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Josie and the Pussycats

Before Riverdale, before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, before Christopher Nolan Batman, before 9-11 even, there was a different type of comic book movie: JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS. Inspired by the Archie comic book and Hanna-Barbera cartoon, writer/directors Harry Elfont & Deborah Kaplan told a goofy version of the little-rock-‘n-roll-band-tested-by-overnight-superstardom story.

Actually maybe we should forget about comics and consider this timeline: it was a year before American Idol started. The Spice Girls had packed it up the year before. NSYNC and Backstreet Boys were still popular. The movie seems to offer the Pussycats as a refreshing alternative for teenage girls to obsess over instead of boy bands, but it should be noted that Destiny’s Child, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Brandy, Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Pink, and Aaliyah (plus Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson) all had hits that year. But I guess the Pussycats do stand out by playing instruments. Their songs are kind of sassy pop punk, not good in my opinion but not as intolerable as some in-movie music.

It’s a formulaic story. Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook, GET CARTER remake), Valerie (Rosario Dawson, DEATH PROOF) and Melody (Tara Reid, THE CROW: WICKED PRAYER) play guitar/lead vocals, bass, and drums, respectively in their unsigned band The Pussycats, struggling through unattended shows at bowling alleys and shit. Even their manager Alexander (Paulo Costanzo, SPLINTER) and his hanger-on sister Alexandra (Missi Pyle, GONE GIRL) don’t seem to be very loyal fans, and Josie can’t seem to cross the border out of the Friend Zone with her dorky folk singer crush Alan M (Gabriel Mann, CHERRY FALLS). Then they’re spotted by MegaRecords asshole Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming, also in the GET CARTER remake, as well as SPICE WORLD) who’s looking for the next big thing, having recently orchestrated a plane crash for his popular boy band Du Jour after they discovered a plot to hide subliminal messages in their music.

So the Pussycats (renamed Josie and the Pussycats) get pushed as huge stars, and are in the awkward position of living their dreams while having a funny feeling they haven’t earned it yet. Of course they face sensitivities about Josie being shoved into the spotlight, and they get mad at each other, but ultimately discover the conspiracy and make up as friends and as a band and play the big concert and get the boy (who declares his love to Josie while being body-passed) and all that.

What makes it a good movie, besides the pleasing, square likability and light humor of Archie Comics, is a well executed satirical message about consumerism and pop music. MegaRecords head Fiona (Parker Posey, BLADE TRINITY) reveals a secret underground headquarters where professional tastemakers decide the latest trends in fashion and slang and promote products to children through hidden messages recorded by the voice of Mr. Movie Fone (excellent dated reference), manipulating them to buy shit and then lose interest and then buy something else, all in the name of the economy. (Actually Fiona doesn’t exactly explain it – she plays an educational video about it, hosted by Eugene Levy.)

That theme explains the movie’s setting in kind of a casual dystopia where corporate logos are everywhere and no one ever comments on it. The whole city (downtown Riverdale? I’m not sure) looks like Times Square, but with giant advertisements for crap like Bugles and America Online.

In the opening scene, Du Jour are in their private jet, which is decorated on the inside with giant Target logos. I love how they have random products like liquid dish detergent and fabric softener on display as if they’re trophies or museum artifacts.

Later, when the Pussycats are put up in a fancy hotel, Josie’s room is decorated with a Revlon theme, Valerie’s has Target and Melody’s has McDonalds. This is what a McDonalds branded hotel shower looks like, if you’re wondering:

Also that would be an amazing movie still to stumble across out of context.

Like TALLADEGA NIGHTS, they didn’t get paid for any of the logos and had to get permission to use them, knowing that it was much more effective to use familiar companies from the real world than some dumb made up ones. But as has happened with some other movies, apparently certain knuckleheads criticized this as if it were sincere product placement and would be more likely to brainwash teens into buying Bounce fabric softener than to communicate its explicit point that this sort of rampant commercialism is gross and uncool. I don’t understand people who don’t understand this shit. But I know their hearts are in the right place.

I love the intentionally crass use of corporate logos, and it’s a good example of the movie’s not-what-I-expected humor. There’s also a crazy scene where Valerie and Melody are invited to be on MTV’s Total Request Live, but when they get there the whole set and everybody on it are just flat wooden cutouts. A guy (Aries Spears, SNOOP DOGG’S HOOD OF HORROR) comes out and introduces himself as Carson Daly, but they know he’s not Carson Daly. Then the real Carson Daly comes out, and the two men reveal that they’re part of the conspiracy to brainwash children into buying products, so they try to kill the two Pussycats.

