The biggest takeaway I got after screening “Mean Girls,” the big screen adaptation of the Broadway musical, is that there is a reason you haven’t heard of any of the songs. There’s also a clear reason why the studio decided to dump this one in the January movie release wasteland. Co-directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. have made a project that could’ve been titled “When Movie Musicals go Wrong,” because nearly everything does in this mediocre film.
Cady (Angourie Rice) is the new student at North Shore high school. When she’s deemed “pretty” by queen bee Regina George (Reneé Rapp) on her first day, Cady is welcomed to sit at the popular girls’ table in the cafeteria. She finds herself as a new member of “The Plastics,” the pretty girls who rule the school at the top of the teenage food chain. Against the advice of her clique mates Gretchen (Bebe Wood) and Karen (Avantika), Cady admits she has a major crush on Regina’s ex-boyfriend Aaron (Christopher Briney). This puts her squarely in the crosshairs of Regina’s wrath. With the help of her outcast friends Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey), Cady must learn how to stay true to herself while taking down the apex predator in pink.
The story is timeless, and anyone who has ever been to high school can relate no matter their age. There are themes of friendship, social cliques, embracing your identity, bullying, and resisting the very real pressures to fit in and be popular. The messaging is strong, although it does make you wonder if it will get through to the people who need to hear it the most.
The casting is decent and most of the actors can sing reasonably well (although Rice seems to be straining to hit her notes more often than not), but these aren’t characters that are a lot of fun to be around. I kept checking my watch throughout the movie, where ten minutes felt like an hour had passed. It somehow manages to be entertaining enough, and that’s due in part to Cravalho’s appeal. She’s charismatic, talented, and also lucky enough to land the best role (everybody loves Janice, a young woman who marches to the beat of her own drummer).
The film’s biggest stumbling block is simple: the music just isn’t good. None of these songs are bangers, and the lyrics are sorely lacking. It’s hard to adapt musicals, and the singing and dancing numbers are so poorly staged that they’re borderline inept. The choreography is dreadful and the set pieces are unwieldy, and it doesn’t help that the story is very limiting in setting and scope.
“Mean Girls” isn’t flat-out terrible, but fans of the original 2004 film and the stage play are both going to leave equally disappointed.