Movie Review: New MEAN GIRLS Musical Starring Angourie Rice, Reneé Rapp, Auli’i Cravalho
If you were in high school or college back in 2004, there’s a very strong chance either you or some of your friends saw Mean Girls. Based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, the film hit home for many young adults with its relatable theme and numerous quotable one-liners. Say the word “fetch” to anyone between the ages of 30 and 40 and there’s a good chance they’ll pick it up quickly.
And so for the 20th anniversary of its release, the musical adaptation has come to the big screen. I’m not much of a musical guy, so I was unaware that a musical had been made of the source material in 2017, but it earned decent reviews and audiences seemed to enjoy it. Naturally, it makes sense to make it as a film, right?
By now, I think most people who are planning on seeing the film are familiar with the plot of the 2004 iteration. High school junior Cady Heron (Angourie Rice, who could easily pass as a sister of Amy Adams) starts the year at a new school in Evanston, Illinois, after moving there with her mother (Jenna Fischer) from Kentucky; before that, they had spent time in Africa while her mother worked. Her first day, she immediately draws the attention of two polar opposite social groups: the social outcasts, consisting of Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey), and the powerful pretty girls the outcasts call the Barbies: Gretchen (Bebe Wood), Karen (Avantika), and their leader Regina George (Reneé Rapp). What ensues is a back-and-forth struggle for the affection of Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney) and culminates in someone getting hit by a bus, just like ol’ Bill Shakespeare used to write.
At its core, the movie and its predecessor do try to address a very serious issue of bullying and the struggle people face to be accepted in social circles. It’s not meant to be a super heavy treatise (there are many other films that take a more serious look at the subject), but it does aim to at least give the viewer pause while spotlighting the topic in a light-hearted manner. And it’s got some decent jokes that hit, although most of them are delivered by Fey and Meadows. There are a couple of pleasant surprises as well that were cleverly done for fans of the original. I’d be lying if I said I could quote every line from the original, but thankfully my friend Krisden is a huge fan of the original, and she estimated about 75% of the jokes and gags from the original film are present, although some have been a bit modified.
So how do the new performances hold up? It’s a bit of a mixed bag. The two biggest and brightest standouts were Cravalho and Spivey for me, and it wasn’t even close. Spivey provides excellent comic relief and clearly had a lot of fun playing Damian. Cravalho, though, steals the spotlight from Rice in just about every scene. She’s by far the strongest singer of the group (I learned after the film that she was the voice of Moana in the Disney film) and she carries the others with her performance. Angourie is fine as Cady; I can’t say she gives an incredible performance, but realistically it isn’t exactly the strongest script, so I can’t fault her for that.
My number one gripe with the film has to do with the music itself, but not in the way
you might initially think; I had the hardest time discerning any of the lyrics in half the songs. It’s certainly possible the theater I watched the screening in wasn’t set up correctly, or maybe it’s the seats in which Krisden and I sat, but the audio mixing just sounded completely off. Angourie has a fine enough singing voice, but stylistically, she sang so softly, she was constantly overridden by the bass and percussion. It felt like she rarely ever sang from her diaphragm; rather, she seemed to prefer an almost whisper. But I also know Rapp, Spivey, and Cravalho are professional singers, and at times I could barely even hear them. I was at another screening tonight for a different movie, and every single one of the other critics who was there said the exact same thing: muddled audio made it nearly impossible to discern what they were singing. It was only when they belted out choruses that the lyrics were crystal clear. It’s a shame because they could have elevated several of the songs, a couple of which were pretty catchy (though I question whether they’ll have staying power and be remembered down the road).
Krisden and I also felt that at times, the film tried a bit too hard to diversify and be politically correct. I do think some parts of the original film probably had to be changed due to the progression of cultural acceptance, but they also change some parts of the film to better support inclusion, and it alters the film a bit. It’s not enough to ruin the movie, but it does alter the background and personalities of some of the characters.
While I did enjoy the original movie, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this iteration. It certainly has its moments, but the terrible audio and uneven flow of the songs being shoehorned in tempered my enjoyment a bit; Mean Girls was not originally written as a musical, and it’s fairly evident. My musical-loving fans who were able to see it on tour all seemed to thoroughly enjoy their experience, so perhaps it’s a production that’s better seen live with top-notch acoustics. Huge fans of the original might be able to overlook the flaws, in which case, add a letter grade to mine and enjoy. I sincerely hope they work on correcting the mixing, because it takes what could have been a fun nostalgic trip and only occasionally evokes a fleeting memory.
Mean Girls gets a C+