A while back, I wrote an article about the movie Josie and the Pussycats for a website that I write for. The reason? Rachael Leigh Cook’s birthday. However, after I wrote it, there was an editor change at said website, and the new editor wasn’t interested in the piece. I tried, briefly, to find a home for it, and then figured I’d just post it here. Obviously, Sunday is no longer Cook’s birthday. Nevertheless, enjoy please.
Sunday is the actress Rachael Leigh Cook’s birthday. This may not mean a lot to you, unless you are familiar with the 2001 moving picture Josie and the Pussycats. In that case… well, her birthday may still not mean a ton to you, but Josie and the Pussycats might, because it is a great movie. Due to its lack of success at the box office, boffo it was not, it is destined to reach no higher acclaim than “cult classic,” but it is deserving of that designation. It also is a tremendous time capsule of the state of pop music, and music television, at the turn of the millennium. It also may have ended Cook’s career as a leading actress in major motion pictures. That’s an awful lot to stem from a movie based on the least known and popular characters from the Archie comics universe.
Josie and the Pussycats is an all-girl band that began life as a comic book about their music and their friends and love interests and other general slice of life comic book stuff. This led to a cartoon is the ‘70s that, at one point, became a cartoon where the band was in outer space and meeting aliens. They sort of dressed like leopards and were marginally popular, at best. The comic only ran regularly until 1982, at which point Josie and the Pussycats only popped up periodically in other comics or one shots. Yet, they decided to take this property, and turn it into a movie aimed at teenagers in the year 2001, even though their target audience wasn’t alive when the gals were relevant in pop culture.
There are people who will complain about this. They are the same people who complain about them making a The Man from U.N.C.L.E. movie because “nobody remembers it.” These people are stupid. Whether or not people “remember” an entity is irrelevant when it comes to adaptation of a property. If you create a good movie and market it well, you should still be able to be a success. Original ideas sell all the time, and nobody complains about those. Evidently, you either have to be well-remembered, but not adored enough that people complain about a movie adaptation or remake, or be something nobody has any memory of. Anything in between just doesn’t work for some people.
However, we are not here to complain about the folly of people’s thought processes. We are here to talk about how great Josie and the Pussycats is. Even with all the defense provided for the movie’s existence thus far, you could be forgiven for not expecting this movie to be any good on paper. It is, after all, a seemingly thin idea for a film. It’s a movie about a musical trio of which one is played by Tara Reid. It could have been silly and slight, but also inane and without any momentum or purpose. Granted, any movie, no matter the concept, can go wrong, but some movies feel more likely to go wrong than others.
Josie and the Pussycats is silly, and it is even perhaps slight, but these are not problems. It’s a delightful fun little film. It is the kind of movie that people like to make analogies about various sweet, sugar foods for. It is, in the parlance of our times, a confection. Which is fine. Not everything has to be serious and heavy. That being said, while this movie may be light, do not mistake it for simple or dumb. It’s uncommonly smart and clever for a seemingly tossed off movie for teenagers. Also, and this is probably obvious by this point, you can enjoy this movie without being teenaged or female. Fun for all ages and genders, yo.
When the movie begins, The Pussycats are a struggling pop punk band in Riverdale. We meet them through an implausibly syrupy montage. You’ve got Josie, played by birthday gal Cook, on guitar and lead vocals. There’s Valerie, as portrayed by Rosario Dawson, on bass. Lastly, there’s Reid as Melody, the drummer, and the dumb one. Make your own joke here. However, when the film begins, the focus is more on Du Jour, a parody of the boy bands that were so prominent in the era. Notable faces such as Seth Green and Donald Faison are part of Du Jour, known for their hit single “Backdoor Lover,” which is, of course, harmless in their world, but a pretty clunky joke about anal sex in ours. That being said, if you are going to have a song that could plausibly exist in sincerity, but also be humorous through dramatic irony, you are kind of limited in what you can do.
Anyway, the guys of Du Jour accidentally stumble upon a dangerous secret about the music business, their manager Wyatt, played by Alan Cumming, makes their plane crash. He ends up near Riverdale, which is how he stumbles upon The Pussycats. He and his MegaRecords cohorts, primarily Fiona, their CEO played by Parker Posey, decide they will make The Pussycats the new stars of the music industry.
You see, this is a movie that presupposes that pop music is not decided by merit. In fact, teenagers don’t make any decisions by merit. The secret Du Jour stumbled upon is that pop music, at least that released by MegaRecords, is loaded with subliminal messages. They decide what people buy, what colors are popular, what food to eat. There are girls who despite The Pussycats early on. Once MegaRecords has signed them, the girls love The Pussycats, because they have been told to. This makes Fiona and Wyatt and company the antagonists. Also, they work with the government, because the government is going to use this power for their own gain.
