The 2024 release of Mean Girls has been met with a wave of backlash ever since the first trailer dropped and now that it’s out in cinemas, the film hasn’t fared much better. I went to see the movie half out of loving the musical, half out of secretly wanting to jump on the hate train (and also due to the small fact that I signed up to write this piece a month before the film came out so I didn’t have a choice). Recently there’s been an onslaught of films that jumpscare you with a musical number within the first five minutes, most notably, the recent Wonka movie. As a former theatre nerd, I feel embarrassingly invested in how the marketing of Mean Girls sets it up for failure, with no hint of it being a two-hour movie musical based on the Broadway show. Audiences have essentially been tricked into seeing a different film than the one they paid for. And it doesn’t seem to be redeeming itself as time goes on; when I started writing this article, the movie had a score of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes but has now drastically plummeted to 70%.
So, why do people hate it so much? I think one of its biggest downfalls was casting. To be clear, Reneé Rapp, who reprised her 2019 Broadway role as Regina George, is exempt from this and was one of the few saving graces of the film. However, the decision to cast other actors with no musical theatre training to play main characters in a musical is questionable, to say the least. Take, for example, Aaron Samuels, played by Christopher Briney, who originally had a duet with Regina in the Broadway production with ‘Someone Gets Hurt’. However, the film version completely cut his lines. Why? Because the man does not have a musical bone in his body. Even when the cast did sing, the autotune was painfully obvious to the point I felt like I was watching Kidz Bop cover, and not a 36 million dollar production which, surprisingly, isn’t a good sign. One song I was particularly excited to see was Cady’s ‘Stupid with Love’ number which is about her bubbly excitement over a crush, but it has been absolutely slated online for mellowing the song out. I can see why they did it, in an attempt to turn it into a love ballad. But it was still bad. And it still deserves the hate. Anna on Letterboxd (@annabanaanaa) agrees, asking the very valid question of “where is the beat, where is the rhythm, where is the funny?” I wish I knew. I think the casting of Cady in general didn’t quite click and made the film feel off somehow. Her vocals were strained and her delivery didn’t live up to the original. Talking of the original, it was, however, a nice surprise to see Lindsey Lohan cameo in the film as the mathlete championship invigilator. It was tasteful and felt like a ‘passing of the baton’ moment, even if she was passing the baton onto an arguably worse Cady.
It seemed as if the film wasn’t quite sure what direction it wanted to take – whether to take a stab at originality or to keep to the classic. The overwhelming amount of TikTok references made sure we knew that it was set in the present day, and wasn’t shy to remind us every 5 seconds. Which would be fine if you didn’t then have characters using flip phones as if it was the mid-2000s. It was confusing to figure out what the film was trying to achieve and I still couldn’t give you a concrete answer now. If they wanted to pay homage to the Y2K style, I’d argue that fashion would’ve been a much better way to do this. The outfits in the 2004 original have reached iconic status and are used again and again on Halloween by girls (me) worldwide. From Regina’s cut-out tank top to the Jingle Bell Rock costumes and Karen’s mouse costume, I could go on. So it’s safe to say that the expectations for this version were high when it came to costumes. And with expectations that high, they’re bound to disappoint regardless. The outfits weren’t terrible by any means; there were nice nods to the original such as Regina’s off-the-shoulder top during ‘World Burn’, along with the infamous Jingle Bell Rock outfits. However, the others were simply lacklustre and looked like something bought off of Shein for a night out. I’m not exactly sure what they hoped to achieve by making these changes other than to score originality points. But when it’s a film adaptation of a musical, that was based on a film, that was based on a book… I don’t think originality is exactly what audiences are coming for.