There was a time when the British Empire spanned the globe, and her power was respected and feared. There was a time when the British navy dominated the world’s seas. There was a time when London was the very center of civilization. This summer, England withdrew from Hong Kong, and the sun set on the British Empire.
This is the 90’s, and the world is a very different place, with an entirely different England. This England has the Spice Girls. Sister, these are the glory days.
There is really no way to sum up Spice World, or to evaluate it on a scale of arbitrary numbers. It is not as much a movie as it is a life experience.
As a result, whether you go to see it is not nearly as important as how you see it. In preparation for this article, I attended a showing of Spice World at the Berkshire Mall on a Saturday afternoon. As I settled into my seat in the center of the front row, the most important characters in the Spice World experience came upon the scene, if not the screen
To my immediate left was a gaggle of gigglers, half a row of 11-year-old girls unaccompanied by parents. Immediately behind me were two boys of 13 congratulating themselves on their sneak-in.
With the live portion of the show in place, the movie, and its prepubescent accompaniment, began in earnest.
Beginning as it does with about five minutes of Spice Girl close-ups (believe it or not, there is quite a bit of this sort of thing throughout the film, as it follows the girls through promotional appearances and photo shoots) my not-quite-Beavis-and-Butthead neighbors promptly initiated their efforts to cheese off the slightly younger female element: “That one’s Retarded Spice,” “Yeah, and that one’s Slutty Spice.”
The girls reacted with suitable disdain, trading comments with each other about the boys’ parentage and socioeconomic status. At this point I was relieved that the attention of the girls had been diverted from gawking at my freakish age, but more than that, my movie-going acquaintances created what I refer to as an “artificial bubble of time.”
As dialogue started on the screen and characters began to interact with each other to create the (for lack of a more descriptive word) “plot,” I found myself transported as if by magic to the crappiest years of human life.
For the rest of the movie, I was 11 to 14 years old. Somehow, though, I was more than that; I retained the wisdom of a man who had long since passed through one of the worst possible cases of the disease also known as high school.
The result was a lot like a roller coaster. By virtue of my actual age and apparent respectability, I was more or less strapped into the ride. Knowing I wouldn’t die, all that was left was for me to enjoy the steep falls and sharp turns. As a result, the whole of the Spice World experience was one of excitement and wonder, and for those who know how to appreciate the nastiness of the pre-teen human spirit, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Spice World follows the adventures of five young women, no older than most of the students at Williams, in the four days before their very first live show.
This being the era of MTV however, Spice World could not have been made by simply filming the girls singing their songs and inserting dialogue between them. Spice World is therefore definitely not A Hard Day’s Night. Unfortunately, it is not an Elvis movie either.
In fact, Spice World is too bizarre to be reminiscent of anything that I have ever seen before. Spice World breaks down the boundaries of what can be done in a movie without really intending to. In fact, every event that takes place in the movie seems to have been developed as an individual idea and then thrown into the mix because it would look cool.
Spice World is exceedingly surreal without ever making a real point of it, and without making the slightest attempt to derive humor from it. From a bus that appears to be of average size that is as big as Lehman on the inside, to a frighteningly normal encountered with aliens from space to random and pointless fantasy sequences, the movie bathes itself in absurdity.
This is the reality in which the Spice Girls live. As a commentary on the nature and role of media superstars, Spice World presents its audience with Hollywood movie moguls, Machiavellian record labels, slimy tabloid agents and horde of fans.
Right from the beginning, the movie acknowledges the cycle of stardom that even now seems to be turning on the quintet. The girls’ manager (Richard E. Grant), lacking the girls’ capacity to trust in the band and himself, constantly worries about the dreaded backlash, represented by the efforts of the evil tabloid drones to dethrone the queens of pop.
At one point, an evil tabloid photographer infiltrates the girls’ hotel room by climbing up through the toilet. Symbolism, anyone? Never mind how he got in there. The Girls even tease themselves. As Hollywood writers pitch their ideas to each other, one asks “Can they act?” All they need, everyone agrees, is to be in focus.
Ten minutes later, there they are in a four-minute photo shoot scene with no real rationale behind it other than to keep them in focus. By the end, as Hollywood pitches its final script, the girls’ manager complains of its stupidity, to which the defining comment of the movie is delivered by George Wendt: “It’s called formula.” By this point, it has been made painstakingly clear that the idea being pitched is the movie that the audience has been watching.
Even with all this material to directly challenge the nature of the Spice Girls’ predicament, the movie’s greatest impact actually lies in its subtleties.
As they yell at each other, hug each other, consider creating new nicknames, transform into Bob Hoskins or what have you, the truly disturbing part of Spice World is nothing more than the girls’ sheer comfort in surreal and unappealing circumstances. They are truly masters of a real world circus of unreality, and I have a feeling that whatever happens to them publicly, the Spice Girls will be all right.
If you decide to see the Spice Girls movie (and you should consider it), see it soon in a theater on a weekend afternoon when all the awkward youngsters can come out to see it with you. Girl Power!