Making fetch happen: What to expect from the Mean Girls musical movie
Words by Samantha Highfill
(Entertainment Weekly) It must be Wednesday, because the hallways of North Shore High School are decked out in pink. Pink tassels hang off lockers, pink flyers line the walls, and a large pink banner reading, “Vote for your Spring Fling Queen” covers the entire width of the hall. It’s as if the whole school wants to ensure it can sit with the Plastics.
It’s early December, and six cast members of the upcoming Mean Girlsmusical film are preparing for a group shot at EW’s cover shoot, each person surrounded by a team of makeup professionals and publicists inside Ms. Norbury’s increasingly chaotic classroom. But someone’s missing — and it’s not because she’s gone to get cheese fries. Moments later, a distant voice cuts through the crowd: “We have Reneé!” Instantly, a sea of people parts as Reneé Rapp, this film’s Regina George, enters the room. Now this feels like Mean Girls.
In 2004, the world was introduced to Queen Bee Regina George and her army of Plastics when the original Mean Girls hit theaters. Written by Tina Fey, the comedy followed 16-year-old Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) as she moved from Africa to Illinois and was introduced to a very different kind of food chain — the high school girl kind, where popularity was everything, which meant Rachel McAdams’ Regina George was everything. Regina and her besties — Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) with her hair full of secrets and Karen (Amanda Seyfried) with her fifth sense — ruled North Shore High… at least until Cady partnered with art freaks Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese) to take them down.
The film was an instant success, its influence spreading faster than a new Regina-inspired fashion trend. Even if you’ve never seen it, you’ve absolutely heard someone mention it, be it your personal friends, President Obama’s dog “trying to make fetch happen,” or Ariana Grande recreating the “Jingle Bell Rock” number for her “Thank U, Next” music video. “You can have full conversations in Mean Girls. It was embedded in our DNA,” says Samantha Jayne, who co-directs the new movie with Arturo Perez Jr. “It’s kind of like how they say a baby is born every five seconds. I think a Mean Girls quote is said somewhere in the world every five seconds.”
No one is safe from the Mean Girls influence, not even the people behind it. Saturday Night Live mastermind Lorne Michaels, a producer on both films, remembers sitting at a diner with his then-teenage daughter seven or eight years ago when she asked him what day of the week it was. When he didn’t remember, she reminded him: It was October 3rd. “It just resonated,” Michaels says. “It was in the culture, and somehow it stayed current.”
Reneé Rapp and Christopher Briney in 'Mean Girls' PHOTO: JOJO WHILDEN/PARAMOUNT
As for Janis and Damian, this time around, they’re more than just Cady’s friends who want revenge on the Plastics — they’re also narrating the story. “Something that [directors] Sam and Art said that I was astounded by was, ‘What if Janis and Damian directed their own high school experience?” Wood recalls.
It’s actually something the movie borrows from the Broadway adaptation, the idea that Damian and Janis are telling viewers a tale — and it’s a cautionary one. “You’re experiencing it the way Janis and Damian would want you to experience it,” Perez says, which is why the camera almost serves as a character in the film, giving the audience an up-close-and-personal perspective one would get if they, say, filmed a documentary on their iPhone.
Filling the critical narrator roles are Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho and Tony Award-nominee Jaquel Spivey, who will usher the story into 2024… with a song. We did mention there’s singing, right? (Unless your name is Chris Briney, because Aaron is the only main character who doesn’t sing. “I was so fine with it,” Briney says, laughing.)
Jaquel Spivey, Angourie Rice, and Auli'i Cravalho in 'Mean Girls'. PHOTO: JOJO WHILDEN/PARAMOUNT
Much like the Broadway show, this big-screen iteration will swap Cady’s voiceover for songs, some of which will be recognizable to anyone grool enough to have seen the stage adaptation. Karen is still making things sexy while Janis pays tribute to her right finger — but the tunes won’t be exactly the same. “People doing bedroom pop is very popular, basically producing all their songs in the bedroom,” says composer Jeff Richmond, who also happens to be Fey's husband. “So that was our initial approach, but I wanted to bend the songs a little bit more to sound like radio hits, so we were changing the palette from Broadway to radio.”
Singing might be the biggest difference from the original film, but it isn’t the only one. After all, simply setting the story in 2024 changes a lot — high school isn’t what it used to be, in ways both big and small. (Say goodbye to those three-way phone calls Regina loved so much and say hello to TikTok.)
