The spring of 2001 was a carefree time. I was in high school and anime and comics were my life. In April of 2001, my friend Shelby and I went to see a movie based on a comic I had been reading my whole life. I was excited to see an Archie property on the big screen – I was excited for Josie and the Pussycats. The movie was exactly as I would have imagined. Fun, over the top, and from a 15-year-old point of view, easy to digest. Shelby adored the movie and still plays the soundtrack to this day. Our initial glowing review was not the norm though. Critics hated it. The movie bombed.
After a few years, I mostly forgot about the film myself. It's been a long time since I've seen the movie, so I decided to give it another go. Does it hold up? Will I see it differently now that I'm older and slightly more bitter? So I sat down and watched the movie. I'm still very biased with my love of Archie Comic properties, but I'm a little wiser and can admit when something is crap.
Josie and the Pussycats is not crap and society owes the movie an apology.
The movie's plot is simple; Josie, Valerie, and Melody are three young women living in Riverdale. They are in a band – The Pussycats. When they're accidentally discovered by Wyatt Fame, they are shot into the pop culture stratosphere. Things go amiss and the band realizes their record label is brainwashing teens into becoming mindless drones. Just like in the cartoon, the trio stops the record label from doing further harm, put on a concert, and the day is saved.
Yet despite the simple plot the movie is a smart, thought out satire. It doesn't lie about that fact either. Directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont showed the problems of the entertainment industry and consumerism, made it completely over the top, and showed how it was damaging. Within the first ten minutes, viewers are bombarded with brands like Target, Crest, and Ivory. Kaplan and Elfont also took great care to flesh out Dan DeCarlo's mostly one-note comic characters and how they would react to a consumerist world. In an interview with Buzzfeed News, both directors chimed in on their inspiration;
"We thought about what was going on with music at the time, what we wanted to say — TRL was at its height — and that kind of became 'What if all this was a conspiracy?'" Elfont told BuzzFeed News.
"We were coming out of an era with Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth, bands that really encouraged dissent and individuality," Kaplan told BuzzFeed News. "It was like the music industry suddenly decided we need to course-correct and feed everybody what we want them to buy and promote corporate culture and not be like, 'Down with corporations.' It was kind of a reaction to that. We saw it happening."
The cast shined incredibly bright in this film. Parker Posey (Fiona), Alan Cumming (Wyatt Fame), and Missi Pyle (Alexandra Cabot) steal every scene they're in. Fiona is the perfect misunderstood bad guy – her minion Wyatt is misunderstood but much more cunning. Alexandra is having the time of her life antagonizing Josie, and it's clear that Pyle probably had the most fun in her role. She also delivers one of the best lines in the film;
Alexander Cabot: You know what? I still don't understand why you're here.
Alexandra Cabot: I'm here because I was in the comic book.
Every character was cast well. Our three leading ladies – Rachel Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson, and Tara Reid – have real chemistry. In an interview with the leads during production, all three mentioned how well they hit it off. This translated into the movie, helping the viewer become invested in the lives of these women. It's also worth noting that Alexander Cabot (Paulo Costanzo) – the band's manager – also expresses his interest in men. First when he mentions wanting Heath Ledger, and again exclaiming excitedly over (presumably dead) DuJour band member Les. This was nine years before Kevin Keller ever graced the pages of Archie Comics, and it has largely been forgotten.
The movie's opening montage also shows a fairly realistic view of what it's like to be an artist. Josie, Melody, and Valerie all have multiple jobs to support themselves. They live in a home that isn't exactly great. They are passionate about their craft, and they put the effort in regardless of where they are performing.
Sadly this film drove Kaplan and Elfont away from making any further movies due to the film's failure.
"It made us super gun-shy to direct again — which cost us," Elfont added. "We said no to a lot of things that came our way because we didn't want to go through that again unless we really, really love it and know it's going to work. Then we never ended up directing another movie. We just let too much time go past."
Critics called them hypocrites despite none of the 73 brands in the film buying their way into it. The marketing for the film didn't help either. The film is for an older audience, yet the marketing department treated the film as if it were the comic book.
As a 15-year-old when the movie came out, I had zero interest in the related merchandise. One thing I did buy was the soundtrack. Produced by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds with songs written by Adam Duritz (Counting Crows), Jane Wiedlin (The Go-Go's), and Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), this soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. Thankfully most people are on board with that as well, and the soundtrack was re-released on vinyl a few years ago.
If you haven't seen Josie and the Pussycats in a while, go watch it. Some of the jokes are dated, but the overall message can absolutely be applied today. Don't forget to wear your long tails and ears for hats while viewing it!
Oh, and in case anyone cares. Riverdale was mentioned or the town name was shown 19 times.