|Josie and the Pussycats|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 14 August 2001|
Yes, it's a lot better than you might expect from a movie adapted from a 1963 comic book and a 1970 TV show. It's smarter than those sources suggest and it has some points to make. Yes, it's mainly a bubblegum movie about a bubblegum rock group aimed at girls 8-16, but almost anyone is likely to enjoy this fresh-faced, amiably silly movie. Someone has to -- it didn't do well at the boxoffice.
It opens as the aptly-named rock group of the day, Dujour, leave a tumultuous airport reception in the private jet owned by their label, MegaRecords, heading for Riverdale and a concert there. The quartet are all lunkheads, but not so lunkheaded as to fail to notice the strange sounds that THEY didn't put on their latest CD.
Now their doom is sealed. Their manager Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming) and the pilot (co-director Harry Elfont) bail out, and let the plane head on to a certain crash landing.
Meanwhile in Riverdale (Archie's home town, but the redhead doesn't turn up), the Pussycats -- Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook), Valerie (Rosario Dawson) and Melody (Tara Reid) -- are trying to establish themselves as at least a LOCAL band. But since their playdates are mostly in places like bowling alleys, they're not getting ahead very fast. Josie is kind of sweet on local acoustic-guitar singer Alan M (Gabriel Mann), but he regards her as just a friend (leading Josie to sigh a lot and work furiously on car engines).
As the trio are crossing a street, Wyatt almost runs over them, instantly recognizing them as the Next Big Thing, and almost as instantly, signs them to a major contract with MegaRecords. Before the girls' heads stop spinning, they're winging their way to the Big Apple.
MegaRecords CEO Fiona (the priceless Parker Posey) demonstrates to very interested government representatives that everything MegaRecords does, including CDs, rock videos, etc., is laden with subliminal messages, urging teenagers to buy this and that, obey authority, be nice, and forget about Area 51. This is the stuff that even dimwitted Dujour spotted, and which will now be conveyed by the songs of the rechristened Josie and the Pussycats.
Josie is as true-blue as they come, but the renaming of the band gives Valerie pause to wonder if Josie might be getting a swelled head. As it turns out, even Josie McCoy isn't immune to subliminal persuasion....
As co-written AND co-directed by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, the movie takes this subliminal business as its text AND subtext. It's not all that sub, of course: the MegaRecord corporate jet is full of company logos; the hotel rooms of Josie and her friends are decorated with more logos. Even New York City itself is bedecked in more logos in the form of neon signs. (And despite what so many thought at the time the film was released, this isn't product placement; the companies, of course, weren't SORRY that their logos were draped all over the film, but they also didn't pay to get them in there.)
The messages of the movie are to be true to yourself, and don't let yourself be led astray by those who are just trying to sell you something. The music is definitely bubblegum rock, but that doesn't mean it's bad; it's just a description of the kind of music it is: frothy, girl-oriented and bouncy. But what would you expect a group called Josie and the Pussycats to play even if you hadn't already heard of them?
The three actresses learned to realistically fake playing instruments, and all sing backup, though singer Kay Hanley dubs the lead vocals for Cook. The sound isn't at the ear-splitting level ordinarily aimed for by rock movies; you can actually hear yourself think while the band is banging away. It's the standard crisply professional job expected from a big studio movie (in this case two big studios; there's a cute quick gag with MGM's Leo the Lion). There are fewer songs in the movie than you might expect; it's only the climactic, inevitable Big Concert (Chapter 17) in which the sound really comes into play.
Cook is spunky and cute as Josie; there's not much depth to the character, nor should there be, but Cook keeps her likable, specific and charming. Dawson, who's black, matches her well; their friendship is the one element the movie takes very seriously. Tara Reid's Melody is a blonde bimbo, which we've seen before, though Kaplan & Elfont do find some new ways of expressing this (there's an especially funny bit in a shower). And she's always endearing.
Cumming, in long hair and wire rimmed glasses, looks like Satan's accountant, purring, sardonic, tempting and evil. Posey is, as usual, excellent as the titanically self-obsessed Fiona, who's never really had a thought about anyone but herself. The rest of the cast is okay, particularly Missi Pyle as the Josie-hating sister of their original manager (Paulo Costanzo), but they seem to be in the movie solely because they were in the comic books and/or the TV series. They don't really have a damned thing to do. The cast is studded with MTV jocks playing themselves, a joke that went over my head.
It's a lively movie from beginning to end, always chipper and cheerful, but it's never forced, never strained. It's also the sort of thing you forget an hour after you've seen it. Its target audience will enjoy it, but the movie lacks those you-gotta-see-it-again scenes required for a teen-oriented movie to be a major hit. And it wasn't.
Which makes it a little peculiar that the DVD has been given a bells-and-whistles presentation. There are several deleted scenes, a particularly vacuous "Backstage Pass" making-of extended commercial, a music video for Josie and the Pussycats ("3 Small Words") and even one for DuJour ("Backdoor Lover," a monotonous paean to anal sex). There are the usual trailers and production notes, though the "DVD Rom" features announced on the disc's wrapper seem only to be a link to the Universal website.
The commentary track by co-directors Elfont and Kaplan, along with producer Marc Platt, make them sound like genial people, but it doesn't really add very much to the experience of watching the movie. Not all movies need commentary tracks.
As the film wasn't a hit, I suppose we'll now never see a live-action version of "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space." Alas, some great things were never meant to be.