Susan Year Itch: Band in a Jam

And in this envelope, it’s the anti-thinkpiece!

In this season of Oscar fever, it’s easy for movie enthusiasts (or even movie lukewarmists) to get swept up in discussions of acting nuances, directing choices, and subtext scrutiny. I don’t know about you, Roger Ebert, but I need a vacation.

I tried to decide what kind of movie I wanted to watch that would clear away the Oscar clouds, and ended up realizing that a) the perfect anti-Oscar movie had to be a band movie, and b) it couldn’t just be any band movie, it had to be one specific type. Let me break it down for you: the way I figure it, there are four types of band movies (we’ll define band as “group of musicians” or just “one musician,” for simplicity’s sake)…

Rockumentaries: These don’t necessarily have to follow the VH1 Behind the Music pattern of rise and drug addiction and fall and reunion tour. They can be poignant and eye-opening, intelligent, and introspective, or crazy and bewildering (please see DiG! as soon as you can). These films have the potential to be seriously good, so we can eliminate them from the anti-Oscar running.

Songstress Turned Actress: For every Britney, there is a Crossroads. For every Madonna, there is a Desperately Seeking Susan. And sometimes, if we’ve been very good, for every Mariah, there is a Glitter. Some singers pull off critically-acclaimed performances (even Mariah!) in feature films, but the kind of film I’m talking about is one in which a popular, usually female pop star right at the crest of her career is cast in a film that may or may not have been written expressly for this purpose, in hopes that she will bring all of her music fans on board and spread some of their money around in a slightly different but related industry.* However, in our anti-Oscar quest, Songstress Turned Actress movies are attempting, at least, to deliver a meaningful performance, which is certainly something all Oscar contenders do, so they’re out.

Fiction to Nonfiction: Spinal Tap, Blues Brothers… turning the tables on the previous category, some excellent bands are comprised of actors pretending to be musicians! To be fair, these actors often are amateur musicians whose cross-training has allowed them to play this very specific character with some genuine skill. While that may not fulfill any rock star dreams these actors had as children, they get to make money on two fronts, so I’m guessing they’re not sweating it. And Fiction to Nonfiction films, well, those movies are often so good that they give birth to an actual musical number — that can’t be anti-Oscar.

Band in a Jam: And now, the reason why we’re all here today, writing/reading this column. Some bands need to take things to the next level. When fan hysteria has reached a certain teen fever pitch known to only a few legendary musical acts, and regular merchandising no longer seems enough to satisfy the worldwide hunger, certain bands are able to pull off a feature film that stars the band as themselves (or what their band persona characters are supposed to be like, anyway) and proceed to entangle themselves in wacky adventures.

Band in a Jam films never pretend to provide anything other than a chance to watch your favorite pop star perform even more than music videos allow you to do. They can tell jokes, interact with other bandmates, and basically give you the impression that you are finding out a little bit about what life is like in the made up world that is pop stardom. A revealing documentary might expose too much about the people behind the characters, so Band in a Jam films are the perfect opportunity for a band to stay in character, perform hits old and new, and expand their selling strategy from albums and concerts to movie tickets, soundtracks, and DVDs.

The Beatles nailed this strategy, obviously, and produced multiple films that really encapsulate various phases in their career. But since the Fab Four’s heyday it’s hard to find really authentic Band in a Jam examples. More often, bands are involved in films in the other three capacities (or they star in cameos that were clearly written to thrill my own personal heart, as in Singles). Is it because teen idols rarely reach that level of fervor? That can’t be so! Perhaps those at fervor-level don’t have the charisma to get themselves into a jam and then get themselves out of it (the show must be played, despite our fun-loving efforts to incorporate spontaneity into our busy band lives!).

Whatever your theories are, each specimen of this rare subgenre must be treasured for the gem it is. And after my exhaustive hour of research, I have determined that among those greats, one film in particular combines the exact amount of fun costumes, hit singles, self-deprecation, awareness of fleeting fame, and balls-to-the-wall meaninglessness to make itself the perfect Oscar antidote.

Obviously, I’m talking about Spice World.


While this 1997 feature about a week in the life of the Spice Girls didn’t score too many points with critics, a 2010 viewing of it might just change their minds. The mega-popular song and dance act from across the pond careens around London on a bus, loudly complaining about how they’re always stereotyped into their baby/sporty/posh/scary/and, uh, ginger roles while loudly stereotyping themselves into those roles! Meatloaf, Roger Moore, and Elton John mostly just try to stay out of the way of the jubilant parade of sequins and platform shoes. Meanwhile, one Rockumentary director attempts to highlight the true emotion of the Spice Girls, while another courts the band’s manager with a description of a Band in a Jam plot in which they already star. Everyone in the film agrees that the Band in a Jam proposal is way more interesting than the Rockumentary.

Tired of hearing people argue about Avatar? No one will ever argue that Victoria isn’t funny when she appears at Spice boot camp in a camouflage dress and gold heels. Bummed out by the harsh reality of Precious? Lose yourself in the photoshoot montage in which each Spice Girl pretends to be another Spice Girl. Sandwiched between grunge and the twenty-first century, Spice World could not take itself less seriously.

I won’t go so far as to say that Spice World is A Hard Day’s Night for the 1990s, but I encourage you to remember that the Beatles’ shaggy hair, skinny suits, and candid remarks were considered quite provocative in their day. In any case, it’s hard to believe that this film will not lift your spirits or make you nostalgic for a decade past. And I can certainly guarantee that you won’t have to use any brain cells during your viewing experience. Ah, isn’t that a refreshing thought sometimes?

If you know of any other fluffy, sunny, and utterly preposterous Band in a Jam movies that you think will help my Oscar malaise, let me know.

*Bowie, of course, is different. Some films clearly require Bowie’s presence in order to achieve a certain inter-dimensional quality. He can’t help it if there is only one person like him in the entire world.

  • error

    Report an error

Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

There are 15 reader comments. Read them.