Josie And The Pussycats

Josie And The Pussycats (2001)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Alan Cumming, Rachael Leigh Cook, Parker Posey, Rosario Dawson, Tara Reid, Gabriel Mann
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Featurette, Music Videos, Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes, Cast & Crew

Hollywood is often accused of underestimating the masses and delivering the same drivel to the public over and over again. (For a rather acidic diatribe on this point, check out the <$commentary, audio commentary> by Henry Selick on "Monkeybone".) Typically, the only way to find an original and challenging film is to delve into independent cinema. But, occasionally, a movie, such as "Fight Club" or "Being John Malkovich", does sneak out of a major studio and is determined to treat its audience with respect and give them a film, which delivers the goods. "Josie and the Pussycats", while being far from original or challenging, is such a movie. It was targeted towards teenage-girls, who were going to love the spunky all-girl rock band, the jabs at boy bands, and the condemnation of entertainment marketing. Sadly, it didn’t work. "Josie and the Pussycats" is a movie perfectly suited for Generation X, which was aimed at Generation Y, and no one went to see it. Now, this experiment gone awry has clawed its way onto DVD, from Universal Home Video, and we can gauge how cool this movie really is.

"Josie and the Pussycats" opens with the mysterious disappearance of the boy-band DuJour (played with tongue in cheek aplomb by Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, and Alexander Martin), the "#1 Band in the World". Desperately in need of a new band to promote, record executive Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming) finds himself in the town of Riverdale, where he discovers The Pussycats. The Pussycats are made up of Josie, guitars and vocals (Rachael Leigh Cook), Val, bass (Rosario Dawson), and Melody, drums (Tara Reid). Before Wyatt came to town, The Pussycats had been scraping by playing small gigs, such as the local bowling alley, which had been arranged by their manager Alexander Cabot (Paulo Costanzo), who is never without his sister Alexandra (Missi Pyle). When the girls weren’t playing or practicing, Josie spent her time pining over Alan M. (Gabriel Mann), the "sexiest guy in Riverdale".

But now, all that has changed. Wyatt whisks the group to the big city on a private jet, gives them makeovers, and renames them Josie and the Pussycats (stating that bands with "and" in the title always sell better). From there, the girls go into the recording studio to record their first album, which becomes an overnight sensation. They even get to meet Fiona (Parker Posey), the flamboyant head of the record label. But, then the Josie and the girls begin to suspect that things are too perfect. Why did their popularity soar so quickly? Why do people who used to hate them, now love them? And why does everyone dress alike? Josie and the Pussycats soon discover a sinister plan by Fiona and Wyatt, which threatens the world, but more importantly, may tear apart the band.

The writing/directing team of Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, who had previously made the excellent "Can’t Hardly Wait", here set out to make a purely fun film with "Josie and the Pussycats". And while they succeeded admirably, they also managed to alienate the very viewers, which the film was aimed at. For beginners, the majority of teenagers probably wouldn’t appreciate most of humor in the film, or worse, could be offended by it. The movie is full of in-jokes about marketing and society. The most prominent target is product placement, as every conceivable surface is covered with a corporate logo. The movie also makes a very strong statement about conformity and the insanity of trends. Lastly, with the hilarious DuJour, "Josie and the Pussycats" takes aim at bands like N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys, and gives a rallying cry that rock is sorely missed. The up-tempo Juliana Hatfield-meets-Veruca Salt rock that Josie and the Pussycats play is a far cry from Britney Spears. Now, think about it, does the average 15-year old girl want to hear any of this? On the whole, teenagers love their Tommy Hilfiger clothes, the same ones that their friends have, and they love their pop music. Why would they want to see a movie that frowned upon all of this?

Secondly, one has to consider the legacy of "Josie and the Pussycats". The trio originally appeared in the Archie comic books in the 60s. Then, they came to TV, courtesy of Hanna-Barbera in the 70s, as a group of crime-solving "Scooby Doo" wannabes. While the six main characters from the comic and show are intact here (Josie, Val, Melody, Alexander, Alexandra, Alan M.), they bare little resemblance to their past counterparts. This probably scared away anyone who was familiar with the characters. This film, given the abundance of modern themes in contains, could have been about any girl band, but the filmmakers decided to go with one that would be familiar to the audience. But, how well-known are "Josie and the Pussycats"? Would the average Gen-Y’er know who they are?

