Welcome to HEAVEmedia’s swap week! Our columnists have taken over each other’s articles all week long. Today – Bit Slap columnist Dan Chruscinski takes over Calhoun Kersten’s Revisiting the Rotten, to analyze Josie and the Pussycats.
The Flintstones, Transformers, Dragon Ball, Scooby Doo, Inspector Gadget; there has been no shortage of cartoon-to-film adaptations at the box office. Some were tongue in cheek, some went the deadly serious route, none ended up as cinematic masterpieces. Films of this nature are a crapshoot and more often than not you’re rolling snake eyes. And then there was Josie and the Pussycats, the 2001 adaptation of the Archie Comics feline-inspired rock group. How could a movie about three attractive ladies singing songs and solving mysteries fail? If you believe the Rotten Tomatoes rating of “Rotten” at 53% and $15 million box office, the flick was a flop. But when did we ever let critics with their fancy Columbia College degrees or teens and their disposable income influence cinematic success?
For those of you that missed the movie, hopefully due to a long stay at one of the Poles, Josie and her pals, Val and Melody, are a less than successful bowling-alley playing band known as the Pussycats. When a plane crash takes out the band of the moment, appropriately named Du Jour, Josie and her pals find themselves scouted by a slimy agent and on a trip straight to the top of the charts. It all seems a little too good to be true, and the ladies uncover a plot by the CEO of their record label to brainwash the youth of America. BUM BUM BUMMMMMMM! It seems subliminal messages work really well when recited by Mr. Moviefone and hidden in the tracks of popular musicians. If the plot sounds simple and outlandish, it is, but screenwriters Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan decide to go for broke and turn the movie into a fourth wall-breaking satirical masterpiece.
From the opening music video to the very last frame of film, Josie and the Pussycats is packed with advertising. Not just Josie drinking a can of Pepsi, that would be too subtle. How about Target bullseyes peppering the inside of a private jet or the McDonalds arches chillin’ on a bathroom wall. Meanwhile, characters listening to music are told that red is the new black, orange is the new red, the coolest new word is “jerkin,” and Can’t Hardly Wait was a pretty good movie. Yes, dear viewer, you are no different than the sheep portrayed on celluloid. Pretty ballsy to call out the viewers of your film as trend-whore consumerists, but c’mon, you’re the one who is sitting through a movie based on a cartoon you were way too young to actually remember seeing on television. Oh, and if you are a true connoisseur of popular culture, this movie was made for you.
I’ll say it, Josie and the Pussycats is bloody clever. When the sister of one of the characters tags along with the Pussycats to their brand new New York digs, she’s asked why she is even there. Her response: Because I’m in the comic book. The ultimate goal of the brainwashing scheme? To make everyone think the villain is a pretty cool lady, and when said villain mutters her plan under her breath, everyone around her hears it. Don’t think Josie is the first band to be part of the plot, past bands didn’t play nice and suffered orchestrated tragedies that were all chronicled on a little VH1 show called Behind the Music. This movie is so full of winks you’d think it had a nervous tic. And not once will you groan at any of the references, because they are delivered by a cast so brilliantly assembled you know the casting director got a little something extra come bonus time.
Role Call! Rachel Leigh Cook, Tara Reid (old school Tara), and Rosario Dawson are Josie, Melody, and Val respectively while Revenge‘s Gabriel Mann is beyond adorkable as Alan M., Josie’s love interest. Paulo Constanzo and comedy goddess Missi Pyle are the Cabot siblings, the male half of which manages the Pussycats. The villains are played by indie icons Alan Cumming and Parker Posey and the movie is stuffed with cameos from Carson Daly, Ares Spears, Eugene Levy, Mr. Moviefone, and, as Du Jour, Donald Faison, Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, and Alex Martin. Nobody takes themselves remotely seriously and everyone just seems to be having a good time. Clearly nobody was just collecting a paycheck (because it probably wasn’t that big!). Watching it now, it is awfully weird to see Cook and Reid at the height of their careers and Dawson still a relative unknown. The real life breakup of Reid and Daly makes the scene where he tries to kill her on the set of TRL all kinds of awesome in hindsight. They should do a “Where are They Now?” of the cast of this movie, because nobody is in the same place…except Alex Martin. Who is that guy?
I couldn’t live with myself if I neglected to tell you about the music and fashion in this movie. I completely blame Josie and the Pussycats for causing the hipster backlash by featuring the titular band in the most sparkly, pleather, animal printed costumes that have ever been documented on film. And they are wonderful. Imagine Charlie’s Angels as teens and multiply the flashiness by about a billion and you’re almost there. If I were a teen girl in the early 2000s, my entire wardrobe would have consisted of clothing from this movie. I’d also have flippy red hair like Josie…I kinda wish I was her…but let’s not tell people that. As for the music? It’s good. Really really good. The movie tanked, but the soundtrack went gold, thanks in large part to catchy pop anthems sung by Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo who voice doubled as Josie. I’d suggest a favorite track, but I’d rather you listen to the entire album and pick your favorite. Maybe you can even find the soundtrack on vinyl.
So while Josie and the Pussycats‘ plan to brainwash theatergoers into turning the film into a box office success failed, it has found it’s rightful home among other campy cult classics that can be watched over and over again without ever growing stale. You’ll laugh, you’ll sing along, you’ll start using the word “jerkin” to mean more than just “a polite action after someone buys you dinner.” Plus, it’s all we have until someone gets around to turning Archie and the other residents of Riverdale into film stars.