Josie and the Pusstcats



USA 2001
director / script : Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont
cinematography : Matthew Libatique
editing : Peter Teschner
music : John Frizzell
lead actors : Rachael Leigh Cook, Alan Cumming, Parker Posey, Rosario Dawson, Tara Reid
98 minutes

Rachael Leigh Cook’s eyes must have flashed dollar-signs of delight when she read Variety‘s review of Josie and the Pussycats. “Though clearly aimed at an under-25 female demographic,” raved the influential ‘bible of showbiz’, “pic has sufficient across-the-board appeal to be a crossover hit and should earn a kit and caboodle of cash.”

Not quite. Josie lasted barely eight weeks in the multiplexes, scraping together a pitiful $14m to join AntiTrust, Blow Dry and Get Carter as the hapless Cook’s fourth consecutive box-office bomb. But while that trio of dogs fully deserved their fate, Pussycats turns out to be a very different creature – if anything, it’s probably too sharp and clever to connect with that ‘under-25 female demographic,’ let alone ‘crossover’ to other mainstream audiences.

The first joke sets the tone, and it’s arguably the best in the whole movie: a rendition of ‘Back Door Lover,’ warbled by scarily-convincing boy-band ‘DuJour’ to squealing teenyboppers oblivious of the tune’s slyly suggestive double meaning. The band aren’t much more clued up – boarding their tour jet, the quartet engage in hilarious dim-bulb banter, which suits their Machiavellian record-company rep Wyatt Frame (Cumming) just fine – until the band-members unexpectedly display glimmers of independent thought. Bad move. After rapidly (and literally) ditching the lads, Frame sets out in search of a more malleable version of the ‘next big thing.’ Enter the Pussycats: Josie (Cook), Melody (Reid) and Valerie (Dawson), a Go-Gos-style girl group who appeal to Frame’s market-savvy instincts. The trio are catapulted to global fame – as Josie and the Pussycats, mind – but this turns out to be only the start of their problems.

Enter the wondrous Parker Posey, who gives even Cumming a run for his money in the bitchy-camp stakes as megalomaniac pop exec Fiona, the Norma Desmond of the music biz. Her devious scheme involves sending out subliminal messages inside pop tunes, part of a government-approved, not-too-implausible plot to turn America’s teenagers into passive, spend-happy consumers. When we finally get to hear the ‘hidden’ voice of authority, it sounds just like one of Jello Biafra’s pseudo-corporate rants, while the things he says are amusingly reminiscent of the alien-invaders’ ‘consume, conform’ diktats from John Carpenter’s They Live, though with a dangerously contemporary twist – how will “Heath Ledger is the new Matt Damon” sound in, say, ten years?

The consumerism angle allows Josie‘s directors to fill their movie with product placements in virtually every scene, leaves them open to accusations of trying to having their cake and eating it, since all the products and firms are real. But, as with most elements of Josie, the joke is taken to such ludicrous extremes that Kaplan and Elfont just about get away with it. The co-directors wisely keep things brisk, bright and energetic, though they do run out of steam as the truth about Wyatt and Fiona is revealed in a disappointingly weak finale.

It’s Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle all over again – what appears to be a silly kids’ picture based on a half-forgotten old TV shows turns out to be a sharp, freewheeling satire, a kind of anti-Spice World, breezily aiming most of its best gags way over the heads of its supposed ‘target audience’. How many teens, for instance, will have even heard of Sheila E, name-checked in one of Cumming’s delightfully acerbic put-downs?

20th June, 2001

by Neil Young
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