So yes, this is one of the only movies where Carson Daly, playing himself, tries to beat Tara Reid to death with a baseball bat, and she escapes by knocking him unconscious with a wooden cutout of Matt Damon. This seems slightly less random after reading that Reid and Daly were engaged at the time, but it’s still strange. If you’re wondering, no, they do not reveal that Carson Daly was being mind controlled. He did it on his own accord, apparently.

I know Reid is kind of shunned now and is just in SHARKNADO movies and shit, so it’s nice that she gets alot of laughs as the space cadet Pussycat. In fact, I think she has the funniest line, after an apologetic Josie wishes she could go back in time to undo her diva behavior.

This is more expected, but sometimes they do little meta/fourth-wall-violation type jokes, like when somebody asks Alexandra why being the manager’s sister means she gets to go on tour with them.

“I’m here because I was in the comic book.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

Bit part alert: SEE NO EVIL 2 directors the Soska twins apparently are extras playing fans, 8 years before they became directors. I think they’re probly just in the crowd with hundreds of other Canadian teens and probly can’t be spotted, but while looking for them I noticed this scene which I believe features their frequent leading lady Katharine Isabelle. In interviews the Soskas say they were excited to meet her on set because they were fans of GINGER SNAPS.

Also of note: Darren Aranofsky’s regular cinematographer Matthew Libatique shot this the year after REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. It’s not as arty, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

This and CAN’T HARDLY WAIT (which I remember not thinking was good, but I know people of a certain age hold on to it) are the only directorial works by Elfont & Kaplan, but they also wrote A VERY BRADY SEQUEL, THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS, SURVIVING CHRISTMAS, MADE OF HONOR and LEAP YEAR. I hope they consider this one a feather in their caps.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 8th, 2017 at 9:56 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Comic strips/Super heroes, Music, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Josie and the Pussycats”

  1. Ah yes, the simple joy of having mentioned on here several times how good a movie is and finally knowing that Vern liked it too.

  2. Shockingly underloved and misunderstood.

    I still find myself singing “Back Door Lover” on occasion, too.

  3. I enjoyed this one too. I hold it up as the shining example of this sort of thing:

    “Oh, man. I got a gig! I’m writing the JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS script.”

    “Great! So why the long face?”

    “Because Josie and the Pussycats is a fifty-year-old franchise no one cares about. It’s just an attempt to cash in on a brand. So I don’t know what to write the script about.”

    “Why don’t you make the movie *about* cashing on brands?”

    “That’s gold!”

  4. People wrinkle their nose at me whenever I champion this movie. Glad to see it getting some love.

  5. On the other hand, i doubt anyone will love the JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS movie.

  6. I’m one of those that loves Can’t Hardly Wait. The Holy Grail of deleted scenes (teen movie edition) is Can’t Hardly Wait. I want to see all the R rated (but probably super PG13) stuff they cut from the film.

  7. God I love this fucking movie. Thank you, Vern. I have spent each year since the film’s release trying to convince motherfuckers to see it and in that entire time I’ve had maybe three or four people take me up on the challenge and maybe one of those people actually admitted that it had any degree of merit whatsoever beyond its reputation as a vapid, disposable, cash grab of a film with no redeeming or subversive qualities whatsoever. I thought maybe after THE LEGO MOVIE dropped this one would get another shot and a fairer shake but nope.

    Warms my goddamned soul to see motherfuckers on here also having a place for it in their hearts. You guys are the best.

  8. That IS the funniest line in the movie. It made me laugh out loud in the theater, and I never laugh out loud. It’s kind of a perfect joke. The wording is perfect.

  9. I’m not sure about this one guys. Yes, it’s probably more interesting than you first expected it would be when you heard they were making a JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS film, but I don’t think it lives up to the 15 years of “it’s surprisingly [X]” hype. It’s got a few cute moments, and it’s a light breezy watch, but, from memory (I saw it in 2005), it falls into that category of having a vaguely subversive layer to mask what is ultimately a fairly banal, bland film, with a lot of cheap, pandering gags (“ha, ha, a boy band got beat up by a bunch of RAWK FANS, yeah!!”). It’s a lot closer to the CHARLIE’S ANGELS films than it is to THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, or even GREMLINS 2; some of you would consider that a compliment I’m sure, and I know Vern is a fan, but it steers it close to an aesthetic and style I just never cared for. Their song was catchy though.