OK, now that I’ve extrapolated on why a film that was supposed to be the next big thing bombed, let’s look at what’s good about it. For one thing, the film’s satiric elements are dead on. The use of product placement is very clever, and kudos must go to the filmmakers for cramming in so many different corporate names. Also, pay close attention to the propaganda that is zooming by in Fiona’s lair. And DuJour is one of the funniest things that I’ve seen in a while. It’s truly a shame that they are only on-screen for such a short time (I would love to see a whole film with just these guys, as Seth Green and Breckin Meyer always crack me up). The insanely over-the-top Wyatt and Fiona are both very funny, as they inflate the stereotype of the egocentric record industry executive. Kaplan and Elfont continue to grow as filmmakers, and "Josie and the Pussycats" is a very well put-together film (check Chapter 8 for examples of their clever editing style). The film is full of clever in-jokes, although, it must be said that Alexandra gets most of the best lines in the film. The only real complaint that I have about "Josie and the Pussycats" is the casting, which I rarely harp on. While Rosario Dawson is perfect as Val, Rachael Leigh Cook and Tara Reid seem oddly miscast as Josie and Melody. Cook doesn’t come across as sweet and determined enough, while Reid (who I’ve never considered a genius), doesn’t seem stupid enough to play the naive Melody. But, this setback doesn’t ruin what is essentially a very fun, hip, and clever movie.

"Josie and the Pussycats" comes to DVD from Universal Home Video. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. This digital transfer is very impressive, showing few problems. The image is very sharp and clear, being relatively free of any noise or grain, although the image does get a bit shimmery at times. The movie is full of great colors (which are actually part of the story) and these come through very well on this DVD. The fleshtones appear natural and true, with the blues, pinks, and oranges which dominate the film being very vibrant and real. The framing appears to be accurate, as the image doesn’t feel squeezed. No problems from artifacting or compression are obvious, nor is there any intrusion from side enhancement. Overall, this is a very good transfer.

The same goes for the audio presentation. This DVD presents two fine soundtracks, one being a <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> track and the other being <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 track. The only real difference between the two is the guitars in The Pussycats’ songs have more presence on the DTS track. Otherwise, both offer clear and audible dialogue, with no sign of hiss or distortion. The film is full of impressive surround sound, the best example coming at the 1:09:00 point. The concert scenes have a great deal of ambiance, as one feels surrounded by the crowd. Of course, the most important aspect of this film is the music, and it comes across great on both tracks (above exception noted), as there is a nice dynamic range and a good use of bass.

"Josie and the Pussycats" isn’t one of Universal’s "Collector’s Editions", but it still boasts some nice extras. The DVD has an <$commentary,audio commentary> with writers/directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, and producer Marc Platt. This is an odd commentary, as the trio consistently point out all of the problems with the film. I don’t know if this was their intention, but I came away from this commentary with the impression that "Josie and the Pussycats" was a low-budget film, where nothing was properly planned, and the producer wound up directing half of the movie. Weird. The trio does talk throughout the film and offers some interesting scene-specific comments, but even they admit that this isn’t as good as the "Can’t Hardly Wait" commentary, which featured an inexplicably British Seth Green. This isn’t a bad commentary, but it certainly doesn’t help one feel better about the movie.

Next, we have "Backstage Pass", which is essentially Universal’s common "Spotlight on Location". In the 24-minute featurette, we are offered some interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, but way too many clips from the film. Ironically, given the anti-corporate slant of the movie, this featurette is very slick and corporate. It should be noted that the commentary and featurette don’t shed much light on the real musicians behind The Pussycats and maintain a front that the girls in the film played the music, which they didn’t. The DVD also includes three deleted scenes, which run a total of 4 minutes. Two of these scenes are worth seeing, as one features Alan Cumming’s impression of Joan Crawford, and another focuses on the Josie merchandising. "Josie and the Pussycats" is one of those movies where bloopers run during the end credits, so I get the feeling that there are more deleted scenes and bloopers out there somewhere which didn’t make it to the DVD. I can’t help but feel that there is a ton of DuJour footage, despite the fact that they were only on-set for two days.

Speaking of DuJour, there are two music videos from this faux-boy-band included here, for the songs "Backdoor Lover" and "Around the World". Both are essentially the same, but it’s great to see these guys making their "cool" faces. There is also a video for the Josie and the Pussycats’ song "3 Small Words", which is a montage of footage from the film. We next have the theatrical trailer for the film, which has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The extras are rounded out by cast & crew filmographies and the lamest production notes that I’ve ever read.

While "Josie and the Pussycats" may have missed its mark in theatres, I think it will find a home on DVD. The film is harmless fun, which offers some interesting insights into modern life. The music is great and there are some truly funny moments. The DVD offers a great transfer, and more importantly, two great audio tracks to hear The Pussycats’ music. If you despise modern pop music, then you’ll love "Josie and the Pussycats". OK, now I want a Big Mac.