With the live-action adaptation of ’80s cartoon Jem and the Holograms finally out in UK cinemas (arriving a truly, truly outrageous time after its US run), now seems as good a time as any to throw a spotlight on some other strong films about fictional all-female rock groups, including fellow adaptations of popular animations, music genre-inspiring cult hits and one of the sweetest coming-of-age tales in recent memory.
Perhaps cinema’s most notorious girl group film (a film about its making, set to star Will Ferrell as director Russ Meyer and Josh Gad as screenwriter Roger Ebert, is currently in pre-production), the phantasmagoria that is Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is part counterculture comedy, part melodrama spoof, part semi-sequel to 1967’s Valley of the Dolls, part re-adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s source novel, part Great Gatsby riff, part Manson murders commentary and part gaudy sleaze akin to Meyer’s previous oeuvre. Part lots of things; all kinds of amazing.
An early feature from Allan Moyle, who would go on to direct two more iconic music films (Pump Up the Volume and Empire Records), Times Square sees punk become an invaluable outlet for two troubled young women who meet in and escape from a psychiatric hospital – one’s a homeless teenager, the other the anxious daughter of a city commissioner looking to clean up New York. Their outfit Sleez Sisters gains notoriety, thanks in part to an all-night DJ played by Tim Curry and various TV-dropping stunts from rooftops. An erratic film, but a vivid portrait of NYC at the time.
A noted influence on members of riot grrrl group Bikini Kill, ex-record producer Lou Adler’s film charts the meteoric rise and fall of The Stains, an all-female teen punk band led by pissed-off Corinne Burns (Diane Lane, frequently attired in prototypical riot grrrl clothing). Corinne (backed up by Laura Dern and frequently at odds with baby-faced Ray Winstone from a rival band) becomes a flash in the pan inspiration for the young women of America, twisting a sexualised image into messages of empowerment. A great film not only about being in a band, but the twin machines of promotion and fandom.
Reshaping the Archie Comics/Hanna-Barbera source material into a subversive jab at consumerism, Josie and the Pussycats, like many great satires, was wildly misinterpreted and mistaken upon release. It’s since developed a cult following – and with good reason. The spirit of Frank Tashlin and Joe Dante is very much alive here, and one suspects Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) probably love this film, as it walks a fine line between relishing a peppy piece of pop culture and cynically skewering the forces behind it.
Possibly the most tranquil guitar group movie ever made, Linda Linda Linda follows three Japanese teens and a Korean exchange student (the band’s reluctant vocalist, played by Bae Doona) as they prepare to blow people away at a school festival. It’s a race against time for the hastily assembled group to learn three songs just three days before the concert, but Nobuhiro Yamasita’s film is an unhurried watch that relishes in astute observations about teenage friendship; light, but definitely not slight. Fun fact: the film’s score was composed by former Smashing Pumpkin, James Iha.
Another girl group film adapted from print (here Coco Moodysson’s graphic novel Never Goodnight), Lukas Moodysson’s 1982-set We Are the Best! sees the director return to the sweeter mode of his earlier film Show Me Love. It’s a film finely attuned to the energy of its young leads, three Stockholm schoolgirls who form a punk band despite lacking basic skill with instruments (and being told by everyone that punk’s dead). Much like Times Square, it’s a reminder of music’s power as an outlet for messy expressions of confusion. Altogether now: Hate the Sport!
Are there any memorable movie girl groups that we’ve missed? Let us know @LWLies
Published 12 Feb 2016
This anthemic adaptation of the popular ’80s cartoon doubles as an insightful commentary on the internet age.
Mia Hansen-Løve’s extraordinary fourth feature is about the impossibility of beat-matching life and fashion.
Christian Bale’s mad drumming skills in The Big Short got us thinking about other memorable renditions from famous actors.