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JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS

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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Rachel Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, Rosario Dawson, Alan Cumming, Gabriel Mann, Paulo Costanzo, Missi Pyle, Parker Posey
Directors:  Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  99 Minutes
Release Date:  August 14, 2001

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!  And when the going gets tough…”
“The tough make lemonade?”

Film ***1/2

Four quick words to all critics who lambasted Josie and the Pussycats during its theatrical run:

Lighten the hell UP.

When the purr-ty party girls from Riverdale made their first appearance in Archie comics in the late 60s, there’s no way they could have imagined they’d be kicking butt in the new millennium and making a stand for rock and roll against all prefabricated pop.  And God bless ‘em for it. 

Is this movie for you?  Ask yourself this question…are you the kind of person who would gladly tell a preteen girl to her face that the Beatles are, in fact, a better band than the Backstreet Boys?  If so, welcome to the party.

Writers and directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, who last brought the funny and underrated Can’t Hardly Wait to the screen, found in Josie and the Pussycats a perfect vehicle to thumb their noses at all the elegantly marketed, slickly produced, sound-alike teen idol bands that have been dominating radio for far too long now.  Their vision works for many reasons:  one, the three charming leading ladies, two, some really great music, and three, because they weren’t afraid to attack their targets with all the humor and bite they could muster.  Most of all, it works because the movie is just damned funny.

The picture opens with screaming girls awaiting the arrival of their favorite boy band of the day, Du Jour (get it?).  But an unscrupulous business manager, Wyatt (Cumming) and a record company owner, Fiona (Posey) have a dastardly plan in mind.  They dispatch of the group with ease, as MTV sadly reports:   “Their plane has gone down…Mega Records has yet to release a statement, but they HAVE released a limited edition CD box set…”

The next big thing?  You got it…our favorite girl band with long tails and ears for hats.  In fact, the moment Wyatt discovers them has to be one of the most gleefully silly and clever moments in recent memory.  The dedicated Josie (Cook), the sweet-but-lost Melody (Reid), and the no-nonsense Val (Dawson) are pushed into the spotlight so fast, they hardly know what hit them…nor are they aware of the dire undercurrents beneath their rapid success.

The truth is absurdly satirical, yet ironically believable:  the success of mega pop stars is all a scheme by record companies, marketing executives, and yes, even the government to control the minds of kids and teens everywhere.  Tell them what to think, how to act, and of course, what to buy.  When you have girls in the movie proclaiming things like, “pink is the new red!”, you’ve got to wonder if Kaplan, Elfont and company are on to something.

The conspiracy stretches further than the imagination, and cogs in the big wheel include the Moviefone guy and MTV’s Carson Daly, who hosts the show TRL, but it turns out his REAL job is…ah, I’ll let you see that one with your own eyes.

Naturally, you wouldn’t expect Josie, Melody and Val to sit still and be pawns in a big corporate conspiracy, would you?  With love, friendship, and some great rock and roll, the girls save the day, in a wonderfully scripted ending that only needed Wayne and Garth popping on the screen and saying, “Isn’t it great how we’ve all become better people?”

The film’s energy, music, and humor are infectious from beginning to end, and the cast is first rate, including many familiar characters.  Paulo Costanzo and Missi Pyle play Alexander and Alexandra Cabot to snobbish perfection.  “I don’t understand what you’re doing here,” the brother asks.  “I was in the comic book,” the sister replies.  Another nice touch is Gabriel Mann as Alan M, who forgoes the original character’s varsity football look for something more akin to Beck. 

The new characters are terrific, too, starting with the brilliant character actor Alan Cumming as Wyatt (you may remember him from Titus or Eyes Wide Shut), and ending with Parker Posey’s most twisted performance to date as Fiona.  There’s a reason why she does what she does, but you have to see it for yourself.

But not enough credit can be given to the three girls.  Both Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson seem to be having the time of their life in this movie, and their spirit helps elevate the energy of every frame.  And Rachel Leigh Cook is perfect as Josie:  charismatic, charming and spunky, she lights up the film from beginning to end.

Oh, and fans of Can’t Hardly Wait will recognize that all four members of Du Jour are alumnists of that movie, including Seth Green.  They have one of the film’s funniest lines toward the end, but I can’t reveal it without giving away part of the story.  I’m sure you’ll know the one I mean!

The music is so good, I’m only sad the girls aren’t a band for real, though for once, I’m happy to report they pull the illusion off splendidly.  Misses Cook, Reid and Dawson actually learned to play their songs for the movie, and their dedication paid off.  As one fan proclaims, “You’re my all time favorite band...of all time!”

So come on, live a little.  Josie and the Pussycats may not be Oscar material, but it’s one of the best times you’ll have watching a movie this year.  That is, of course, unless you really DO think the Backstreet Boys are better than the Beatles.  If you do, sorry…we can’t help you there.

Video ***1/2

Universal offers a terrific anamorphic transfer for Josie.  To be honest, I thought the opening scenes with Du Jour looked a little off, but the commentary track confirmed my suspicion that the footage was digitally altered to purposely look more artificial.  Apart from that, the colors are loud, vibrant and well contained, images are sharp and clear, and neither grain, haze nor break-up appear to mar the image.  This is a good looking disc.

Audio ***1/2

The music is, of course, very loud, and gives this track most of it’s dynamic range.  The rear channel opens up the audio experience a little with some ambient effects, like crowd noises and reverb, but also play with discretion in a few key scenes to bring the listening experience to life.  The .1 channel is really only called on to lend a little bottom end to the tunes, but it handles the task without complaint.  Overall, a fun listen for a fun movie.

Features ***1/2

The commentary track with Kaplan, Elfont and producer Marc Platt is a mostly entertaining and informative listen.  All examine the film with an equitable mix of humor and honest soul searching…it’s an enjoyable track, but I really wanted to hear one with some of the cast members chiming in, too!  The disc also includes some deleted scenes, a half hour documentary with cast and crew interviews, three music videos (one by the Pussycats, two by Du Jour, which are hysterical), a trailer, and some production notes.

Summary:

Josie and the Pussycats is a near purr-fect music biz comedy.  A funny script, terrific music, and appealing stars make this a film that deserves a second look on DVD.