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Funny how these reviews happen sometimes. When I was working on another post last month I thought I’d have 2001’s Josie and the Pussycats on in the background as white noise.

Heh. Yeah, no. Josie and the Pussycats begs to be noticed. It’s either one of the smartest movies ever made or one of the dumbest. I’m not sure which. While it’s based on the Archie comics spin-off, it owes pretty much nothing to it except for the name.

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The movie opens with a personal appearance by the very typical boy band, Du Jour, who mug in front of their leagues of screaming teeny-bopper fans. Despite all the adoration they get everywhere they go, Du Jour isn’t happy with their image. Travis (Seth Green), for instance, hates that Marco is always doing upside-down peace signs on magazine covers. That was supposed to be his bit.

Their agent, Wyatt (Alan Cumming), doesn’t say much, but as the plane gets close to Riverdale, he goes into the crew cabin, straps on a parachute, and along with the pilot jumps out. Then he makes a beeline for the local record superstore with Du Jour’s final single before their tragic disappearance.

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Notice I said, “disappearance,” not “death.” That becomes important later. Du Jour’s fans don’t notice, though, and gush over the new single. They also have sudden yens to buy the latest Pumas and say things like, “Orange is the new pink.” That becomes important later, too.

Elsewhere in Riverdale, guitarist and lead singer Josie (Rachel Leigh Cook), bass player Val (Rosario Dawson), and drummer Mel (Tara Reid) are trying to make it as a band, but the best they can do is playing the odd set on a lane at the local bowling alley, where everyone’s too busy to listen. They get paid twenty dollars and then they have to fork over fifteen of it to cover their bowling shoes.

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The Pussycats have a pretty good life despite their lackluster progress in the music biz. Their house has leopard print siding and bright pink wainscotting on the outside and bohemian craziness on the inside. There are cat pictures everywhere, natch.

Since the ladies are starving artists, we see them eating plain ramen, but at least their sorta-manager, Alexander (Paul Constanzo) brings them Krispy Kreme now and again. This guy never goes anywhere without his sister, Alexandra (Missi Pyle) who tries and fails to be the hardcore fashionista type. Also in constant attendance is Josie’s friend-with-potential Alan M. (Gabriel Mann), a sweet guy who always seems on the verge of declaring himself only to get shot down by some interruption.

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When Josie, Val, and Mel hear about Du Jour’s sudden disappearance, they decide to take the proverbial bull by the horns and play an acoustic set right on the sidewalk, but they only get a few chords out before an angry shop owner puts the kibosh on them. He doesn’t want the Pussycats blocking his expected stampede of customers, after all.

The Pussycats aren’t sad for too long, though, because destiny is careening their way. Literally. Wyatt promised Fiona (Parker Posey) he’ll have a new band for her by the next day, by hook or by crook. And bingo, he almost runs over Josie, Val, and Mel.

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We can all guess what happens next, right? Of course we can. The Pussycats are thrust into a glitzy world of sparkly makeup, flashbulbs going off, and their songs climbing the charts, all with the help of the MegaSound 8000, a machine that makes their music sound extra luxe. Everything is happening super fast and vegetarian Mel suddenly has a craving for Big Macs, but it’s no big deal, right? The Pussycats deserve this.

Oh, and we find out who Fiona is, too. She’s so important she entertains groups of foreign journalists on a regular basis. She’s also got some secrets up her high-fashion sleeve, not the least of which is the artificial flakiness of fame and fortune.

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Well, maybe they’re not so secret. Josie and the Pussycats is built around product placement. Lots and lots of product placement. Every logo in every scene is lit to its absolute best advantage. The cabin of Du Jour’s private jet looks like the detergent aisle at Target. As in logos and products lining every wall and visible from every possible angle. They’ve even got boxes of Bounce dryer sheets stuck to the walls. The whole look of the movie is super bright and colorful and inviting.

Naturally, it’s all insidiously fake. Those horror stories people of certain generations have heard or told about backmasking? In the world of Josie and the Pussycats, they’re all true, except that instead of the usual “Devil’s Music” it’s Mr. Moviefone’s voice telling people to buy stuff. The Devil in this case is consumerism.

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One has to wonder if anyone involved with the making of the movie saw the supreme irony of decrying pop culture materialism while having giant logos always in frame. I believe it’s what some might call “circular reasoning” or maybe even “hypocrisy.”

Josie is a pretty silly, clichéd fluff piece that ends with a whiff and a miss at a blindside. There’s a lot of what a certain YouTube film critic would call “hilariocity,” going from silly to horrid to cute and back again. Like Alexandra. She has no reason to be in the movie except that she was in the comic book, and she literally says so. Well, she’s also there to look ridiculous, starting with having her fly down in the Pussycat kitchen.

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Her brother is equally unfortunate. Late in the movie, Alexander gets so repulsed at how much he’s bought into consumerism that he takes all his clothes off. Those are the tacky kinds of unfortunate laughs this movie likes to go for, but at least it has the good sense to make fun of itself.

Also, Mel is apparently an even more talented drummer than anyone knew, because during the opening credits she does a drum roll with her sticks in the air.

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The movie isn’t all bad, though. In fact, it occupies a unique place in film history because it has the distinction of the soundtrack album being more popular than the movie when they first came out. Yeah, the music slaps.

The nostalgia factor is off the charts, too–Vogue recently waxed lyrical about the very early twentieth-first century fashion. Plus it’s got a makeover scene like tons of other movies from that era (with giant Street Wear logos on the mirrors, of course) and it’s got the guy who thinks he’s underappreciated but actually isn’t. It can be sweetly innocent even if it does splutter out.

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Like I said, this is either one of the smartest movies ever made or one of the dumbest, and it’s fascinating to think that it came about before social media as we know it existed. No Twitter. No Instagram. No YouTube. No Myspace. Even Amazon wasn’t the powerhouse it is today, but it was getting there. Yet trends still spread quickly and somewhat organically, just as they have throughout history. Whoodathunkit.

Nowadays, of course, it isn’t so much about buying the right brands as it is about becoming the right brand, so subtlety isn’t really a thing anymore. I honestly hope Josie and the Pussycats never gets remade. We’re not as innocent as we used to be.

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Another review is coming up on Saturday, and here’s a hint: It begins at the beguine. Thanks for reading, all…


Josie and the Pussycats is available on DVD from Amazon.

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