Josie and the Pussycats was a film released in theatres in 2001, telling the tale of a band caught in the hype machine of the modern music industry. It starred Rachael Leigh Cook as Josie, Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson as Melody and Valerie (Josie's bandmates), and Alan Cumming as Wyatt, the film's primary villain. The movie was largely panned by critics, who were unable to get past the simple main storyline.
And unquestionably, Josie and the Pussycats is the best surprise I've had in a theatre in years.
No, this isn't a joke or a troll; I'm quite serious. The script, while still retaining a simplistic storyline, packs in a huge number of clever individual scenes, some very good acting from the entire cast (especially Alan Cumming), and a huge amount of subtle jokes and minor details that adds up to a much better movie than one would expect merely from taking in the marketing campaign.
The general storyline revolves around a desperate record company executive who wanders into a town one day and bumps into a fledgling band. He decides to turn them into "rock stars" and goes on to do it with a clever marketing scheme; the rest of the movie is about the band being caught up in the wheels of success.
The film was marketed appropriately based on what one would take from a first viewing: the basic storyline of a three-girl band and their rise to fame, using a lot of bright, flashy colors. That's exactly what you'll get if you watch out of the corner of your eye while announcing to the world at large how awful the film is (which is what I guess many film critics must have done after seeing the horribly inane advertisements).
But underneath is a great deal of well-done subtle humor and material that one would easily miss on the first viewing. This starts with the opening scene, featuring a generic boy band called Du Jour. The scene itself seems to be utter fluff, but if you pay attention to what exactly the band is singing and then notice how the crowd is reacting to it, you'll realize that something else is being said here. The second scene as well has a hidden subtext: listen to what the band members are saying to each other and their manager and think about the question of where the line between marketing and reality really is, which is a common theme throughout the movie. Nearly every scene has an element like this, providing an amazing subtext throughout the film that most viewers will never bother to see.
Throughout the film, the character of Wyatt, an executive of a ubiquitous record company, is constantly oozing in several different ways (both visually and verbally) with the idea of image over content and with marketing over everything else. If you watch him carefully, notice how everything he does and is associated with is absolutely covered with corporate logos; I've counted hundreds of them. These logos seem to actually follow Wyatt, who provides a humanized symbol of marketing at its peak.
Some of the bits are more obvious, such as the explanation for why Alexandra is actually following the band around and the scene involving Wyatt throwing the "free thinker" into the back of a sterile looking truck, which drives away to reveal an MTV.com logo. But these scenes still aren't part of the main plot and are easy to overlook if you're merely glancing at the simplistic overall plot.
I think, to a certain degree, the subtext of the film is actually making fun of itself: given the bright look and feel, the simplistic storyline, and the extremely glossy marketing campaing that accompanied the movie's release, the film makers knew that the film would likely miss the audience that would pick up these elements and enjoy them. In the end, though, these elements make a film that I was dreading to see at a discount theatre into a film I'm now proud to own on DVD.
You might have overlooked this one based on the slick marketing and the general panning that it received from critics. Put all that aside, pop this one in, and watch; you'll realize that there are a lot of clever elements at work.