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Josie and the Pussycats

Director: Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan
Cast: Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, Rosario Dawson, Alan Cumming, Parker Posey

(Universal Pictures; 2001)

Beware of the music

As demonstrated by artists as different from one another as Eminem, Blink-182, and Andy Dick, there are many jokes to be made at the expense of the current crop of pop stars. Sheesh, even MTV’s Total Request Live, so obviously devoted to promoting and exploiting Britney Spears, Samantha Mumba, ‘Nsync, Christina Aguilera, the Backstreet Boys, Mandy Moore, Dream, 98 Degrees, Eden’s Crush, O-Town, etc. etc., is just fine with making fun of its cash cows. The kids are easy targets, and mostly very good sports about the whole business.


And so you won’t likely be startled or even very impressed with the ingenuity of the opening scene in Josie and the Pussycats, which takes place on a tarmac, as a flamboyantly decked out boy band deplanes and greets their fervent fans. When the so-aptly named Du Jour spins into song and dance, it’s clear that they have the BSB moves down, from the turn on their heels to the dramatic fingers across the eyes, from the billowing coats to the arms gesturing wide to indicate the extent of their fabulous luuuv. (Apparently to italicize the satire, the lyrics of this song, “Backdoor Lover” are decidedly racier than most of the “real” boy bands—please note the scare quotes, as “real” is mostly irrelevant when it comes to boy bands, except when discussing fans’ devotion.)


The girlies scream, the photographers snap pix, the handlers handle, and the boys are whisked off to their next gig aboard their label-owned jet. During the flight, Travis (Seth Green), Marco (Breckin Meyer), Les (Alexander Martin), and the black one (Donald Faison) argue and fret, while Wyatt (Alan Cumming) attempts to keep their outsized egos under some control. “Remember,” they sloganize at one another, “Du Jour means cleanliness” and “Du Jour means friendship.” Yeah, yeah, we all know that Du Jour means money. But to ensure that meaning, they have to behave. Realizing that the boys in this band are getting a little too fractious, Wyatt decides it’s time for a new act.


This is the moment where Josie and the Pussycats—Josie McCoy (Rachael Leigh Cook), Melody Valentine (Tara Reid), and the Latina one, Valerie Brown (Rosario Dawson)—come into his field of vision. Literally, they cross the street while carrying their instruments and find themselves deerlike in the headlights of Wyatt’s car. Though they wonder at the speed of their good fortune (Wyatt doesn’t even ask to hear them play before he whips out the contract), within minutes, the girls in the band (real lead vocals by Kay Hanley, ex-Letters to Cleo, with backup by Bif Naked and the actors themselves), are signed with a major label and on their way to the Big City, where they will be made over and packaged for sale.


Contrived and ridiculous as it sounds, the above set up is, as they say, only the beginning. The rest of Josie and the Pussycats, written and directed by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, concerns a very silly scheme by the label (played by self-parodying Parker Posey) to control kids’ desires through subliminal messaging (to file under duh!: Melody receives a secret message on her bathroom mirror: “Beware of the music”). This is the most retarded element in the plot. Adults just don’t get it—kids don’t need extra impetus to buy Revlon, Starbucks, Reeboks, Diesel, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Target, Gatorade, or Coke. Much like adults, kids buy what they can with their disposable income. For teens and pre-teens, it’s not about morality; it’s about finding an identity and trying on possibilities—they’re on their way somewhere else, and they know it. And of course, Josie learns to say “I love you” to her utterly dull boyfriend Alan M (Gabriel Mann) and all three girls learn that being friends is more important than being in a band. They sell a lot of records too.


The movie pretends that there’s something else at stake, namely, the free minds of America’s youth. But its satire about the music biz, its stars, star-making process, dastardly promoters and label masterminds—in short, all the “trend pimps”—as well as its chattel-like consumers, is tired already. The targets themselves have already been there and done that. Consider 2Gether, the “fake” boy band that MTV concocted for a tv movie and series satirizing the pop process? Like Eminem, Blink-182, and Andy Dick—who have been downright mean in their spoofs—the band members all too old to be called boys) are bona fide pop stars now. This despite and because of the fact that they make delirious fun of boy-bandness, performing broad melodrama on and off stage, and nasty songs about the hysteria that comes with youthful romance (in “The Hardest Part About Breaking Up,” is… “Getting back your stuff!”).


The doubleness of the satire—that kids recognize it as such and recognize their participation in the process—is partly tribute to the wisdom of young consumers. They know. And they buy the lunch-boxes and lip-gloss anyway. Even Mr. Awesome himself, Carson Daly, gets it. In a perverse cameo as himself, he calls himself “a key player in the plan to brainwash the whole of the nation’s youth with pop music.” No one cares! He then tries to beat dumb-blond Melody to death with a baseball bat. Need I remind anyone that Tara Reid and Daly are affianced? It may be that this “inside fact” is supposed to make their cartoonish life-and-death struggle all the more hilarious, but the effect is more like an awkward pause in the action. Really, no one cares.


The very population whom the film appears to represent and target might find the movie uninteresting, too obvious and tame: there’s nothing newsworthy here: even the fashions the girls are wearing—those way-low-riding pants and scarf tops—are a few minutes too late. You might say that Josie and the Pussycats gets half the story right—it is insecure and anxious adults who still think there are fixed lines defining what’s cool or right or real, opposed to what’s uncool or wrong or fictional. Most kids—at least those who might imagine themselves momentarily reflected in MTV and the world of Josie—know better.


And still, the machine grinds on. The real payoff here is in the tie-in products, and in the music: Josie and the Pussycats’ video for “Three Small Words” premieres on TRL on April 11. Corporate rock still sucks. And so what?

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


Related Articles
By Ben Varkentine
31 Dec 1994
'Josie and the Pussycats' is 'so' witless that I cannot imagine it finding an audience even in a country that made 'Tomcats' (this has been a bad month for films with cats in the title) a top-five grosser.
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