“Bullying in the recent past is quite different than probably what it was in 2004,” Avantika says. “This movie does a good job of capturing what modern-day bullying feels like.”
As Cravalho sums it up, “We have the Burn Book and we have social media.”
Other small updates to note: The talent show dance now includes gymnastics (because you can’t have a CD skip in 2024), and Kevin G’s number has changed a bit. “His rap is still filthy and inappropriate, but it’s a bit more sex-positive,” Fey teases.
Looking at the bigger picture, Fey and company set out to make the film a reflection of today, which means more diversity and more open discussions about sexuality. “I was writing [the original] in the early 2000s and really taking from my teenage years in the mid-to-late ’80s, and the world has changed in a lot of ways for the good, [but] a lot of problems are still there,” Fey says.
Fans will notice that Karen Smith is now Karen Shetty, and Janis Ian is now Janis 'Imi’ike. “Representation is extremely important,” Jayne says. “To be able to see yourself reflected on screen is everything, so we wanted our actors to bring themselves to this role in every way possible.”
For Spivey, seeing himself on screen is one of the reasons he loved the first movie all those years ago. “Before I knew I was gay, I was always the guy that was with all the girls in the family. So I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a character who only hangs with the girls,’” he says of the original, adding, “How many chubby gay guys are on a screen, and how much is that representation shown? I wanted to be a part of it. It’s cool to show there’s somebody out there that’s like you. That’s what Mean Girls did for me.”
Back at the EW photo shoot, the cast is gathered around for a group interview, and Briney is the latest to chime in on the legacy of the 2004 film: “I don’t remember a world pre-Mean Girls. I don’t know if there was a world pre-Mean Girls. It’s just been the context for comedy for so long.” When asked about their initial reactions to being cast in the new project, Rice and Rapp say, almost in unison, “I was afraid.” But they’re also all in agreement on one thing: When Tina Fey wears army pants and flip-flops, you buy army pants and flip-flops. (Translation: You don’t pass up the chance to be in Mean Girls.)
“We love it so much that we’re going to make something fresh, because we can’t recreate it — it’s too iconic,” Spivey says.
“On set, we would say, ‘We want to uphold the sacred text,’ but also have it feel new and fresh because it is something different. It’s another take on it,” Jayne adds.
So how do they strike the balance of giving fans all the moments they know and love without just remaking the original? “It’s tricky, because jokes have to be surprises to work,” Fey admits. “So, finding genuine new moments and then finding spots to subvert what you expect the old line to be was really helpful.”
In other words, fans might not get every single moment that they loved the first time around, but everyone involved knows the responsibility they’re shouldering, and it’s a weight that can’t be measured in Kalteen bars.
“I knew going into this that there would be a lot of eyes on it, but it didn’t really hit me until the first teaser came out,” Rice tells EW. That teaser — which first surprised many fans sitting down to watch Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour in the theater — currently has more than 7 million views on YouTube. (And Cady thought it was stressful when 60 people in a gymnasium were talking about her…)
Come January, it won’t just be the trailer that people are watching. We can’t claim to have ESPN, but it isn’t the new fans they have to worry about, it’s the fans who know every single line by heart — or who, like Rapp, grew up playing “Which Plastic are you?” with her friends. “As a cynical millennial myself, I knew the challenge would be people being like, ‘Why are you touching my Mean Girls?’” Jayne says. “That was a challenge we were trying to answer every day with this movie.”
“It takes blood, sweat, and tears to make any great film, and I think this is one of the greats,” Cravalho says. “We wanted it to be as iconic as the ’04 version while also putting our own spin on it… and adding more glitter.”
When all is said and done, and Damian’s handed out four candy canes to Glen Coco — you go, Glen Coco! — the question will be: Is this the last iteration of Mean Girls? The cast might not remember life before it, but will they know life after it?
“Sometimes I say I feel like I’m in a Twilight Zone episode where I’m like, ‘Oh, so I just write this one movie for the rest of my life? Okay!’” Fey jokes. But also, is it a joke? “Literally tomorrow I have a meeting about taking the Broadway show to London,” she adds. Because when it comes to the number of Mean Girls projects that this world needs, the answer seems pretty clear: The limit does not exist.