Of course, our dear heroes don’t know anything about this. They are just making music and having fun. Then, naturally, seeds of dissent are sowed. Josie and her love interest, Alan M, have a falling out. Josie and the band have a falling out. Josie has been brainwashed, by the way. Anyway, Josie finds out eventually, and works to thwart Fiona’s plan to mass brainwash people at a major music festival. It works, the girls reunite, and Josie and Alan M. kiss during the big concert. Oh, also Fiona had switched out the final subliminal message to one about how cool she is, because she is insecure about her lisp. Also, Wyatt is secretly an albino and he and Fiona fall in love. Plus, Du Jour returns in full body casts to try and fight MegaRecords, but it doesn’t work. Nobody said this movie wasn’t silly.
The plot is serviceable. It works in parts and it doesn’t work in other parts. However, it’s satirical elements do work. It’s not the most viciously pointed movie. Armando Ianucci would probably yawn in derision. The makers of Josie and the Pussycats weren’t looking to make Network, though. What they made is something funny and breezy with more purpose and sharpness than its brethren. It’s a big fish in a small pond.
It’s a funny movie with a lot of good jokes, and some nice meta elements to it. Per example, there are two characters in this movie, Alexander and Alexandra Cabot. Alexander is the early, ineffectual manager of The Pussycats. Alexandra is just sort of there to be snarky and snobby. At one point, she is asked why she is ever there, and she mutters under her breath “I’m here because I was in the comic book.” Eugene Levy and, more importantly, Carson Daly, have funny appearances as themselves. Daly, and it’s not his fault, still represents the hollow aspects of music in the era. As the host of Total Request Live, he was the conduit between the screaming teens in the audience and musicians such as Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. Here, he plays a tool of the evil MegaRecords, willing to even kill for the sake of their mission. While he gets a lot of crap, Daly always seemed to have a sense of humor about himself, and it is fun to see it on display.
Perhaps the most commendable aspect of the show, though, is its dedication to product placement. The movie is about pop culture selling us products and consumables, and every single frame of this movie has product placement in it. The movie is plastered, knowingly, winkingly, with product placement. Yes, as an adult, you know it is, in its way, genuine product placement, but it’s also funny product placement. It’s product placement that actually means something.
What about the music, you ask? This is, after all, a movie about a band. It has original music. It has a soundtrack. Is it any good, though? Well… do you like pop punk? Do you like The Donnas? If you do, you’ll probably love it. For the rest of us, though, it’s, eh, tolerable? Some of it is pretty good, some of it is mediocre and meh. None of it is bad. It’s the music of the “counter culture” that is accepted by the culture. They had some good people working on the music, though. Folks like Matthew Sweet, Adam Schlesinger, Adam Duritz, Babyface, Jane Wiedlin, and Bif Naked worked on it. Kay Hanley, from Ben Wyatt’s favorite band Letters to Cleo, dubbed in the vocals for Josie. It really is music of an era. The whole movie is of the era, but it is a perfect capturing of the era. If you want to remember, or learn, about what music was like around Y2K, watch Josie and the Pussycats.
It also needs to be pointed out that the movie is well-acted, by and large. It would be hyperbolic to say that Posey deserved an Oscar nomination for her work as Fiona. It is not hyperbolic to say that she deserved a nomination for a Golden Globe, considering they have a category for comedies and musicals. She is, genuinely, amazing in the movie. She doesn’t run away with the movie, because Cook is also a delight and endlessly charming, but Posey takes the movie to a whole ‘nother level.
Let’s speak to Cook, though. As was just stated, she’s very good in this movie as the lead character. There is a fine supporting cast behind her, but Cook is out front, and she leads the way with aplomb. At the time, Cook’s star was on the ascent. She made She’s All That not just tolerable, but actually good solely based on her performance. She was a young actress with the world in front of her, getting another chance to star in a movie. Josie and the Pussycats had a budget of $39 million. It made $14.9 million in the box office.
That is, no matter how you slice it, a bomb. Critics didn’t really like it, either. Roger Ebert gave it half a star, which, frankly, should lead to the posthumous revocation of his Pulitzer for criticism. Look at Cook’s filmography post-Josie. It’s made up almost entirely of completely obscure movies and direct-to-DVD or direct-to-VOD affairs. Now, this is being written without knowledge of Cook’s wants or desires. Perhaps being a movie star didn’t suit her. Maybe, at a certain point, she wanted to spend more time with her husband and her kids. It’s entirely possible she’s tough to work with. All these possibilities accounted for, what it appears, on the surface, is that this movie bombed, and then Hollywood decided Cook didn’t work as a movie star. She was barely in her early 20s, and Hollywood was done with her.
