This past weekend my partner and I watched one of our all-time favorite ridiculous late 90's/early 00's teen films, Josie and the Pussycats. Yeah, I know, it sounds ridiculous that a twenty-something male and female both having an undying love for a critically-panned teeny-bopper-marketed film based on a fictional all-girl three-piece rock band from the Archie comics with a cat motif. I totally understand the skepticism people have when we talk like hyper-active fangirls over how great this film is. Of course, those people get a better picture when we tell them how much we love films like Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, or Can't Hardly Wait. The latter is not only one of my all-time favorite films but was written and directed by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, the creative team behind Josie. Ah, everything has come full-circle. Josie actually makes reference to Can't Hardly Wait in a scene where one of the scrolling signs in Fiona's (Parker Posey) control room says, "Can't Hardly Wait was underrated". There are more connections *cough*Du Jour*cough*, but those are for another time.
So, the basic plot of Josie and the Pussycats is your average under-dog story.
(From Rotten Tomatoes)
"Based on the animated hit TV show of the 1970s, Josie and the Pussycats is a live-action tale of a group of young girl rockers who desire to make it big. Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook), Val (Rosario Dawson), and Melody (Tara Reid) make up an aspiring garage band that is discovered by shady megalomaniac executive Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming), the sidekick to MegaRecords boss Fiona (Parker Posey), who runs an industry powerhouse that has been grooming the very successful boy band Du Jour. Unbeknownst to "
At it's core, Josie attempts to be a discussion of what Rosalind Gill describes as "sign fatigue" in her piece, Supersexualize Me! Advertising and the "Midriffs" (pg. 255). "...many media audiences fed up with the endless parade of brands, logos and consumer images." (pg. 255) This is seen throughout the film with the (intentional) barrage of brand logos and product-placement.
"To stay with the 'consumer economy' tone of the film, from beginning to end there are approximately 73 companies who have product placements shown; from logos to actual items ranging in entertainment, electronics, fashion, food, hygiene, and cars. No money was received from all the product placements in the film."
The film even briefly conveys Gill's next point of "...advertisers [having] to address increasing 'viewer skepticism', particularly from younger, media-savvy consumers who had grown up with fast-paced music television and were the first generation to adopt personal computers and mobile phones as integral features of everyday life." (pg. 256) This is seen where the fate of a "non-conformist" goth girl meets Wyatt in a record store and he kidnaps her (with the codename "Smells Like Teen Spirit", which is a whole new can of worms for discussion) after she discloses the "terrors of the modern popular culture" so-to-speak. A main theme of the film is "marketable music" vs. "artistic integrity" which is delivered through a satire of the film's time period's (late 90's/early 00's) consumer-driven youth culture.
Josie is an interesting text when analyzed with a feminist lens. In some ways you could read it as a form of "commodity feminism" and "Midriff" marketing (pg. 256), but I think applying that is doing the film a disservice. I mean yes, the film is selling you female camaraderie and empowerment through three girls who are understatedly sexy rock stars but I feel as though there's a bit more to it than that. Although you could easily argue those viewpoints through the costuming alone. Josie is seen almost never wearing a bra throughout the film and is frequently in halter/low-cut outfits. Mel is always seen in belly-shirts or shirts exposing her skin in one way or another, save the end when she is finally in a full-coverage top. Val is the most "conservative" dresser of the group which could be interpreted as a dig on WoC not being sexually appealing to the majority (white) audience, but I like to see it as a positive representation of a (thankfully) non-hyper-sexualized WoC, which is seen all too often in modern popular culture. This "Midriff" viewpoint could very easily be reinforced if one is a nerd (like me) and dives in to the DVD's special features where the costume designer explicitly states that all of the womens' costumes were custom made. They specifically wanted these particular styles and cuts and fabrics on the women.
However, I tend to think that a lot of that was the time and honestly, the need to make money. Josie is somewhat of a mixed bag in that sense. The thing is though, is that Josie knows what it's doing and mocks itself more than a few times throughout the time. Whether it be breaking the fourth wall with various characters looking at the camera or in the scene where Alexander asks his sister Alexandra, "Why are you even here?!" to which she slyly responds under her breath, "Because I was in the comic book." Alexander looks at her in confusion and she just shrugs and looks away.
All in all, despite the fact that yes, Josie's feminist message may seem questionable on the surface, I feel like if you give the film a chance and really let it simmer (maybe even watch it more than once) it's lovability and good heart are there. It's not perfect by any means, but I'd still probably rather have my theoretical kids watch it over quite a few other modern films.