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film review
  • Mean Girls
  • Directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr.
  • Written by Tina Fey, based on the musical by Jeff Richmond, Nell Benjamin and Tina Fey
  • Starring Angourie Rice, Reneé Rapp and Tina Fey
  • Classification PG; 112 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Jan. 12

Critic’s Pick

In the curious tradition of The Producers (the 2005 film, not the 1967 version), Hairspray (2007, not 1988), and The Color Purple (2023, not 1985), Mean Girls arrives in theatres this weekend as part of the movie-to-musical-to-movie-musical pipeline.

Confused? You shouldn’t be, although Paramount Pictures has been doing its best to sow such disorientation. After all, the studio’s marketing campaign mostly ignores the fact that this new version of Mean Girls is not just a 20-years-later reboot for the TikTok era, but also jammed from beginning to end with song-and-dance numbers imported from the 2018 Broadway show, itself inspired by Tina Fey and company’s original 2004 comedy.

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Okay, maybe it is a little confusing. But the ultimate result, directed by the husband-and-wife duo of Arturo Perez Jr. and Samantha Jayne, is mostly a toe-tapping, head-bopping delight. Given that Hollywood seems intent on remaking anything and everything more than a decade old, this update offers something genuinely new, even if all the musical numbers are wrapped around the familiar comfort of plot beats, characters and punchlines lifted word-for-word, beat-for-beat, from the first film.

Taking over for Lindsay Lohan, Angourie Rice stars as the shy and sheltered Cady, who has spent most of her life home-schooled in the Kenyan wilderness by her scientist mother (The Office’s Jenna Fischer, perfectly cast here in that her onscreen daughter Rice looks exactly like she did during the early-aughts run of that hit NBC sitcom). Now plunked into a suburban American high school for the first time in her life, Cady struggles to survive among the various cliques, including the popular-girls squad led by blonde bully Regina (Reneé Rapp) and her underlings, the kind-hearted Gretchen (Bebe Wood) and brick-dumb Karen (Avantika).

The unfolding story is wholly identical to the original film – itself loosely adapted by Fey from Rosalind Wiseman’s advice book Queen Bees and Wannabes – with the distinguishing factor that every few minutes, the cast break out into colourfully choreographed musical numbers. But while the first few songs unfold with the awkward hesitancy of, well, a teenager, it only takes a few transitions for the concept to develop a scarily impressive level of homecoming-king confidence.

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Tina Fey reprises her role as Ms. Norbury in the film.JOJO WHILDEN/Paramount Pictures

With only a few exceptions, the songs by composer Jeff Richmond (Fey’s husband) and lyricist Nell Benjamin blow the roof off, so much so that by the time the characters launch into a version of the ear-wormy track Revenge Party – like much of the tunes here, slightly reworked from their Broadway versions, but all for the better – you’ll want to buy a ticket for the (inevitable?) singalong screening.

Rapp, who played the role of Regina on Broadway, is a force-of-nature knockout, honouring but not imitating Rachel McAdams’s beautiful bullying from the first film with a sly kind of menace. The same goes for Rice, Wood and Avantika – they all had opportunities to merely crib from the actresses who came before them instead of bringing something fresh to the roles.

The same can’t quite be said of Fey, who again plays math teacher Ms. Norbury with the exact same wry detachment as she did in the first film. This isn’t a complaint, necessarily, as old-new Fey is better than no Fey at all. And she does give her old Saturday Night Live co-star Tim Meadows, back as the tortured Principal Duvall, a genuinely sweet moment toward the end of the film that more than earned the spontaneous applause that greeted it during a preview screening the other night.

All that’s left to do now, then, is patiently await Fey and Richmond’s 30 Rock Broadway musical, which in turn should spark the 30 Rock television show musical. Better start exercising those vocal cords, Alec Baldwin.

Editor’s note: (Jan. 10, 2024): A previous version of this article stated incorrectly that Reneé Rapp originated the role of Regina on Broadway. Rapp took over the role from Taylor Louderman in 2018.

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