“Mean Girls” (2004) may be one of the most iconic early 2000s movies, raising an entire generation with iconic lines, aesthetics and actors. In 2017, it was adapted into an onstage Broadway musical by none other than Tina Fey, the writer of the 2004 film, and since then many musical theater fans alike have fallen in love with the incredible Broadway soundtrack.
So, when it was announced that a movie adaptation of the Broadway musical was finally being made, it was only natural that expectations were high among fans of both the original movie and the Broadway musical. However, after the release of the movie and accompanying soundtrack, there is much left to be desired from what was supposed to be one of the most recognizable movie musical adaptations.
Arguably the most anticipated part of this whole movie was the soundtrack, especially having Reneé Rapp, who has played Regina George on Broadway, as a part of the cast. However, many of the musical choices were honestly questionable, making it feel like their original meaning and purpose was lost. This was especially apparent in Cady Heron’s songs. Played by Angourie Rice, it seems that her voice was not suitable for the character or perhaps the new musical arrangements were not in her favor, but it was likely a mixture of both. Many of Cady’s songs fell flat and lacked the emotion and energy from the original Broadway musical. For example, “Stupid with Love,” an originally high energy song that’s supposed to be about obsessively falling in love, was turned into an underwhelming and unconvincing number. The toned-down arrangement was made to sound almost acapella in some parts and generally felt much less grand than the original musical. While this could have been a new take to change up the sound to fit the big screen, it just felt disappointing and did not match with the dramatic lyrics being sung. Overall, it created an emotionless moment and made it difficult to be immersed in any relationship between Cady and her love interest, Aaron Samuels.
Not only were lacking vocals and strange musical arrangements a deterrent in enjoying this movie to the fullest, but also the fact that many of the well known songs were cut down. While it is understandable that adapting a full soundtrack into a two hour musical is difficult, some of the songs that they did decide to cut hurt the progression of the plot and original meaning. For example, “Meet the Plastics,” which gives us a rundown of all three plastics in a catchy way in the original musical, was cut down to only include Regina’s part. This was upsetting as it felt as though the title of the song didn’t even match the contents of the lyrics anymore. This also kept Gretchen Wieners, played by Bebe Woods, and Karen Smith, played by Avantika Vandanapu, from having high energy initial introductions which subdued their characters a bit too much in a moment that was supposed to be about meeting the three hottest girls in the school. Similarly, many full songs were cut and turned into dialogue, such as “Where Do You Belong,” which hurt the development of the plot and stunted the relationships that were meant to be forming. It felt like the lyrics and music could be heard through the dialogue and would have been much more effective to include the songs themselves, allowing for more emotion and strong character to come through.
This is not to say that all the music was disappointing. While some of the musical choices were questionable, the Regina, Janis ‘Imi’ike and Damian Hubbard songs were executed much better, despite a few unfortunate arrangement changes. With Reneé Rapp and Auli’i Cravalho being well known vocalists who have experience in musical theater, they were great casting choices with suitable voices for their parts. Regardless of a couple musical changes in ensemble vocals and backing instrumentals, Rapp was able to give a killer performance during “World Burn,” the most iconic Regina George song. Rapp plays a convincing and charismatic villain, which strongly came through in the performance of this song. Her experience as Regina on Broadway surely plays a role in this, as she effortlessly hits the song’s high notes and brings high energy and charm to this musical number. Similarly, Cravalho, who is best known for voicing Disney’s Moana, brings a wonderful energy to all the Janis songs. Her characterization of Janis is well done, believable and arguably one of the best of the whole movie. During “I’d Rather Be Me,” Janis’ final and most powerful, high energy numbers, Cravalho performs with an incredible aura of charisma and energy. “I’d Rather Be Me” provides a playful canvas for Janis’ character to shine through, and she did an excellent job at embracing the chaos and high energy. Similarly, songs that showcased both Janis and Damian, played by Jaquel Spivey, like “Revenge Party” carried the well known dynamic between the two and helped create the typical movie musical feel. The chemistry between these two characters was palpable, accurate to the original and generally a huge contributor to the enjoyment of the movie.
One of the charms of musicals, especially movie musicals, is how they are able to tell cohesive stories through the addition of music, all without making the music seem out of place. Mean Girls struggled with this, with some scenes transitioning seamlessly into song and others having sort of jarring tone shifts into music. Songs like “I’d Rather Be Me” and “Meet the Plastics” had great lead-ins and blended well into the scenes currently taking place. They created a smooth transition between song and dialogue and strongly contributed to the beautiful musical charm. However, other songs almost felt like music videos with how much they differed from the previous scene. This was especially apparent during “Someone Gets Hurt.” While the arrangement of this song was done well with breathtaking vocals from Rapp and a more rock inspired instrumental, the staging, with dramatic lighting changes from the scene it was taking place in, felt more like a music video rather than a cohesive part of the musical. While the scene was captivating to watch, it felt completely out of place and felt as though it was taking the audience out of the story entirely. Similarly, the transition into “World Burn” felt a bit startling, however, the large majority of the song was staged in a way that brought the story back into the high school atmosphere while keeping the theatrical and dramatic emotion of the song.
Overall, “Mean Girls” fell flat in terms of the high anticipation and expectations of fans alike. However, it was a generally enjoyable watch and a playful take on the original Broadway show. Although there were quite a lot of disagreeable choices, there are quite a few gems that came from putting so many talented actors together. It’s likely that this movie would have been better received without the Broadway musical being so hard to beat as a comparison. It would have been exceptional to have received a stage taping of this musical instead (however, it does not hurt to keep hoping for one). Altogether, “Mean Girls” is worth a watch for anyone who does enjoy musicals and definitely not to be taken too seriously.
This appeared in the January 25th Daily Nexus printed edition