If this is true, this is bullshit. Look, you are dealing with a total Rachael Leigh Cook apologist here, but Cook is great, and Josie and the Pussycats is a real good movie, and she should have been a star. She could have knocked out a million rom coms. She should be currently transitioning into television because she’s old to be considered at a movie star level of physical attractiveness anymore. Even if the movie was a bomb, and it shouldn’t have been because, again, it’s super good and fun, how anybody could write off an actress after one movie that didn’t do well financially is baffling. It’s not like she hasn’t been willing to take work. She played a short-term love interest on Psych, where she was, naturally, great. She played a supporting role on some TNT show starring Eric McCormack that you don’t remember. Watch Josie and the Pussycats and try and say with a straight face you wouldn’t follow this woman to the ends of the Earth. It’s enough to make you wish that the subliminal advertising capabilities of MegaRecords were real, and that they’d use it to make Cook a star.
Let us not mar this celebration of an overlooked delight of a movie by chastises Hollywood, though. All we are saying, is give Josie and the Pussycats a chance. If you were a teenager at the turn of the millennium, you owe it to yourself. If you enjoy music at all, you owe it to yourself. If you want a movie that embodies Cyndi Lauper’s notion that girls just want to have fun, this is the movie for you. This movie about an underdog band turned into an underdog film. The Pussycats of the movie overcame those odds to find success. Hopefully, belatedly, the movie can do the same thing.
Once again, I have decided to take a thing I did for no reason and put it online on this blog for a project that is no longer active. This is the way to do things, in this life and the next. On a lark, I decided to write a pilot for a TV show called Rachel Leigh Cook: I’m From Hollywood. It’s about the actress Rachael Leigh Cook trying to remake herself as an Andy Kaufman style performance artist.
Why did I do this? Well, as previously discussed on the Existential Parachute Pants podcast, I love Rachael Leigh Cook. I think she’s a great actress, I think Josie and the Pussycats is a great movie, and I think her career should have been much better and notable. Then, one day, I was thinking about how it would be interesting if there was a show about an actor trying to do an Andy Kaufman type thing. Naturally, the first actor that came to mind is Rachael Leigh Cook. Then, I wrote it. For kicks. Then, I decided to put it online, in case anybody wanted to see it. Why would anybody want to read it? I don’t know. The internet is a crazy place. So… enjoy maybe?
Hello internet. I trust you have been well. Have I told you lately that I love you? Existential Parachute Pants is still dead. However, sometimes in the course of human events, I still need a blog space to post stuff, and then I come on over to here and, you know, pimp myself as if though I am both a ride and Xhibit. The reason this time? Plays!
In short, a little while back I wrote three one-act comedy plays for a local comedy theater. I was quite enthused about it. A guy who I knew from back when The Second City Detroit existed is their producer now and he was all like “Write some plays” and I churned out three super quick. Then, I heard nothing. Then, when I heard something, it was this guy saying, “Yeah, we decided we are moving to an all-improv format, so, you know, fuck you and your plays.” Or something like that. It was probably less harsh.
So, that left me with three plays with no home. I have spent months emailing playhouses around the country trying to see if anybody wants them. I’ve heard, well, basically nothing. As such, I decided to take the step of putting the scripts online, so anybody can find them and, if they want, put them up. Not for free, but if you, like, email me that you want to do it and then send me five bucks or whatever through PayPal you can have a script. I’ll be happy to promote the shit out of it. Tell me how it goes. Here are the three scripts:
What’s this? What do we have here? A new Existential Parachute Pants post? Is this some sort of Monkey’s Paw, or Pet Semetary, situation? Sort of, but also no, inasmuch as there was no supernatural evil involved in the resurrection of this blog. No, it is much more tedious than that.
You may remember that I wrote a book about Mystery Science Theater 3000. Well, me and the publisher of that book then got into a tentative agreement for me to write a book that was an encyclopedia of horror hosts. However, that ended up falling through, namely because they didn’t like my brand of writing, all in all. I had too much personality and humor for them, essentially. This is the truth, by the way, and I’m not spiteful about it. They wanted a dry encyclopedia of facts about horror hosts. I wanted to write something like my MST3K book. We hit an impasse. It’s a business.
