#WayBackWednesday – Josie and the Pussycats (2001)

We’re all stuck in the house, right? There’s never been a better time to dig into those retro movies that you’ve always wanted to watch, but never had the time for. Personally, I’m a bit of a retrophile and tend to watch more older flicks than newer ones. On Fangirlish, you can now look forward to a retro review from me each Wednesday in this column. I’ll be highlighting one throwback movie a week, offering a spoiler-free review of the film, any throwback thoughts from my childhood, and where you can watch the movie yourself. Sit back, relax, and enjoy #WayBackWednesday.

This week’s #WayBackWednesday film is a little more modern than I usually choose for this column, but as it’s almost 20 years old, I think it qualifies as “Way Back.” Check out the trailer for Josie and the Pussycats

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As a kid, I watched an inordinate amount of animation. Cartoons were nearly always on my TV, especially when our cable company added Cartoon Network. That was where I was introduced to the Josie and the Pussycats cartoon. I loved it. It was basically Scooby-Doo with a 70s girl band. What’s not to love about that? When I learned there was going to be a live action Josie and the Pussycats movie, I lost my mind. I’ve always loved watching my favorite cartoons become live action movies, and while the results in the past have been mixed with cartoon-to-live action films, I was still excited for this movie. 

I got to see it with some friends in the theater and I laughed hysterically through the whole thing. I don’t think my friends were nearly as amused as I was, but I didn’t care. I loved it. If you’d like a time capsule for pop culture from the early 2000s, look no further than Josie and the Pussycats. My love for this film is unironic. It gave me an appreciation for satire, comedy, and pushed me deeper into my love of music. 

Josie and the Pussycats, based on the Archie Comic and Hanna-Barbera cartoon of the same name, is a 2001 comedy by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont (Can’t Hardly Wait). Chronicling the adventures of Josie McCoy (Rachael Leigh Cook), Valerie Brown (Rosario Dawson), and Melody Valentine (Tara Reid), the girls rocket from small town obscurity to rock sensations overnight. How did they rise to popularity so fast? Commercialism and subliminal messaging, of course!

A brilliant satirization of commercial culture, I would argue that Josie and the Pussycats is more relevant today than it was nearly 20 years ago. A critique of invasive consumerism in art directed at youth, Josie and the Pussycats does not mess around. Powered by product placement, Josie and the Pussycats drives its point home with tons of ads running throughout the background of the entire film. The critics misunderstood the joke at the time, but now the joke rings truer than ever. The branding also serves as a timestamp for the film, documenting trends and fashions of the early 2000s. 

This film is loaded with cameo appearances from music and film icons as well as comedians. Seth Green and Breckin Meyer are in the boy band, DuJour. Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds makes an appearance (comment when you spot him!), as well as Carson Daly, Eugene Levy and more. While Josie’s vocals are performed by Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo (talk about an early 2000s time capsule!), the lead actresses actually sang back up and played their own instruments for the film, which I think is pretty dang cool and adds a layer of authenticity to the film. 

I enjoy this movie as satire now, but what still rings true for me is how the film inspired me as a teenager. I’d been toying around with guitar, bass, and drums for about 2 years when this film came out. I was self-taught on all those instruments, but it wasn’t until I saw this film that I really dove in head first with music. At one point in my life, I could play the entire soundtrack on electric guitar from memory. I can still remember a lot of it, 19 years later. The muscle memory is still there. When I break in a new set of strings, “You Don’t See Me” and “3 Small Words” are standbys. I learned how to listen for drum beats and bass lines by repeating this soundtrack until my CD practically melted. I became a better musician because of this movie. Josie and the Pussycats taught me to rock and I am grateful for it. I also love the focus on the bonds of female friendship in this film. Because I’m so nerdy about this movie, I’ve watched all the extras on the DVD. Cook, Reid, and Dawson all seemed to bond and to be genuinely having a good time on set, which created the positive chemistry between the trio. Portrayals of healthy and affirming female friendships are always an A+ in my book. 

If you’d like to take a trip back to the days where MTV actually played music and therefore could serve as a major plot point in a motion picture because of it, check out Josie and the Pussycats

Josie and the Pussycats is currently streaming on HBO GO and HBO NOW. 

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