40×40: Josie And The Pussycats (2001)

Written and directed by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont.

“Hey, that guy in the parachute looks just like Wyatt.”

Why Did I Get This?

This was released when I was working at a video shop (remember them?), at university and one of the bonuses of spending several hours a week restocking shelves and dealing with the public was that we were able to have films running, sound and all, throughout the day. As long as they were PG-rated or lower.

Thankfully, this was PG, bright and colourful, and had a pretty banging soundtrack (if you were of a certain age and musical persuasion in 2001, anyway), so it got played a lot when me and one or two of the other fellas were on – there was one worker who didn’t hold to this kind of movie, but there always is.

Anyway, I don’t know if it ever really flopped or was particularly successful, but I understand it’s had a bit of a renaissance in the years since it came out and has become, for want of a better term, something of a cult hit. It’s been a while, but I remember picking this up for 50p in a charity shop a couple of years ago, and have held off watching it since then – though I remember listening to an episode of the brilliant Verbal Diorama podcast on it and thinking ‘damn, she’s done a better job than I will, better leave it in case there’s any audience crossover’… there won’t be, because Verbal Diorama has an audience.

Anyway, enough of my yakkin’… let’s boogie.

The Late Review

As always, the Late Review will go into detail about the film from start to finish, so if you’re looking to avoid potential spoilers, scroll down to the next heading.

When boy band of the moment DuJour disappear following a plane crash, ruthless record executive Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming), propels Riverdale’s all-girl rock band The Pussycats (Rachel Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid), to megastardom but within a week, the band realise there’s something suspicious going on with their new label and its CEO Fiona (Parker Posey).

Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes a snippet of a song or a hint of a scent can send your mind back decades to a very specific time and place. Movies do that a lot for me, but I didn’t expect Josie And The Pussycats would do that to me. However, when I hit play and the opening scenes started playing out, suddenly I was right back in Global Video in 2001/02 laughing and joking with colleagues about how silly but fun the movie was.

I hadn’t revisited this in a long time, but it all came flooding right back – DuJour’s opening music video to the innuendo-filled Backdoor Lover got a hoot out of me, and the filmmakers have done a knockout job of spoofing/homaging the boy band video fashions of the time.

The argument that followed in the private jet got a laugh out of me too. However, I have to admit the older me found the ridiculous level of product placement almost as funny as the gags.

Pretty much every spare inch of anything that stays still long enough is plastered in some product label or another, offering a level of semi-subliminal satire that screams of the writer/directors having their cake and eating it.

Next, we get to meet The Pussycats in a lovely intro to the band to a performance of Three Small Words (written by the writer/directors and fellas from Counting Crows and Gigolo Aunts, no less). Like the best comic book characters, Josie (Cook), Valerie (Dawson), and Melody (Reid), are painted with pretty broad strokes, but to be able to sum up their characteristics within a short musical interlude and a few short montages helps the film bounce along at a merry pace. Oh yeah, plenty of montages in this – the Team America boys would be proud.

There’s a lovely sense of friendship between the girls. From their stage performances, it’s a fair bet that they undertook some sort of band camp training to play their instruments, but they give the impression they’ve known each other for years. Maybe they’re terrific actresses, but I choose to believe they also had a whale of a time making this which led to a relaxed and easy on-screen presence.

Speaking of having a whale of a time, Alan Cumming is having a great time here. His slick, cynical Wyatt rolling his eyes as he barely tolerates the boy band in the opening scene is fun to watch – I imagine there was a fair bit of corpsing involved while filming that shot – his ‘discovery’ of the band and subsequent breaking of the fourth wall is great, and as the film goes on, his panto-villain schtick threatens to steal the show.

Almost as entertaining is Parker Posey’s Fiona, the evil mastermind behind the subliminal messaging that’s forcing teenagers to go out and spend their money on whatever the corporations tell them to. She’s the unpopular girl who rose to a position of power but never really grew up and is still seeking approval of her peers. There’s a nice gag where she delivers ominous asides at the end of a conversation with an underling only for him to hear her and ask her to repeat it that’s so good it deserves repeating.

Oh, and while we’re talking fun repeated gags – Melody singing If You’re Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands in the shower and dropping her sponge each time she claps was funny every time, and gets a lovely reprise a scene or two later as her inner monologue does the same.

One gag that didn’t really land for me was the revelation that Fiona and Wyatt each had physical deformities they’d been covering up for years in order to become more successful. Yes, the one-upmanship between the two is amusing as teeth, wigs and girdles are removed, but it felt a little unfair to highlight that Fiona was only a baddie because she grew up with a lisp.

However, in another great example of the film having its cake and eating it, one character outright states that the moral of the story that “freaks should only date other freaks” is not a good one to promote, then another states that the real moral is that real beauty is on the inside and everyone should be proud of whoever they are.

Conformity, you see, is bad. That’s sort of the message. It’s far better to act like you’re conforming but actually just be a little bit original while also making knowing nods and winks to the audience that everything you’re doing has its tongue firmly in its cheek. Whether that’s a riff on Fight Club, slasher movies, The Manchurian Candidate-style hypnosis or Posey’s Best In Show costar Eugene Levy‘s dig at his own success, if you’re doing it in cat ears to a banging early noughties all-girl pop-rock soundtrack, you’ll just about get away with it.

Or at the very least, you’ll whisk someone having a shitty week back in time almost 20 years without even knowing it.


For me, this is up there with some of the most rewatchable musical comedy films. I’m not suggesting it’s as good as, say, This Is Spinal Tap or Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, but at 90-odd minutes with a cracking soundtrack, very funny performances, a love of its characters and world and a tendency not to take itself at all seriously, it’s definitely a contender for me.

Reflecting its comic book origins, it’s colourful, bright, noisy and is edited to within an inch of its life – I wouldn’t be able to guess at the average shot length, but it’s pretty hyper.

Honestly, I don’t know whether someone watching this for the first time in 2023 would enjoy it at face value. However,I reckon anyone who takes 98 minutes out of their life to give it a spin and is willing to go in looking for a bit more than a throwaway bubblegum and popcorn teen flick will have a blast.

Really enjoyable, funny, and smarter than it first appears.

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