Josie and the Pussycats

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Series: Josie and the Pussycats

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: Josie and the Pussycats was a comic based in the world of Archie and also an animated series from Hanna-Barbera. It followed an all-girl band that toured the world, playing for millions of fans. But they also got caught up in wild adventures, spy capers, and mysteries. They were like a mix of Scooby-Doo, Charlie’s Angels and The Monkees. In 2001, they received a big screen adaptation geared towards teens, and even though it didn’t fare well with critics or audiences when it hit theaters, it’s clear the movie was ahead of it’s time and is infinitely better than it has any right to be. And they didn’t even need any computer generated talking animals.

Why It’s Essential Viewing:  Josie and the Pussycats arrived in 2001, but it got lost in a sea of mediocre big screen adaptations of classic TV shows like Dudley Do-Right, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Wild Wild West, The Mod Squad, and My Favorite Martian. But the movie from Can’t Hardly Wait writers/directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan deserves to stand on a pedestal above all of them for being ahead of its time in a self-aware comedy that has a fantastic ensemble cast, skewers crass consumerism in the music industry, and packs a rockin’ soundtrack.

Rachel Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid play the titular band, a trio of edgy rocker girls who don’t exactly fit in and find themselves sitting outside of all the trendy fashions and music of the early 2000s. That includes boy bands like Du Jour, formed by Breckin Meyer, Seth Green, Donald Faison, and Alex Martin (the foreign exchange student from Can’t Hardly Wait), low-rise jeans, glitter everywhere, and frosted lip gloss. They suddenly get the opportunity of a lifetime when Mega Records producer Wyatt (Alan Cumming) offers them a record deal and a shot at global fame.

However, not all is as it seems, because Mega Records is a front for something else, a scheme using subliminal messaging in popular music to control teens and trends. Josie and the Pussycats are being used as a pawn in something much bigger and they don’t even know it. This is essentially Zoolander for the music industry, and it comes with the same kind of silly satire and plenty of celebrity cameos. But it came out in the spring of 2001, five months before Zoolander would tread similar territory in the fashion industry.

It goes without saying that Rachel Leigh Cook is a delight as Josie McCoy, who is still a total heartthrob. Rosario Dawson is a vital piece of the ensemble as the bassist Valerie Brown, and her character is at the center of surprisingly progressive commentary about musicians of color being shoved to the side when fame comes knocking. Plus, you have to give credit to a movie where even Tara Reid shines. As the more bright-eyed, bushy-tailed space cadet drummer Melody Valentine, Reid is totally in her element, and the movie even gives her an opportunity to poke some fun at her relationship with MTV’s Total Request Live VJ Carson Daly, who makes a solid cameo as himself. Plus, Alan Cumming and Parker Posey do what they do best by giving over the top comedic performances as the film’s villains.

Josie and the Pussycats works miraculously well after nearly 20 years. That’s not to say it isn’t extremely dated, especially since it so perfectly captures a moment in time when pop rock was all the rage (it even delivers some stellar soundtrack entries of its own by the titular band), and celebrity culture felt so obviously linked with selling products. Sure, that’s been happening for decades, but there’s something about the early 2000s that made it especially flagrant, and this movie leans into it heavily with perhaps the most product placement you’ve ever seen. It’s a vibrant movie that successfully updates the source material for contemporary times with just the right amount of parody, and it’s leaps and bounds better than any of the other live-action movies based on classic cartoons or TV shows.

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