Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Conform! Free thinking is overrated! Orange is the new pink!
A uniquely rebellious girl group is taken from obscurity to superstardom in a decades-old plot to brainwash the youth of America through pop music. Josie (Rachel Leigh Cook) is turned into a star, Val (Rosario Dawson) deals with being outside the spotlight and Melody (Tara Reid) is a total moron. Will they satirically be able to save the country from conformity?
Why I Love It
When I was watching this the other night, I kept talking about how awesome it was, so Neil challenged me to write about it for this column. And I admit, dear readers, that I was afraid to. Why? Because it’s not a very universally well-liked movie. So I’ve changed the normal “we” headers to “I” headers to make it clear that I don’t speak for FSR as a whole. But those who don’t like this movie are wrong, and I plan on pointing out why.
First of all, on the surface, this movie is a bubble gum, digestible piece of fluff with a stock plotline and a predictable character arc. I realize that mixing bubble gum and digestability metaphors is ridiculous, but that seems to match the tone of the movie. The opening sequence introduces the audience to Du Jour, the hottest boy band on the planet, singing their smash single “Backdoor Lover” before boarding a plane that goes down somewhere in the middle of nowhere when they start asking questions. It’s a ridiculous, over-the-top opening that nails the ridiculous, over-the-top nature of the boy band craze and the formulaic creation that passes for art in the music world in a pop-culture-obsessed age.
It’s tongue-in-cheek. And it’s perfect.
As a satire, the movie catches the tone of the consumerist fascination deftly. Which is precisely why it is such a digestible movie on the surface – because the satirical message it carries has to be delivered in such a cartoonish fashion. Plus, it’s a movie based on characters that appear in Archie Comics, so the tone works on that level as well. Yet another reason to love this movie, it takes side characters from a weekly comic and implants a conspiracy theory plot into their story. Writer/directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (who also directed Can’t Hardly Wait) could have chosen to make a stock comic adaptation about the rise of a girl group to fame, but instead decided to show how chasing fame is as pointless as chasing the brand new sneaker that comes out each week.
Point three – the movie is self-reflexive when it comes to humor. It’s easy to dismiss the movie as meaningless fluff being pawned off to teenagers, but it recognizes that it’s meaningless fluff being pawned off to teenagers and mocks itself. For one, the product placement is exaggerated to the nth degree (or at least the 75th, since that’s how many companies had products in the film) in order to drive home the ridiculousness nature of consumer culture (specifically within movies). For two, the movie drops several jokes about itself, including having Mr. Moviefone subliminally chant “Josie and the Pussycats is the best movie ever!” and having a government official claim they’ve given up on subliminal mind control in pop music because it’s easier to do with movies. Then flashing not only a reminder of how awesome the movie is, but also a message telling kids to “Join the Army.” Genius.
Plus, when Josie and the girls get famous, there’s a news headline scrolling that Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore will be playing them in a feature film. Not to mention the many cameos from people within the pop culture world. Does a movie that gets Carson Daly to say he’s part of a vast pop-culture conspiracy not deserve praise? It’s real people saying true things in the context of a fictional movie. Trip out on that.
Plus, plus, the movie even recognizes that it’s a comic adaptation. While the crew is on a jet winging its way to the big city, manager Alexander Cabot says to his sister, “I still don’t understand why you’re here,” and she replies, “I’m here because I was in the comic book.” The comment is then brushed under the rug, but it’s a quick little nod to the fact that some of the films elements are less then necessary. And they knew it, but still play along.
Then there’s the talent involved. Rachel Leigh Cook is great in the role, Rosario Dawson shows off some young chops, Tara Reid is actually likable (for that reason alone, this film deserves praise), and you’ve got Alan Cumming and Parker Posey bringing the veteran skills to the table. Granted, it’s not a huge dramatic stretch, but a lot of credit goes to strong casting. The characters are all flat, representational (as is the norm in any satire), but the actors all show restraint by letting the dialog and situations be campy without having to get too melodramatic. And when they do, they always do it with a wink to the camera.
Of course, the music is also shrewdly chosen. The opening song “Backdoor Lover” is a great parody-style song that’s as grating as any boy band hit while also displaying how grating and inappropriately sexually suggestive those songs can be. The attitudes of the members of Du Jour, (played with douche-y accuracy by Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, and Alexander Martin) match that tone perfectly. As for the main sound, The Pussycats “Pretend to be Nice” and “3 Small Words” are poppy, sure, but they are just as catchy as “That Thing You Do!” from the movie of the same name. And you don’t have to hear then nearly as much as that song.
Overall, Josie and the Pussycats is so enjoyable because it’s a complete package condensed into something as digestible as any throw-away flick with young talent, but it carries a deeper meaning. But it never gets bogged down in it. It’s making a pretty stark commentary on the youth culture of the country and their arbitrary spending habits, but it keeps smiling until the end credits.
Moment I Fell in Love
The whole damn movie is completely campy. From the opening scene to the last in which Josie’s love interest crowd surfs in order to yell out his love to her at a huge concert. Most of the humor comes from bits that are set up and then paid off by one of the characters responding in stereotypical fashion. So the only way I could see to pick a best scene is to choose the one that goes most over the top.
When Fiona (Parker Posey), the CEO of Megarecords, takes foreign investors alongside the CIA through the operations and explains how they influence the most gullible section of the population by making them chase new fads every week, it’s a quick-fire look at what might be some people’s worst nightmare. But also something many of us see to be true. They show off stations for fashion (“feathers are the new rhinestones!”), for slang (“the new word for ‘cool’ will be ‘jerkin’ as in ‘dude, that’s jerkin!”) and flashes far too much information to take in – all showing how they turn the world into one giant television commercial.
The conspiracy is further explained in a PSA-style announcement done by Ac-Tor Eugene Levy informing us about subliminal messages in rock music. Fact! Kids don’t have bills to pay. Fact! Kids don’t pay taxes. The video ends with Levy signing off with “God Bless America…the most ass-kicking country…in the world!”
I realize that there’s nothing I can say to get nay-sayers to see the light of day on this one, but it feels good to lay out all the points on the table. Like I said before, some will scoff at this movie for being nothing more than the usual factory-made, soulless comedy, but even if that’s all there is to it – it’s done well enough to be enjoyable. And that’s not all. If you’re looking for a deeper level, a deeper comment on culture in America, it’s there all wrapped up in sugar coated goodness.