Monday Movie: Josie and the Pussycats, by David Bax
Fifteen years after it was a grossly misunderstood box office bomb, it saddens and confuses me to realize that there are still folks who fail to realize what a great movie Josie and the Pussycats is. Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (who also directed 1998’s Can’t Hardly Wait, another critically under-appreciated film) took advantage of the ongoing Hollywood method of churning out chintzy remakes of existing properties and used it to create an unsubtle but savage satire of the same cynical corporate impulses that greenlit it in the first place. As to why so few were willing to address the film on these terms at the time of release, we are all free to hypothesize, but I would hardly be the first person to point out that art aimed at a young female audience has trouble being engaged with as anything but disposable fluff.
The plot follows the titular trio (Rachel Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid) as they are recruited by a slimy record exec (Alan Cumming) to sign a contract with a huge label run by a caustic egomaniac (Parker Posey). Eventually, they uncover a conspiracy between the music industry and the government to boost the economy by including subliminal advertising in pop music. Like I said, it’s not subtle. Elfont and Kaplan go all in on their metatextual premise by cramming every available centimeter of filmic space with garish product placement.
Unlike with standard product placement, however, all of the brands and logos that appear in Josie were placed there by the filmmakers voluntarily and without compensation. Negative reviews of the time were often unaware of this but, in truth, that shouldn’t matter. Whether or not you know the backstory of how the Revlon logo got into the hotel room carpet or the golden arches came to be emblazoned on the glass shower stalls, their nature and prevalence should signify the creative intent. It’s as if those who disliked the movie had to go out of their way to misinterpret it, to refuse it the credit it deserved for being so thorough in its thesis. After all, how could a slick teen comedy also be such an impressive structuralist achievement?
Even with all of this in mind, maybe you don’t care. Well, setting aside its satirical accomplishments, the movie is still a blast. The original songs (by contributors such as Adam Schlesinger, Jane Wiedlin, Adam Durtiz, Kay Hanley and a bunch more) are terrific pop/rock numbers on their own. And the comedy–most of it supplied by Cumming (such as dismissively referring to Gabriel Mann’s Alan M. as “Adam-12”) and Posey (the two share an impromptu evil laugh competition)–is sharp and funny. All in all, Josie and the Pussycats is a modern American comic gem that you’d have to have been brainwashed not to enjoy.