Saturday, January 20, 2024

#2,944. Josie and the Pussycats (2001) - Films of the First Decade of the 2000s


I never read the comic, and I doubt I saw a single episode of the cartoon series from start to finish, but man oh man did I have fun with 2001’s Josie and the Pussycats!

It is every bit a comic book movie, a film pitched at the level of a cartoon, and yet there are aspects that rise above these over-the-top inspirations, resulting in a musical / comedy that I absolutely adore.

Following the “inexplicable” disappearance of popular boy band DuJour, producer Wyatt Frame (Alan Cummings) of MegaRecords is on the lookout for the label’s next superstars. As luck would have it, he stumbles upon Riverdale’s most underappreciated band, The Pussycats. All at once, lead singer Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook), bassist Valerie (Rosario Dawson), and drummer Melody (Tara Ried) go from who-the-hell-are-they to rock sensations.

But there’s more to their meteoric rise than meets the eye, and if MegaRecords chief executive Fiona (Parker Posey) has her way, the band, now billed as Josie and the Pussycats, will not only rake in millions, but also help her label control every aspect of American pop culture. The question is: to what end?

Josie and the Pussycats establishes its over-the-top, comic-book mentality during the pre-title sequence, where we’re introduced to boy band DuJoir (Donal Faison, Seth Green, Brecklin Meyer and Alexander Martin). After performing for their fans at the airport, DuJour hops aboard a private jet, arguing with one another the whole time, much to the chagrin of manager Wyatt (superbly played by Alan Cumming). This gets the film off to a fun start, yet what grounds the movie, keeping it from becoming a total cartoon, is the camaraderie of the three main characters, so well-portrayed by Cook, Dawson, and Ried. As everything around them spirals out of control, Josie and Valerie remain grounded, while Melody, the flightiest of the trio, is blissfully ignorant of the unbelievable events that led to the band’s overnight success. The chemistry between the three is what gives Josie and the Pussycats its heart, and we root for the trio every step of the way. In a world of product placement and subliminal messages, the Pussycats remain the film’s focal point, musicians enjoying a success they realize is unlikely, and maybe even a little scary.

Another great feature of Josie and the Pussycats is the music, almost all of which was written for the film. From the opening tune by DuJour (“DuJour Around the World”) to the Pussycats’ “Three Small Words”, which they first perform at Riverdale’s local bowling palace, the music is catchy and entertaining. Not a single tune falls flat. In addition to the original numbers, there’s a great use of Meatloaf’s mega-hit “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, which plays briefly during a pivotal scene.

Cummings and Posey are at their manic best as the baddies (and kudos to writers / directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont for actually making us care a little about them before the credits roll), but it’s Cook, Dawson, Ried, and the music that make Josie and the Pussycats such a wonderful surprise. This movie was off my radar for years, and I feel like a fool for not having seen it sooner.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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