Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Smartest Chick Flick in the Room?

Josie and the Pussycats (2001)

The Girl Next Door (2004)

Most chick flicks are unabashedly fluffy, and that’s a big part of why I love them. Almost without fail, they follow the travails of a boy or girl as he or she tries to win the heart of his or her favourite girl or boy. Sometimes they follow a girl as she tries to find, or keep, or re-connect with, her favourite crew of girl-friends (though there’s usually a boy hovering in the background there too). But every once in awhile a film comes out that would fall into this genre that somehow has a little more to say. Sometimes it will even pass its message on in a clever or interesting way. And these chick flicks I treasure most of all…

Mean Girls and Drop Dead Gorgeous could both have come up for consideration here, but since I dealt with them in ‘Twisted Teen Movies’, I’ll stick to just two: Josie and the Pussycats, and The Girl Next Door.

I avoided Josie and the Pussycats for years, partly because the girls were always my least favourite bit of an Archie comic (get back to the main story, already!) and partly because I am leery of any film that replaces cartoons with real people. But then I heard a rumour that it wasn’t what I was expecting – that it was actually kind of smart, a bit of a satire. You mean, I asked, it’s not just about a band hitting super-stardom and the tensions of fame on their friendship, not to mention the boy from back home?

Don’t worry, it has all those things too. But yes, it is a satire, about the state of the music industry and our over-merchandized commercial society in general. It’s far from subtle, at times a little too ‘bang-you-over-the-head-with-a-message’ for my taste, but it has some great moments. Missi Pyle provides some great one-liners as Alexandra Cabot, and the spoof boy band DuJour is nothing short of genius – in large part because they’re closer to an accurate portrait of the boy band phenomenon than an exaggerated caricature. And the girls in the band (Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson) are lovable, while Alan Cumming and Parker Posey are perfect as the music industry villains. The movie’s only real shortcoming is that it tries a little too hard to be smart – don’t let that stop you from watching it, just don’t expect too much.

Meanwhile, The Girl Next Door was an incredibly pleasant surprise, discovered when I was working my way through my stepmother’s entire dvd collection after having my wisdom teeth out. I had passed by the poster in my local movie theater for close to a year, and the posing Elisha Cuthbert (possibly the reason why it stayed on the walls for so long?) convinced me it was just another smutty teen comedy. What a premise! High-achieving student council president meets his new next-door neighbour… a porn star? Sounds more like an actual porno – “Can I…borrow some sugar?”

But The Girl Next Door is smart. And funny. And plenty smutty, too, with a twist of an ending that even my friends who aren’t as woefully unquestioning as I am didn’t see coming. Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert play their roles well, and the supporting cast of Chris Marquette and Paul Dano as the friends, and Timothy Olyphant as the porn producer, are fantastic. The movie bounces back and forth between an eerily accurate portrait of high school life and a twisted story line that almost seems as though it must be a fantasy sequence in Emile Hirsch’s pretty little head. Rent it, watch it, love it.

Josie and the Pussycats is ideal girls’ night in viewing, and most likely a definite no-no for a date. The Girl Next Door, meanwhile, is a good bet for introduction to the fellas, and makes a great option for either a solo or group night in. It’s not likely to be one you want to watch with your mother, unless she’s particularly chilled. Even then, if you’re anything like me, you may still feel awkward.

Chick Flick Connections:

Josie and the Pussycats is packed with chick flick regulars, starting with Rachael Leigh Cook (best known for She’s All That and Strike!, but look for her in those old stand-bys Tom and Huck and The Baby-Sitters Club, as well as an upcoming Nancy Drew movie!) and Tara Reid (My Boss’s Daughter, Van Wilder, American Pie (and 2), Cruel Intentions). Parker Posey pops up in You’ve Got Mail and Dazed and Confused, while Alan Cumming has a surprising resume of chick flick experience, appearing in Spice World, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Emma, and Circle of Friends. Gabriel Mann also worked on A Lot Like Love, while Paulo Costanzo was my favourite part of 40 days and 40 nights, and that is saying something. Missi Pyle has an uncredited appearance in 50 First Dates. Meanwhile, all four members of DuJour had roles in Can’t Hardly Wait, with Donald Faison and Breckin Meyer also making their names as memorable Murray and Trevor in one of the all-time greats, Clueless. Chick flick stars are thinner on the ground in The Girl Next Door, but look for Elisha Cuthbert in a small role in Love Actually and Chris Marquette in Just Friends. You may also remember James Remar as Richard from Sex and the City.

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