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Merry Christmas! Avantika, Angourie Rice, Reneé Rapp, and Bebe Wood perform a familiar number for the winter talent show in "Mean Girls."

Dear God, has it really been 20 years since the original Mean Girls came out? (Not quite, but it will be in a few short months.) That film has been around for so long that two of the original Plastics are now Oscar nominees, something even I wouldn’t have predicted. The 2004 film’s stylized teen comedy lends itself to a musical treatment, and so the movie became a Broadway musical a few years ago. Adding songs to a non-musical story always raises the original material’s ceiling as well as lowering the floor. The new film adapted from the stage show pops, thanks largely to the cast.

The film begins with Janis and Damian (Auli’i Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey) singing the opening rock number “A Cautionary Tale” in their garage, only to open the garage door and reveal the Kenyan savanna, where Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) sings “What Ifs” as a prelude to leaving Africa to finish her secondary education in America. Rice is the brilliant Australian actress from The Nice Guys and the Tom Holland Spider-Man films, and while she’s great at capturing Cady’s transformation from socially maladroit wallflower to queen bee-in-waiting, I have to say that her singing voice is rather on the forgettable side.

Good thing the rest of the young cast makes up for that, with Bebe Wood and Avantika as Gretchen and Karen. Reneé Rapp — and yes, the accent mark in her name is correctly placed — played Regina George on Broadway, and she finds an altogether slinkier, sultrier take on the character than Rachel McAdams did, while still conveying the same unnerving control-freak tendencies. (Also, Rapp is really funny in the latter scenes, when Regina is uncharacteristically kind because she’s blissed out on painkillers.) Maybe even better is Cravalho, who frequently duets with Spivey, and their voices blend well as a gay Greek chorus. If you only know her as the voice of Moana, she makes an even more vivid impression here in the flesh as a fabulous lesbian Janis and comes close to stealing the movie outright.

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The adult side of things is less stellar despite the bigger names. Tina Fey and Tim Meadows both reprise their roles from the original movie, and the new film casts the likes of Jenna Fischer as Cady’s mom, Jon Hamm as Coach Carr, and Ashley Park (who played Gretchen on the stage) as the school’s French teacher. None of them contribute as much as you’d expect, although Busy Philipps bears a terrifying resemblance to Rapp as Regina’s cool mom.

First-time directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. stage the numbers in creative ways, with Karen singing “Sexy” framed by 18 backup dancers doing the same dance moves in their own separate TikTok videos. A bit later, Regina’s number “Someone Gets Hurt” effectively uses horror-movie lighting at the Halloween costume party, with Cady dressed creepily as a vampire bride. The songs by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin are good enough to give the film some backbone, especially in the early going.

My biggest issue with the 2004 movie was its attitude that the adults have all the answers, and thankfully there’s less of that here. The original Mean Girls depicted maybe the last crop of teenagers who didn’t have to grow up with social media, and while the new version does have its teens using the platforms, I do wish that had been used more inventively. Also, the gag with Regina being hit by the bus isn’t as well staged as it was in the first movie. Nevertheless, it’s the young star power that carries this new Mean Girls over its rockier patches. You might even call it fetching.

Mean Girls
Starring Angourie Rice and Reneé Rapp. Directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. Written by Tina Fey, based on her own musical and her own screenplay. Rated PG-13.

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