments of dialogue, Rapp’s performance of Regina George surpasses her predecessor, Rachel McCadams, through her more commanding screen presence.

 

Angourie Rice also provides a strong performance as the socially inexperienced Cady, even though her effectiveness diminishes in song numbers. It's a slightly nerdier and more downplayed take compared to the 2004 version, which I believe is a welcome change. My only critique is her voice seems more autotuned and monotonal compared to Rapp and the supporting cast. However, Rice manages to hold her own despite these setbacks.

 

Fans of the original will also notice the unique stylistic elements in this rendition, which cleverly integrate social media references to capture the way “plastics” have evolved in our digitized society. Throughout the picture, the inclusion of TikTok inspired vertical shots, emojis, and montages cinematically update the themes of the 2004 original surrounding gossip and social hierarchies for a modern audience. These visual touches draw attention to the poisonous windmill of comment threads, GIFs and influencer commentary that prematurely shame or uplift those around us without a thought for ethics or repercussions. Story events highlight the way that today's new landscape for building relationships has caused many adolescents to value their online perceptions and status above their intelligence and internal growth. Compared to the original however, the way the film cuts between moments of face-to-face dialogue, social media segments and song numbers can sometimes disrupt immersion. Fortunately, they seem to blend more seamlessly as the film progresses.

 

The weakest aspect of the film is its writing. Particularly noticeable is the absence of the humor that was present in the original. Clearly, the creators of this adaption wanted to avoid potential controversy: you won’t see any students running around on all fours, hitting each other as they cry out guttural animal sound effects, or the sex ed teacher telling students they will die if they try missionary. While this was clearly a prudent compromise, the writers did not replace the controversial jokes of the original with any new gags that will knock your socks off. There is scarcely a laugh to be had here, but some moments will leave a smile.

 

Ultimately Mean Girls (2024) does not have the boldness of the Lindsay Lohan version, and it is a rehash of its source material, but the meaning of the story remains impactful. The underlying message of Mean Girls reminds us to forgo pursuits of popularity, cherish our quirky personality traits and remember the remarkable qualities in ordinary individuals around us that are under-recognized.

 

It is not revolutionary but, it is a fun time at the theater for the right audience and I look forward to seeing Renee Rapp’s next act in her promising career.

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