Josie and the Pussycats

Apr 18, 2001 at 12:00 am

A bubbly fable about the battle between sincerity and cynicism in popular music, Josie and the Pussycats resembles the recent Charlie’s Angels in the way it takes a pop-culture artifact and reinterprets it for a media-savvy era with tongue firmly in cheek. It’s also a much smarter and funnier version of what Spice World: The Movie attempted: to capture the giddy friendship behind girl power.

That film starred the Spice Girls, a manufactured band whose image drove their lowest-common-denominator pop pabulum onto the top of the charts around the world. That was just the beginning. Now groups calculatingly concocted on television programs top the charts along with innocuous teen queens and boy bands. Listeners past puberty (and without a stake in the enormous profits) are left to ponder: What gives?

Co-writers and co-directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont have an answer that would make Oliver Stone proud: It’s all a conspiracy. Yes, bands such as DuJour (a parody of ’NSync and company) are the product of profit-minded adults who lace pop music with subliminal messages to control the disposable income of American teenagers, turning them into trend-obsessed lemmings in the process.

So when a Mega Records exec (Alan Cumming) lands in the scenic, Starbucked town of Riverdale and spots the Pussycats — drummer Melody (Tara Reid), bassist Valerie (Rosario Dawson) and guitarist-singer Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook) — he determines their suitability by viewing them through a clear CD case. The struggling trio achieves instantaneous stardom, but it comes with a Faustian price tag.

Interestingly, Kaplan and Elfont have made these Pussycats a pop grrl group representing integrity, friendship, fun and music played for its own sake, not to sell anything. That they’ve done this with comic book-television cartoon characters created to attract young audiences who revere pop music shows just how much Americans have embraced postmodern reinterpretation, where moldy oldies are rejuvenated by a hearty blast of new-car scent.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].