    Anyways, sorry for shitting on a film you guys like that I’m sure a lot of people just dismiss out of hand, and I feel kind of bad for posting this but nothing (yet!) for THE LAWNMOWER MAN, a film I have a lot of love for. But IMO the “cult status” of this one might be dependent on it never getting too big, if you see what I mean.

  10. This is a stupendous film. Surprised Vern didn’t go further into the music by Babyface, Dr Luke and Letters to Cleo.

  11. Also, I’ve personally requested this review on multiple in-person meetings with Vern. I’ve always described it as a Teeny-Bopper Fight Club… but with greater thematic consistency.

  12. flying guillotine

    March 9th, 2017 at 11:33 am

    Sadly, Carson would later lose out on the role of Stone Fury in the cult classic WINDY CITY HEAT.

  13. Grimgrinningchris

    March 10th, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Thrilled that you liked this one, Vern. But I have to disagree that the music isn’t very good.
    If it’s not your thing (and I’m sure it’s not) I get that- but for what it is, it’s actually great.
    And written and performed by Letters To Cleo, a criminally underrated power pop band in their own right.

    Oh and my favorite joke is when ordering DuJour’s plane crash, Alan Cummings just says “It’s time to take the Chevy to the levee”

    Love this movie. Love the soundtrack. Love Can’t Hardly Wait too.

    Oh and although it’S seen as a low rent cousin… Viva Rock Vegas is actually VERY funny and 100x better than its big budget predecessor.

    So yeah…

  14. Weren’t some of the songs written by the Fountains of Wayne guy? Say what you will about the deficiencies of the pop-punk sound but that sonofabitch knows song structure.

  15. Grimgrinningchris

    March 10th, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    That was the That Thing You Do soundtrack if memory serves…

  16. Grimgrinningchris

    March 10th, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    Looks like Fountains Of Wayne guy did work on BOTH soundtracks…

    So there ya go!

  17. I’ve always enjoyed this one too. Like everyone else, I avoided it in theaters and gave it a bored-chance on VHS. Like every other defender though, it was an uphill battle convincing other ‘more open-minded’ people that it was worth a damn though.

    This movie also taught that as a matter of fact, there ARE ARCHIE-trekkies because when trying to sell this move to some people they went into obnoxious nerd mode and told me all about the original JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS (which I was already very aware of) and how the movie completely shits on the sanctity of the original texts and shows.

  18. I heartily agree – Fountains of Wayne guy knows a thing or two about song structure. Or hooks. Or writing lyrics.
    I haven’t seen this film, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen it recommended. Will give it a try, looks like fun.

  19. Lovecraft In Brooklyn

    March 19th, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    I haven’t seen this, but I will, since I love Fountains of Wayne. Are you all quoting Robbie Fulks’ Fountains of Wayne Hotline?

    Robbie Fulks – Fountains of Wayne Hotline

    Robbie’s brilliant, loving parody of the songwriting techniques and sound of power-pop icons Fountains of Wayne. He imagines an actual hotline songwriters can call for FOW-style

  20. Grimgrinningchris

    June 14th, 2017 at 8:28 am

    The JEM movie is a total slog. It’s basically Josie but trading the laffs for a robot and good pop rock for Some other kind of music.

    I think its heart is in the right place (as much as a movie that almost completely abandons even the most basic tenets of its source material but it really does come as a bigger budget TV movie.

    It was amusing to see Hayley Kiyoko, Juliette Lewis and Molly Ringwald all on screen together since they’ve all played at my club. But yeah. Nobody saw the movie and nobody will remember it fondly, I don’t think.

  21. Oops.

    Here’s the news:

    Josie and the Pussycats, the 2001 comic-based musical comedy that followed an all-girl band and their woes with the music industry, is getting a soundtrack vinyl reissue. Out September 26 via Mondo, the film score is almost entirely tracks by the fictional band played by Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson. Kay Hanley, the frontwoman of ‘90s rock band Letters to Cleo, provided the vocals for every Josie and the Pussycats song. Hanley’s band has also provided music for soundtracks like 1996’s The Craft and 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You.

    Mondo, Alamo Drafthouse, and Birth.Movies.Death. will host a reissue celebration at Los Angeles’ Ace Hotel, including a film screening, appearances by co-directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, and a live Josie and the Pussycats set by Hanley. Leopard-print vinyl records, a 7” record featuring DuJour songs (the film’s featured boy band), and a 12-page booklet featuring behind-the-scenes photos will be sold at the event.

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