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1/17/2024     MEAN GIRLS                        Area Movie Theatres



pgm Mean Girls Movie.jpg

(Just to be lazy, too much of this is copy-and-pasted from my appreciation of the 2022 Broadway in Atlanta tour of the musical.  Well, the background-template parts, at least.)

Physicists have defined four “Universal Forces” that bind and control all space and time:  Electromagnetic Force,  Strong Nuclear Force, Weak Nuclear Force, and Gravitation.  It seems to me that they forgot one – the Force Behind a Teenager’s Need to Be Liked by Their Peers.  Like the four traditional forces, it is irresistible, unstoppable, inevitable, and stronger than any physical force.


Which brings me to Tina Fey’s screenplay adaptation of the 2002 book Queen Bees and Wannabes that became the 2004 movie, Mean Girls, her libretto for its 2017 Musical adaptation, and her screenplay for the new movie adaptation of the musical. 


So, just because my own compulsion is to cite obscure works of parody fiction, let me quote the prologue from Ian Doescher’s Much Ado About Mean Girls:

This tale of lasses takes us unto school

With many shrewish girls and boyish asses,

Wherein they make mistakes and play the fool,

And learn hard lessons far beyond their classes.

To this fey story make I introduction –

Which shows us Cady Heron’s youthful scene –

Her narrative unfolds in our production

In these few hours upon our giant screen.

I, Prologue-like, now revert to jargon groovy,

Please gently hear and kindly judge, our movie.


Which, of course, is to say that Fey’s story works perfectly in any kind of form – movie, stage musical, even Shakespearean Iambic Pentameter.  More to the point, while the Much Ado adaptation may be on a “simple stage,” Globe-like in its accoutrements and design, the musical came to us on a stage filled floor to ceiling with the latest technological innovations and whiz-bangery razzle-dazzle, all in elegant support of the story.  This new movie comes to us with less explicit eye-candy, but with clever choices made, favorite moments retained, and total delight intact.


These are characters who live in a world of texts and Instagram and fast-cut TikTokery, And the movie had durn well best reflect that style.  Which it does, to near perfection.  Especially notable is the opening number, “A Cautionary Tale,” stripped to its bare essentials and presented as a Social Media video.


So, if you haven’t seen the original movie, or the stage musical, let me recap. Cady Heron grew up in Kenya with her scientist mama (the musical’s Dad has been dropped), home-schooled and wallowing in the glories (and terrors) of the African Biome.  They return to Indiana where Cady has to face the even more terrifying High School Biome with its cliques and tribes and apex predators.  The movie’s quick-cut of her journey from Africa to suburban high school starts us off with a little bit of cinematic flourish.


Cady quickly makes friends with the :outsiders Janis and Damian, who send her “undercover” to bond with the “Plastics,” those top-of-the-food-chain popular wenches.  A social blank slate, it doesn’t take long for her to absorb their shallowness and cruelty, out-plasticking them all.


So, how does this “Fifth Universal Force” manifest itself?   Cady (a math genius) dumbs herself down to get the handsome guy in calculus to talk to her.  When Regina, apex plastic par perfection, betrays her confidence, Cady resorts to the cruelest possible revenge.   And, when there is a conflict between her “popular friends” and her real outsider friends, guess which she chooses?

To temper my kind judgment of this movie (which, TBH, I enjoyed from beginning to end), let me share the obvious quibble – the movie’s Cady (Angourie Rice)  is NOT a Broadway-caliber belter.  Most of her songs have been either cut or reduced to whispery ballads.  Yet, she is still effective.  Her Mom is played by The Office’s Jenna Fischer, and Ms. Rice could easily pass as a young(er) Pam.  Ms. Rice skillfully navigates that razor’s edge of naivete and cold plasticity and, in the final analysis, is a perfect casting choice.


OTOH, others in the cast have voices that soar and make my Musical-Geekery throb with pleasure.  Reneé Rapp (Regina) is a force of nature and, in fact, played the role on Broadway.  The Damian and Janis of Jaquel Spivey and Auli’i Cravalho are a comedic treasure and could easily take their “act” on the road.  And Ms. Cravalho’s 11 o’clock number “I’d Rather Be Me” is a powerhouse moment.  The other “plastics,” Bebe Wood and Avantika are also a joy, though too many of their songs are missing.  OTOH, Karen’s “Halloween” song remains and is another brilliant use of phone screen mimickry, with Avantika beautifully showing that dimness can be surprisingly effective.  As the object of everyone’s hormonal lust, Aaron, Christopher Briney brings more than just a pretty face.


As a nod to the original movie, Tim Meadows, Lindsay Lohan, and Ms. Fey herself make cameo appearances.  Also showing up (and having fun) are Jon Hamm, Busy Phillips, Ashley Park (a Tony nominee for playing Gretchen in the original cast), and the aforementioned Jenna Fischer.  I also like that there are many moments of self-aware meta-esquery, my favorites being the student in the “apology” sequence sorry for “being a beat behind in the “Revenge Party” number” and Tiny Fey stopping herself from bursting into song.


As to the songs, this is a memorable contemporary score by Jeff Richmond (composer for NBC’s 30 Rock) and Nell Benjamin (lyricist for Legally Blonde).  Songs are alternatively funny and moving, always bouncy and energetic, and I loved every number.  And, of course, Tina Fey’s libretto and story provides the perfect spine to support the whole animal!


Okay, I admittedly miss a few numbers – the bulk of “Meet the Plastics,” Damien’s “Stop,” The Party-gone-amok “Whose House is This?” – and a few lines from the remaining songs are conspicuously absent.  Still, plenty remain, all are engaging, all drive the story beautifully.  The Production Company chose to hide the fact that it is a musical from all their advance ads, so I can only hope that movie-goers caught by surprise will “go with the flow” and enjoy it – having the opening number masquerade as a TikTok goes a long way towards pulling unsuspecting musical-phobes into its universe.


Mean Girls is a wonderful adaptation of a show I enjoyed, which itself was an adaptation of a movie I always liked, filled to the rafters with talents on-screen and behind the scenes, and a reminder that its portrait of the irresistible force of teen peer pressure is valid in any era -- the 1980’s of Ms. Fey’s adolescence, the 2000’s of the original book and the first movie, or the late 20-teens of the Broadway version.  I recognized attitudes and characters from my own teen years of the late sixties.  This movie, this story scores on every count.  I loved every minute of it.


Mean Girls is Fetch! 

    -- Brad Rudy (    #MeanGirls)


Background on the various iterations:

     Queen Bees and Wannabes


     Mean Girls (2004)

     Mean Girls: The Musical

     Mean Girls (2024)


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