Directed by: Samantha Jayne, Arturo Perez Jr
Written by: Tina Fey
Starring: Angourie Rice, Reneé Rapp, Auliʻi Cravalho, Christopher Briney, Jacquel Spivey, Tina Fey
Released: January 11, 2024
Grade: B-

Mean Girls

In the same way that Hollywood is addicted to sequels, reboots and franchises, Broadway in New York City has always been attracted to musicals based off movies.  I could list dozens of examples but Tony Award winners over the past two decades have included Billy Elliot the Musical, Once, Kinky Boots, The Band’s Visit, and Moulin Rouge!  Ironically, Hollywood then steps back in to convert the more successful stage musicals into… a rebooted movie (insert sarcastic gasp)!  Australian cinemagoers will be treated to two this month – Mean Girls releases on January 11 with The Colour Purple to follow on January 25.

While live stage shows are as popular as they’ve ever been (Broadway ticket sales for 2022-23 were $1.6 billion), there’s a widely held industry view that film musicals are off-putting to a sizeable portion of the public.  It’s why trailers for movies like Wonka and Mean Girls downplay the songs and focus more on the narrative and dialogue.  I have several friends who thought this was a straight-up remake of the 2004 flick as opposed to a freshened musical.

Screenwriter Tina Fey aims of the best of both worlds with the script here.  Roughly half of the songs have been ditched so the film can be done and dusted inside of two hours.  Those songs which survived the cut are the catchier, more popular ones with an emphasis on “World Burn”, “Someone Gets Hurt”, and “Sexy”.  It’s also worth noting Fey knows the material as well as anyone having authored the 2004 screenplay (drawing from Rosalind Wiseman’s novel) and the 2018 stage musical.  She’s also reprising her supporting role as the chatty maths teacher Ms Norbury.

The storyline will be known to those familiar with the original movie.  Cady attends high school for the first time in her life (she was homeschooled previously), befriends a group of pretentious girls, falls in love with a cute guy, makes a bunch of mistakes, and learns some valuable lessons.  Australian Angourie Rice (The Nice Guy) takes on the lead role but, if looking for a standout performance, I’d focus on Tony nominee Jacquel Spivey (A Strange Loop) as a proudly gay student she meets on her first day.

The energy generated from the live show doesn’t quite come through in this film.  Several musical numbers lack punch, and the direction of Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr is rudimentary.  It lacks the visual “wow factor” we’ve seen in the likes of La La Land and In the Heights – two great movie musicals from the past decade.  A few jokes will get you chuckling but, in sticking so rigidly to the 2004 film, surprises are limited.

If there’s one thing that’s certain… it’s that Mean Girls is better than Mean Girls.