Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Josie and the Pussycats (2001)

Directed by Harry Elfont, Deborah Kaplan
Starring Rachel Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson, Tara Reid
PG-13
USA 

"If I could go back in time, I'd want to meet Snoopy."

Josie and the Pussycats was a short-lived but much-loved early 70's cartoon about an interracial all-girl band and their misadventures in life, love, and rock n' roll, with a bonus smattering of Scooby Doo-styled sleuthing. Josie and her pussycats originally appeared in Archie comics in the late 60's After the runaway success of the 1968 Archie cartoon show, the inevitable spinoffs - including Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the Groovie Goolies - began hitting the airwaves in rapid succession. Josie and the gang made their debut in the 1970-71 television season, and then spent the next couple years in space. There were only 32 episodes in total, but both Pussycats series were rerun throughout the 70's, insuring the cartoon's legacy for decades afterwards. The show held appeal for both sexes - boys, naturally, loved seeing cute girls in skimpy outfits. And for girls, Josie and the Pussycats was one of the surprisingly few cartoons of the era that featured strong, intelligent women in leading roles. And of course, everyone loves a sweet pop tune and a spooky adventure.

Writer-directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan wrote the screenplays for both A Very Brady Sequel and The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas, two films that mined kid's shows from the same era and put a modern, satirical twist on their mythologies, so they were clearly the go-to team to bring Josie and the gang into the modern era. Sadly, said era was a low-point in American culture, so the girls landed headfirst in the world of boy-bands, relentless self-referencing, and the waning days of the music video era. But even hobbled by the general goofiness of the era, their tale of friendship, girl-power, and bubblegum pop is still as appealing as ever.

The film with boyband Dujour (Seth Green and two of the dudes from Clueless are in the band) performing their hit "Backdoor Lover" on the tarmac for a legion of screaming teen fans before hopping on their Target-sponsored airplane before zooming off on tour. Things are going swimmingly until they notice a weird backing track on a mix of one of their latest tracks. They bring this odd situation up to their manager, Wyatt (Alan Cumming), who promptly parachutes out of the plane - with the pilot - causing the band to die in a fiery crash on the outskirts of Riverdale. Roll credits!


When we meet the Pussycats, they're playing to nobody at a bowling alley. After collecting their twenty dollar paycheck - minus 12 bucks for shoe rentals - they pack up, getting harassed by the local mean girls on their way out.

If that's not bad enough, Josie's love live isn't working out too well, either. Her crush, Alan M drops by, but all we wants is for her to fix his car, and even when it seems like he's finally going to admit that he likes her too, he just ends up ranting about a coworker with hygiene issues.


Later on that day, their manager Alex (Paolo Costanzo) and his meddling sister Alexandra (the always great Missi Pyle) shows up, but he's more interested in seeing Dujour and confusing Melody ("I can't be two places at once." "But imagine if you could? I could be here, and in there, and over there...") than helping out the Pussycats.


After dinner they watch MTV, where they find out about Dujour's disappearance. They see this as a sign to go to the mall to play a gig, unplugged style. Wyatt's over there, playing Dujour's newest tune, which is filled with subliminal messages. This naturally causes everybody to go into a consumerist frenzy, except for one indie rocker chick, who is thrown into a van and kidnapped.  Meanwhile, security chases the Pussycats out of the mall, where they run into Wyatt, who decides to sign them on the spot. Makes sense, they are pretty cute.


The Pussycats are somewhat concerned that Wyatt wants to sign them without actually hearing them, but what they hell, they go for it. They get whisked off to New York where they get a makeover and a billboard and limo. The girls are a little put-off that Wyatt changed their name to Josie and the Pussycats, but he's pretty convincing. I mean, every great band has an "and" in it, right?


Fiona (Parker Posey) is Wyatt's boss. When we meet her, she's taking a bunch of foreign dignitaries on a tour of the record label's facilities. Only, it's not really a record label, it's a massive underground bunker where they use the Megasound 8000 to not only autotune bands, but to implant subliminal messages on their music. That's why we buy stuff!


Meanwhile, the Pussycats record their first record!


And make some videos! And become famous!


Fiona plans a big stadium concert where she plans to debut new cat-shaped headphones that will turn the kids into mindless consumerist drones!


But first, they have a fabulous party. During the soiree, Fiona invites them to her special girls-only all-pink room, where she offers them Twinkies and starts lisping, for some reason. Could it be that hard-as-nails Fiona has a dark secret to hide?


Clearly, there's some high weirdness afoot. Wyatt sends Valerie and Melody off to TRL and forces Josie to work on the new single. He even lies to her and tells her that Alan M cancelled his big dive-bar gig. So that's not cool. Also, its not even the real TRL, Wyatt just set the girls up to get murdered by Carson Daly.


Luckily, they escape and head over to warn Josie about what happened. Unfortunately, listening to the new single has brainwashed Josie into turning into an egotistical diva and the band breaks up!


So things are sad for awhile, but then Josie starts to suspect something's wrong, so she get Alex and Alexandra to help her break into the studio and she discovers the hidden subliminal track!


She tries to go to the cops, but Fiona catches her and threatens to blow up Valerie and Melody unless she plays the big show!  She apologizes to the girls for her terrible behavior and agrees to play.  Or does she?


Maybe. But first, there's a sweet girl fight!


And then, an important lesson! And then, a happy ending! For everybody, even the bad guys!


Obviously, when they wrote Josie and the Pussycats at the beginning of the last decade, Elfont and Kaplan didn't know the music industry was about to implode, rendering their scathing cautionary tale about consumer manipulation via force-fed youth culture curious and quaint in just a couple of years, but that's exactly what happened. So did the death of irony, which is why all the satirical product placement just looks like matter-of-fact product placement at this point. And casting future nobody Carson Daly as the surprise celebrity cameo - well, even in 2001, that should have seemed like a bad idea. Those are just byproducts of an unfortunate era, though. In every other aspect, Josie and the Pussycats is a relentless joygasm.


The Pussycats themselves are adorable - Leigh Cook couldn't be prettier, Tara Reid is hilarious and endearing as the clueless, eternally optimistic Melody, and Rosario brings the right amount of gravity - and an impressively gravity-defying rack - to the story. The music - by a mostly uncredited Letters to Cleo, is fantastic, Parker Posey - and her whacked-out, Muppety outfits - is amazing, and the whole film is just stuffed, head to toe, with eye-candy. If you are a fan of pretty girls, awesome jams, disposable pop culture and/or gratuitous Parker Posey - and who among us isn't? - then I highly recommend you grab a big bite of this groovy, sugar-sweetened cinematic confection.



- Ken McIntyre

4 comments:

  1. I love this movie! But, for me, there is a mystery attached to it. I'm sure when I saw it in the cinema one of the subliminal messages said "Join the Army", but it wasn't there on the DVD. Can anyone confirm that?

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  2. Luckily they declared me 4F, which I always thought stood for something else entirely. :oP

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  3. My wife pretty much forced me to watch this movie while we were still dating and much to my surprise, I instantly fell in love with Josie and the gang. After watching this probably 10 times over the last 8 or 9 years, I must bear witness: this movie is a damn good time and very, very funny.

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