Anyway, in the process, I wrote up a sample chapter about Vampira. I tried to get it published on one of the websites I write for. One agreed, and even went as far as to pay me for it, but never actually got around to running the piece. So, it’s just been sitting around. I wanted it to get out there in the world, somehow. I figured, perhaps, this ol’ blog was the place for it. Does Vampira have anything to do with the ’90s? No, not really, but who cares? Existential Parachute Pants is dead. I can do whatever I want with it.
This is it. The final episode of Existential Parachute Pants: A 90’s Pop Culture Podcast. For the occasion, we talked about whatever we wanted to. We touched on topics we hadn’t gotten to but wanted to. We talk mission statements. We also spend an inordinate amount of time talking about “The Principal and the Pauper” for, like, the fifth time.
It was two years ago that I begun the Existential Parachute Pants blog. I wrote a little introduction post, and I wrote a thing about Darth Maul. Every single day between then and now I have written a blog post here about 90’s pop culture. That’s, frankly, a lot of writing. However, on this, the two year anniversary of EPP, I am writing what is the last of the consecutive posts on the blog, and one of the last new things that will ever end up here. If you listen to the podcast, you know that Existential Parachute Pants is, for all intents and purposes, about to shut down shop.
There are reasons for this. One is that there is only so much stuff you can write about. The 90s is a finite amount of time, and some shit within those parameters doesn’t interest me. This is even more true with the podcast, where we have to actually be aware of what we are talking about, and where we have to coordinate the schedule of at least two people.
I began Existential Parachute Pants for a couple reasons. One is because I love pop culture and I hate nostalgia. I have a genuine contempt for it. I was watching the 90s becoming what the 80s was, and it annoyed me. The first time I heard that college kids were having 90s parties I knew that enough was enough. I had also watched the pop culture of the 80s be reconsidered and re-validated by people willing to treat it with substance. I feel all pop culture is worth truly thinking about and assessing and writing about, no matter how ridiculous and fleeting. I know that, eventually, the 90s will be where the 80s are now, and the 2000s will be where the 90s are now, and some day we will all be dead. However, I wanted to get ahead of the curve, and start talking about 90s pop culture in a way that had some substance to it.
Did I do that entirely? Well, I never got nostalgic, so there’s that. In truth, though, there was never a real “voice” to Existential Parachute Pants beyond me simply fucking around. I wrote reviews. I did humor pieces. I posted things ironically. Sometimes I’d just post some video, or some GIF of Salem from Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It was all over the place. The only really thruline was me, and what I happened to stumble upon or whatever I happened to be thinking about. Which is cool, I think. I enjoyed it, and I talked about a lot of different stuff. Some of the pieces I just sort of threw up there. Some I am really pleased with. There is a ton of content on here, most of which will never be read again. Which is fine.
The other reason I did this blog, and did it for all these consecutive days, is because I wanted to showcase my writing somewhere. I am a professional writer, after all, and one who writes about pop culture a bunch. The way I saw it was that maybe this would be a way for me to show prospective employers my writing style and my skill, and also to show I can generate content, to romanticize things for a moment. If you tell somebody you have written a blog post for over 500 days in a row, that could pique interest, potentially. Since I started Existential Parachute Pants, I have, in fact, gotten a lot more writing work. I wrote an entire book on Mystery Science Theater 3000, after all. However, none of it came from this blog. I don’t know how much traction it ever got, in truth.
So yeah, from a practical, analytical standpoint, Existential Parachute Pants was a failure. From a creative standpoint, I consider it a success. I enjoyed it, and that probably is worth something. I found so much weird old pop culture. Whenever I would scroll through the photos to get the EPP podcast logo for a post, I would be struck by just how much ridiculous shit I had written about. It’s somewhat amazing, in its own way, and delightful. Plus, I wrote a fake pilot for Speedway Squad and a ridiculous sped for F Troop. Those were pretty big projects, but I loved doing them.
I have accomplished nothing beyond writing for writing’s sake. I will continue to be writing, of course. I am all over the internets, writing about pop culture. I do a fair amount of 90s related stuff on Uproxx, because I know my lane. I have some big projects that have been in the hopper for months, but they aren’t around yet because they require other people to do work, and they haven’t quite come through yet. Check out my Twitter, or my Tumblr, for info on that stuff, and for other stuff. I’m sure I will still have feelings about 90s pop culture I put out into the world.
On the podcast, Seth and I talked about all sorts of shit, both good and bad. We chatted with Chris Marcil about all sorts of cool 90s stuff he worked on. We argued about Daria. We talked to noted creep Mathew Klickstein about Pete and Pete even though he was more interested in talking about the woman who does the voice of Tommy Pickles being topless in Valley Girl. We made you mix tapes. We talked about The Simpsons a million times. We learned, we laughed, we loved. Seth got dogs. I’ve been watching more Daria recently. I really like that show.
