Freeman Cebu Entertainment

Mean Girls: Musical misses why 2004 original is a classic

Januar Junior Aguja - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines — “My name is Regina George, and I am a massive deal.” That's how the iconic titular antagonist introduces herself, sung by singer-actress Reneé Rapp, as she establishes her queen bee status.

Indeed, she is a massive deal given how her character was one of the reasons why 2004's “Mean Girls” became a pop culture phenomenon -- prompting an unofficial (and hugely disliked) sequel and a Broadway adaptation in 2017, which is the basis of the 2024 version now in theaters.

That time, its biggest selling point was its lead Lindsay Lohan who was at her prime as a teen star. If you are a "Saturday Night Live" fan, the involvement of writer Tina Fey and executive producer Lorne Michaels added another reason for audiences to check out this teen comedy.

Playing Regina was Canadian actress Rachel McAdams who was relatively unknown that time. Her portrayal launched her to stardom, and at large, made her character one of the most iconic villains of this generation.

With the release of the 2024 musical, the selling point has been switched. People are going to see this for Regina George, and it was perfect timing to focus on Rapp’s rendition of the character with her emerging music career, following the release of her debut album “Snow Angel.” With her pitch-perfect portrayal and strong vocal performance, it’s no wonder why she was heavily emphasized in the film’s marketing.

Other highlights include Auli?i Cravalho as Janis and Avantika as Karen as their portrayals and vocal performances shine along with Rapp showing that they deserve to play the hard-to-fill roles by their non-singing predecessors (Lizzy Caplan and Amanda Seyfried were Janis and Karen, respectively).

It’s also nice to see SNL alums Tina Fey and Tim Meadows return to reprise their roles as Ms. Norbury and Principal Duvall. Although don’t expect singing moments from them, especially for Fey who attempts to sing but quickly realizes it’s better that she talks instead.

Unfortunately, some in the cast don’t match the energy of the aforementioned highlights. For one, Angourie Rice delivers an “okay” performance as Cady but is easily overshadowed by most of the characters. This is evident in her song numbers since her vocal range is strangely limited compared to her other cast members who get the big singing parts.

“The Summer I Turned Pretty” actor Christopher Briney feels terribly miscast as Aaron Samuels, the ex-beau of Regina and love interest of Cady. He doesn’t fit the bill as one of the most handsome men in North Shore High School. It doesn’t help that the actor has no song numbers, making him easily forgettable.

Admittedly, some of the songs composed by Fey’s husband Jeff Richmond with lyrics by Nell Benjamin may feel too “show tunes” that most non-Broadway viewers may not be able to handle. Still, there are highlights especially the songs where Regina George’s “The Plastics” trio get their parts, like “Meet the Plastics” sung by Rapp, “Sexy” by Avantika’s Karen, and “What’s Wrong with Me?” by Bebe Wood’s Gretchen Wieners.

Fans of the Broadway version may find themselves disappointed with the number of songs being cut. However, the ones that made it already make the film feel as long as it is, so it’s understandable why the creative team decided to omit some fan favorites.

The most distracting part was how “cheap” it looks in its cinematography and production design, with the jarring contrast of the musical segments being shot in an actual high school where the hallways feel cramped to sing and dance around.

Other musicals such as TV shows Glee, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and the first two High School Musical movies were shot on tighter budgets, yet you can sense they are musicals that feel “grand” in scale which the “Mean Girls” musical movie sorely lacked. Perhaps shooting on a soundstage would help viewers get a better feel of its musicality.

Another disappointing element was its humor, which doesn’t live up to the meanness of the original. Fey, who has written the same story thrice (she wrote the script of the Broadway musical) including this one, should have found ways to make the script funnier without having to be politically incorrect. This is probably Fey worrying about offending today’s sensibilities given her past work had some jokes that did not age well, but there are ways for the characters to be funny and mean without being offensive.

This speaks to the bigger conversation of how “Mean Girls” was a product of its time in the best way possible. When I think of high school movies set in the 2000s, Mean Girls is one of those that comes to mind immediately because of how Y2K the story feels, along with its aesthetic and fashion.

Modernizing “Mean Girls” where aspects of social media are incorporated feels forcibly shoe-horned. It shows viewers where the film is set in, rather than genuinely driving the plot.

If anything, this 2024 musical feels more like an extension of the legacy of the 2004 original, rather than being its own thing -- which is a shame because there is some incredible talent in the latest take of “Mean Girls” but it will always pale in comparison to the timeless original. Two and a half stars out of five.

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