Josie and the Pussycats

50 ratings (49 Epinions reviews)
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The Josie with the Mostie

Jul 31, 2001
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A great cast

Cons:A self-conflicting approach

The Bottom Line: It's underrated.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

I have this sinking feeling that the adolescent demographic--the studio's target audience, not filmmakers Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont's--resent Josie and the Pussycats because it portrays them as sheep, but the film gives young adults far more credit than I do in blaming the herd mentality on a subliminal technology. Josie and the Pussycats' formulaic narrative settles on a girl group's internal rivalry that a scheming handler (Alan Cumming) puppeteers (for no good reason, when one stops to think about it), though keen, enthusiastic performances paint over lapses in ingenuity. For posterity: Tara Reid, as dumb Pussycat drummer Melody, makes off with the best lines (wait 'til you hear what she'd do if she could travel through time); Cumming is note-perfect; and Parker Posey wins us over through sheer force of will as the deranged head of the fictitious Mega Records.

The ideologically contradictory Josie and the Pussycats is based on an animated TV series and periodical from that hypocritical empire Archie Comics. In the 1950s, the company's artists were nailed by the Comics Code for drawing vaginas onto the armpits of various Riverdale characters; this and other skeletons stayed in the closet when it came to casting the Josie and the Pussycats movie: because she co-starred in the risqué Kids, Rosario Dawson's name was initially met with vehement disapproval when broached for the role of Pussycat bassist Valerie, and her eventual line, "You messed with the wrong Pu++y!" was even harder won. The company continues to parade a sanitized version of America while capitalizing on innuendo and the whole Betty or Veronica dilemma/mystique, and lest we forget the era of Spire, the Christian outfit who published specialty issues of "Archie" in the seventies. "The Spire logo is both phallic and vulvic at the same time," writes controversial 'net presence Poppy Dixon, and she's understating.

What Archie Comics works so hard to sublimate, Kaplan and Elfont celebrated in their last effort as writer-directors, Can't Hardly Wait: teenage hedonism. They maintain a casual sweetness about young love in Josie and the Pussycats, but I'll bet that a lot of higher-ups still reached for the Kaopectate when apprised of the film's high concept: a government-sanctioned, corporate-controlled enterprise devises new trends and brainwashes the youth of America into accepting them by adding hidden messages to prefab music. After record producer Wyatt Frame (Cumming) sacrifices Dujour, the boy band that knew too much (fastening a parachute, Wyatt, in a so-blatant-it's-sly reference to Don McLean's "American Pie", mutters to the pilot of Dujour's private jet: "Drive the Chevy to the levy"), he signs struggling garage band Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook) and the Pussycats. They come to him in a living epiphany: upon nearly running them over, he sees, as Meat Loaf intones on the car radio, "paradise by the dashboard light." It's a great scene. Josie and the Pussycats is full of great scenes, but it lacks unity and thus, greatness.

I don't love Josie and the Pussycats, I admire it: Kaplan and Elfont do the subversive content well and the bubble gum content (Josie and the Pussycats' memorable tunes (performed by the diverse talents of Kay Hanley, Bif Naked, and Matthew Sweet); Josie's unrequited love for fellow musician Alan M. (Gabriel Mann); the importance of friendship) well, but irony and sentimentality have never been friends--the incompatible tone is distancing. Even the visual approach is combative: cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who previously served on Requiem for a Dream, lends a grunge gleam to the ad-saturated sets; a sing-along in a hair salon looks like an outtake from The Game. An unmitigated box-office flop, Josie and the Pussycats is too edgy for its own good, really, but I can and do appreciate the film's incorrigibility.

Don't let the simple "widescreen" banner mislead you: Josie and the Pussycats does not suffer from studio neglect on DVD. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is exquisite and faithful to the theatrical presentation; hot whites and smooth close-ups are pure Libatique, although a few soft shots during the airplane sequence with Dujour seem slighty off-register. The DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes underutilize the surrounds to a large degree, with only a virtual trip through Josie's Walkman and some explosive transitions triggering the rear channels. The climactic concert has less audio impact than it should because it happens in front of us.

Moving on, a commentary from Kaplan, Elfont and producer Marc Platt gets off to a good start, with the trio putting cynicism in its place by revealing that none of the omnipotent product placement was paid advertising. While Elfont gets a bit James Schamus (see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), with much of his sarcasm going down like lead balloons, the track maintains momentum and insight. There is no commentary on the continuous segment of three deleted scenes, and that's a shame since none of them deserved the axe--it would be nice to hear a defense for the cuts. Josie and the Pussycats sorely misses a department store autograph session in which a bystander uses a Valerie doll to kill a spider that's trespassing on Josie's space.

Additional bonus material: "Backstage Pass", a by-the-numbers making-of ("Josie Cam" aside), half of which is plot summary (albeit abetted by gorgeous women, including Ms. Kaplan, doing the talking); Josie and the Pussycats' "3 Small Words" video; hastily made yet hilarious videos for the parodic Dujour's "Backdoor Lover" and "Dujour Around the World"; one of the theatrical trailers; cast and crew bios; and production notes. More detailed behind-the-scenes info is available via DVD-ROM, along with a weblink.


Recommend this product? Yes


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