The current lack of movies starring whole music groups as themselves is either a sign that today's bands take themselves too seriously or that they just aren't popular enough to carry a feature film at the box office. Perhaps the combination of MTV and music video DVDs has diluted a demand for the musical sub-genre, but I for one have an enormous weak spot for rock films of any kind, and the most tender area of that spot is for movies like Spice World.
This campy throwaway picture from 1998, featuring the British girl-group The Spice Girls a few minutes past their peak, came from a tradition that has its roots in the earliest of movie musicals, became more interesting with the arrival of rock and roll, and seems to have always been more prevalent with artists from the UK. The most obvious influence on films of this sort, of course, was The Beatles. Elvis may have done a lot of movies for no better reason than to serve as vehicles for his music, but he never did play himself. No, it was A Hard Day's Night that did it (the band's name is never mentioned in the film, but the Fab Four do go by their own individual names), and it remains the most familiar, the most popular, and the most critically acclaimed of all of its kind. The Beatles went on to make a few other films, and Help! was also well-regarded, but nothing since has had the same prestige as the original.
That doesn't mean there aren't some guilty pleasures among the bunch of copycats and followers. My personal favorites of the immediate imitators are Head, a psychedelic pleasure co-written by Jack Nicholson and starring The Monkees, and The Ghost Goes Gear, which featured The Spencer Davis Group in a ridiculous plot that the movie forgets about halfway through in order to transform into an odd series of performances by other obscure English acts including Dave Berry. I'm sure I've forgotten a great many others from the era, and I have never actually watched the Led Zeppelin concert film/fantasy The Song Remains the Same outside of a bar (where it was muted), but the next guilty pleasure I will admit to that can be included with this group is Moonwalker, which starred Michael Jackson in a barely connected collection of videos for his Bad album, but which seemed to have some semblance of a plot.
Plots are never a primary concern in these movies, though. Like the anarchic comedies of The Marx Brothers and Monty Python, the less of a story there is, the more freedom there is for nonsense and silliness. And when the only reason for a film's existence is the wacky bits and music hits, the screenplay is not too important. Nonetheless, Spice World has a bit of a story. The five Girls -- Ginger, Baby, Sporty, Scary and Posh -- have to play a big show at Albert Hall, but they have a few obstacles between them and gig, including a ruthless paparazzi, a tabloid publisher who aims to break them up and a pregnant friend who is due on the night of the concert. Surrounding that simple premise are skits, gags, flashbacks, dream sequences, and some madcap romps around London in a double-decker bus adorned with the Union Jack.
I saw Spice World twice in the theater (first time was with a mocking group of friends, second was on a date), and despite my not being into The Spice Girls' music -- I understand that the pleasurability of these films is mostly contingent on you liking the artists featured -- I enjoyed every minute of it each time. So what if many of the jokes are corny (so are most of Groucho's), and some of the supporting characters, such as Alan Cumming's documentary director, are unnecessary and unfunny. So, the satirical treatment of the Girls' fame is way too tame, especially looking at the movie six years later. The fact that nobody involved in Spice World could possibly have taken themselves seriously is all the more reason to not think too much about anything having to do with it. You can only take guilty pleasure from the moments where it is surprisingly wonderful.
For me, these moments are abundant, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I can't even decide what I like best about the movie. Is it Richard E. Grant's manager character dressed in shiny, single-colored suit/shirt/tie combos going crazy with stress? Is it the Spice Girls cover of Gary Glitter's I'm the Leader of the Gang (I Am) performed while Italian muscle-men in assless coveralls dance behind the group? Probably it is Roger Moore in his best self-parody since The Cannonball Run, telling riddles and bottle-feeding a baby pig.
There is a lot about Spice World that didn't interest me as much when I re-watched it the other day. Maybe it is the fact that the audio levels on the DVD have the music numbers mixed way too loud, but the kitsch factor of the Spice Girls' songs was entirely gone for me. The group just doesn't have the same lasting qualities that The Beatles, The Monkees, The Spencer Davis Group, or even latter-day Michael Jackson have, and that is a problem for the movie's timelessness. Still, I have an appreciation for the movie that will never completely go away. It represents the last of a sub-genre that I will continue to yearn for even when I'm too old to know what music groups are popular. If by chance another band does reach the hysteria needed for them to get their own movie, and I haven't a clue who they are, I might still be in line to see it, probably even ahead of the group's fans.