Spice World and Josie and the Pussycats have a lot in common. Both are movies about all female pop bands told with an irreverent sense of humor. All eight of the women in the two bands are independent, driven and likeable; they might show a bit too much skin to be everyone’s idea of a role model, but you could certainly do far worse. All of the songs in both movies sound incredibly 90s now. And so on.
The difference between the two is that one of them is about a very successful real life band while the other is about a fake band that was originally created for a TV show. Even if you knew nothing about either band going into their movies you could probably guess which one was real and which one was fake, because Spice World feels like a total cash-in, while Josie and the Pussycats actually bothered to act like it was an actual movie.
The Spice Girls were so popular in the 90’s that just about any movie with their names on it was probably going to make money, and the producers of Spice World obviously knew that. The film’s story is beyond slapdash – it’s actively redundant. The movie follows the Spice Girls around for a couple of days as they prepare for a big show at Royal Albert Hall, but there’s also a movie-within-the-movie about a documentary crew that is filming the scenes we’re already seeing from the Spice Girl’s perspective. Then there’s another subplot about two cheesy Hollywood types who are proposing various storylines for a potential fictional Spice Girl movie, which are then interwoven with the movie we’re already watching and the documentary footage of the movie we're already watching. There are literally three different framing devices for a movie that basically has no plot to frame.
Why? It’s a 90 minute movie about popstars preparing for a concert – it’s self explanatory. The only reason to toss in that many extraneous scenes of people talking about what the movie could be is because the people who were actually making the real movie were in too much of a hurry to make those decisions themselves.
In contrast, Josie and the Pussycats didn’t have a built in fan base because their fictitious band wasn’t on the radio all the time. Since it's makers didn’t have nearly as much license to coast, they actually put work into shaping their story. Not only does this movie have an actual plot, it has an honest-to-goodness message. In Josie and the Pussycats the titular band are struggling to get by until they are signed by a record label who wants to hide subliminal messages about consumerism into their songs. The film’s critique of consumerism isn’t necessarily mind blowing, but there is a certain amount of interesting tension between what it’s saying and how it’s saying it. The film wants to speak against creating meaningless trends as a sales gimmick, but it set its climax during a taping of TRL, the MTV show that was designed to create meaningless trends as a sales gimmick. Maybe it doesn't completely manage to be be a pop product and a skewering of pop products at the same time, but you have to give them credit for trying to be two things at once, when Spice World was barely trying to be one.
Let’s imagine a (no longer plausible) scenario where you go to a movie store in search of a very specific type of film: you are in the mood for an upbeat movie about a girl band. You’re looking at two boxes, both of which hold movies that might satisfy that craving. Which do you pick, Spice World or Josie and the Pussycats? Of course, both films have their charms, but Spice World only functions as a tie-in to a broader brand, while Josie and the Pussycats stands on its own two legs. If you’re feeling nostalgic about your own days as a Spice Girl fan, then Spice World might scratch a specific itch – but for anyone else it pales in comparison to Josie, which is actually watchable. Once again, the cats have won the day.
Winner: The Cat