Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” (2024): dazzling, thoughtful, but…a musical? 

*This article features spoilers of “Mean Girls” (2004) and (2024) 

“Mean Girls” (2024) made its debut in theatres across the United States on Jan. 12. Directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr., with a screenplay by Tina Fey, the film is based on the Broadway musical of the same name, which, in turn, was based on the teen comedy and early 2000s classic (of the same name), directed by Mark Waters. All productions were written by Fey and based on Rosalind Wiseman’s 2002 book, “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” a self-help book focusing on navigating cliques, aggressive behavior and bullying derived from such and basic woes that adolescents deal with while in high school.  

The plot follows 16-year-old Cady Heron as she returns to the United States after 12 years spent in Africa being homeschooled by her parents, who were there conducting research. On her first day, outcasts Janis and Damian take her under their wing and explain the lay of the land, pointing out the Plastics, the most popular clique. They consist of gossip queen Gretchen Weiners, bubbly and dim-witted Karen Smith and the queen bee, Regina George. Unexpectedly, the Plastics ask Cady to sit with them at lunch and allow her into their clique. Left with unresolved trauma, Janis hates Regina and encourages Cady to act as a spy to get revenge. Uncertain at first by this potential foul play, Cady is fully convinced to join in on the revenge after Regina wrongs her by getting back together with Regina’s ex-boyfriend, Aaron Samuels, after Cady voices having a crush on him.  

To sabotage Regina’s reputation, Cady gives her “facial cream” (2004: foot cream, 2024: lard) for acne and Swedish weight-gain “Kälteen” bars to lose weight. Further, Cady turns Gretchen and Karen against Regina by getting them to think that she hates them. Gretchen breaks down and divulges secrets to Cady, one being that Regina is cheating on Aaron. Cady informs Aaron, and he breaks up with Regina. Things worsen for Regina when she is excommunicated from the Plastics’ lunch table for breaking their dress code by wearing sweatpants. Cady is deemed the new queen bee, and she throws a party at her parents’ house, ditching plans with both her parents (a concert) and with Janis and Damian (an art show honoring Janis’ artistic abilities).  

At the party, Cady wants to become an item with Aaron. All goes awry when she tells him she’s purposefully been failing math to talk to him, and she couldn’t have otherwise because he’s Regina’s “property.” He gets upset and exclaims that she’s a perfect clone of Regina, leaving the party. Cady follows him outside, only to find Janis fuming over her little charade of having a house party and skipping her art show. Janis calls her Plastic and ends their friendship in disgust.  

Eventually, Regina catches wind of the party and learns that Kälteen bars are for weight gain, not weight loss. She brings out her “Burn Book,” a book where they wrote mean things about girls in their grade, and puts herself in it before spreading it to the entire school. The junior girls’ class goes ballistic, forcing the principal to stage an assembly. Tina Fey’s character addresses the animosity between the girls and tells them they need to support one another, as the world is already trying to tear them down. They do various trust exercises, where Regina discovers that Janis and Cady were working against her. She rushes out of the school and gets hit by a bus.  

Cady learns from this experience, as her parents, peers and teachers are all upset with her. She attempts to make things right by joining and winning state for the Mathletes, and giving a speech at the Spring Fling dance after she is voted Spring Fling queen. The movie has a happy ending, with Cady making up with Janis and Damian, and also Aaron.  

The plotline between the two films is essentially the same. Nevertheless, the differences are what make it a remake! Unfortunately, I am unfamiliar with the Broadway musical, so I cannot factor that into my comparison, but my following analysis covers a few main contrasts between the two films.  

“Mean Girls” (2024) introduces the role social media plays in high school cliques and bullying. Though Regina George is direct and doesn’t cyberbully anyone, Regina’s and Cady’s names are both slandered throughout the movie. When Regina falls during their rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock,” the clip is recorded and spread across the internet. When Regina has had enough of Cady’s backstabbing and “releases” the Burn Book, she doesn’t make copies of its pages. Rather, she sets it on the hallway ground, and lets people find it and post it on social media. When Regina gets hit by the bus, it is recorded and rumors that Regina died are spread. TikToks are posted, many wishing that Regina rest in peace or that she deserved it. Cady is also rumored to have pushed her in conspiracy TikToks featuring the video footage. Information is spread instantaneously, factual or not.  

Additionally, the film highlights the possible impact of social media and “aging-up” on current tweens and teens. Though the 2004 version has its moments, this adaptation certainly made me gasp several times: “But they’re in high school!” This was particularly true for Karen, as her ditzy character seemed to have an obsession with wearing clothing that accentuated her cleavage. I guess that was the trade-in for Karen’s character feeling herself up to predict the weather. Another instance that was horrifying was the adaptation of “Jingle Bell Rock,” which became “Rockin’ Around the Pole,” and was arguably more vulgar, as the idea of a stripper pole was more prominent. Maybe this is just making me sound old, but the 2004 version was undoubtedly more censored, visually and conceptually.  

We haven’t addressed the elephant in the room: it’s a musical! Admittedly, that’s not all that shocking, considering the Broadway musical has been around since 2017. Although maybe it is; if one were not into the musical scene and they were going into the theatre, having only seen the trailer, they might be quite taken aback. The trailer does not emphasize that “Mean Girls” (2024) is a musical. Personally, I only found out after reading the comments on the trailer. Coincidentally, such comments also voiced that they thought not advertising that the film is a musical was a foul advertising ploy to reach a wider audience.  

In the beginning, I found myself hoping that the singing would cease and that it wouldn’t be all choreographed dancing. Luckily, I was able to ease into the film and enjoy it, being seduced by the lovely Reneé Rapp and astounded by the talented Auli’i Cravalho (the voice actress and singer in “Moana”!). The musical numbers undoubtedly made the film more dramatic (I felt chills numerous times!), and many of them included dramatic changes in scenery—some being bright and bubbly to express being oneself, and others being dark and spooky to dramatize Regina’s queen bee–ness. Overall, it kept viewers on their toes, as there were many “what is going on?” moments.  

Finally—the ultimate spoiler—is the difference between 2004’s and 2024’s ending. In 2004, Cady has her touching moment at the Spring Fling and then we are shown Regina’s, Gretchen’s and Karen’s lives outside of the Plastics; further, we see the next junior class Plastics in the making, and it symbolizes a cycle of popularity cliques. In the 2024 ending, however, it ends with the Spring Fling! Does this erase the notion of a never-ending cycle of popularity and bullying? What happens to the Plastics? Is leaving it open-ended symbolic in and of itself? I guess that’s for you to decide after you watch the movie!