Existential Parachute Pants is a worth of substance that I am pleased with. Existential Parachute Pants is dead. Long live Existential Pants. Well, actually we have a couple more things to get posted, so it’s not quite dead yet. It’s dying, though. We’re all dying. Existential Parachute Pants is just closer to death than most of us.
One time I wrote a short story about Kimmy Gibbler working as a sniper. This is something nobody can take from me. It is something I will clutch to my chest, metaphorical, whilst I am on my death bed.
Guys! Did you know Gene Wilder had a sitcom!? In the 90s!? Seriously. Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka himself, longtime comedic compatriot of Mel Brook and Richard Pryor, had a sitcom in the 90s. And it was called Something Wilder. That sounds so much like a temporary title I don’t think anybody can beat it in that regard.
Wilder didn’t even play a guy named Wilder. His characters name was Gene Bergman. He played a fiftysomething married to a thirtysomething and they had two four-year-old twin sons. It seems like a really broad family sitcom. It lasted only 15 episodes. Gene Wilder had a sitcom, on NBC, and it only lasted 15 episodes.
If the show had been set in Newark, it could have been called Newark Wilder. Pavement joke!
I watched The Creeping Terror of MST3K recently. I also recently watched The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, the first Mike episode, and I realized that Brain That Wouldn’t Die may be the worst movie they ever showed. Worse than Hobgoblins, worse than Manos. Seriously. Anyway, during The Creeping Terror episode, they do one of my favorite host segments, an inexplicable “scathing satire” of Love, American Style.
You may not remember Love, American Style. I do, because I am a ridiculous person who watched a lot of Nick at Nite as a child. It’s a sort of anthology of stories about “love.” Happy Days started there. Apparently a lot of failed pilots ended up there. In MST3K’s version, every little segment is super broad and arch, and sort of on point in its own way. I love it though because of the credits for each segment, and because Mike kisses both of the bots, which is very goofy. What is it about a man in a jumpsuit kissing a puppet of a robot?
There’s a movie about the making of The Creeping Terror, too. Both a documentary and a narrative film. Because the guy who made it was an awful person and con artist, apparently. Having seen the film, I am not surprised.
When we talked about the career of Phil Hartman, we briefly covered Small Soldiers, the Joe Dante motion picture, but we didn’t really have a ton to say about it if I recall. Well, I decided to give it a rewatch, as I am a Joe Dante fan, and I haven’t seen it in like 15 years. Like, when I saw it, it didn’t register with me that I was watching Dick Miller, and that Miller is in all of Dante’s films. These are the things that matter.
Small Soldiers is a good movie. It’s not one of the Dante’s best offerings. He wasn’t trapped by anything, really, as he got to make a PG-13 movie, which is what Gremlins 2 is, and essentially what Gremlins is. The movie is about some toys that get military microchips put in them that are super advanced so they become somewhat sentient, violent killing machines. Well, the soldiers at least. Their “enemies,” the Gorgons, are programmed to hide and lose. They are the good guys, of course, and the Commando Elite are the bad guys. Then the soldiers start attacking people, including Kirsten Dunst, Kevin Dunn, and Phil Hartman.
It has some of that standard Joe Dante anarchy to it. At some point, toy soldiers are shooting flaming tennis balls at people, and the main kid’s mom is returning them with a tennis racket. They send up military movies a bunch. A lot of the Commando Elite are voiced by Dirty Dozen cast members. The movie The Crawling Eye is briefly seen. There’s also some pointedness about the military and big corporations. Big corporations aren’t Dante’s thing. Oh, and at one point, whilst Kirsten Dunst is beating up Gwendy (Barbie stand-in) dolls with a baton, one quips, “It’s a Baton Death March!”
On the other hand, it has problems, too. It’s super slow to get going. Probably a good half hour before it gets interesting. The romance between the main kid (who is pretty much a zero so much so that I just remembered his name is Alan Abernathy) and Kirsten Dunst is awkward and tacked on. Like, they have the scene where they talk and realize they have so much in common. Dunst even says “Do you like Led Zeppelin?” and Alan is like “Yeah,” and she’s all like, “They are my favorite.” It’s ridiculous. This is, like, a 14 year old girl in the late 90s who is super into Led Zeppelin. More to the point, they handle it awkwardly. Also, a couple of the comedy relief Gorgons aren’t very funny.
In short, if you like Joe Dante, it’s probably worthwhile to see Small Soldiers. And Hartman is delightful.