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.

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Susan Howson

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

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. This moving actually onset my puberty.

    I walked in a boy, and came out a boy with a fervent interest in boobs.

  2. Jonesy on said:

    I love this movie so much.

  3. Spice World was one of the funniest, light-heartedest (hey, new word) movies to come out in a stretch of years where everything seemed to want to be edgy, hip, and Tarantino-esque. It actually made me like the Spice Girls, which is pretty amazing considering how far out of the demographic I was as a late twentysomthing male (didn’t see it until sometime after it came out on DVD). Just the thinnest of plots ever conceived, but who cares?

  4. Man, I totally thought you guys would slam me about Spice World! Huzzah Spice Girls!

  5. Tiffanie on said:

    I may or may not have owned this movie on VHS as a freshman in college. After reading this, I wish I hadn’t donated it to Goodwill. Thank goodness it’s on Netflix.

  6. Until today, I never understood what compelled me to buy this movie on VHS for a dollar at that yard sale many years ago. Now I understand. Thanks, Susan!

  7. Josie and The Pussycats is my Spice World.

  8. Hugel: I am adding it to my queue immediately. Thanks for the tip.

  9. sotos on said:

    In love with it and the spice girls!!!
    this movie is a long video clip with colorful images and nice pop music that cant not put a smile in your face!!!

    thank you great review!

  10. Victor on said:

    Im from Brazil and I remember e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y was crazy about the Spice Girls at the time. I watched it in the theathers and there were lots of girls and boys dressed up as Melanie C (tracksuits+ponytails) and all the kids (me included) sang along whenever there was a song in the movie. Then I remember calling to – at least – 10 video stores in town to check if they already had the movie to rent. I had become a fan haha. Next year I went to the US and bought the vhs – I still have it haha.
    Nice article, SW is a nice uplifting movie. Not for my taste nowadays, but it brings back a good nostalgic innocent feeling.

  11. Josie and The Pussycats is a mind explosion. Way out of Spice World’s league…though I love SW.

    I’m also biased because the chick who co-wrote the songs for the Josie movie is straight edge ;)

  12. lindsey on said:

    i adore spice world and josie and the pussycats. of course, i was in the target demographic of both of those movies. my friends and i used to play spice girls on the playground in elementary school. my red-headed friend had to be ginger, my black friend had to be scary, my blonde haired friend had to be baby, and i had to be posh because i had short brown hair. none of us were satisfied with our characters but for some reason we weren’t allowed to switch around. no one wanted to be sporty though….and i only had 3 friends ok? anyway we went to see this movie *in theaters* for red-headed friends birthday, so it has a special place in my heart.

    josie and the pussycats came out i think when i was in 8th grade and i remember watching it kind of obsessively and singing along to every song. i know all the words to this day. and it is on instant play. so get on that.

  13. Ricky on said:

    Spice world is funny, entertaining, spicier movie..i love it! and..course i love Spice Girls as well, they’re fantastic!

  14. I am so pumped about Josie now, and I haven’t even seen it. This weekend, people, it is going to rule.

    That brings to mind a genre that I intentionally didn’t cover – movies about fictional bands (just because they don’t quite have the mindlessness of movies starring actual bands), but hey maybe they are good anti-Oscar uses for my Netflix queue as well. Viva Thinklesspieces!

  15. I love Susan and my life!!!

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