Friday, 13 April 2018

Spice World (1997)

If you ever want to see Geri Halliwell and Emma Bunton do their best Brenda Blethyn in Secrets and Lies impression to a bemused Claire Rushbrook, then stick around for the end credits of Spice World. It genuinely happens.

I really miss the '90s and, though I'm aware that in saying that what I may actually mean is I miss my youth (midlife crisis on the horizon and I'm going to crash into that like a motherfucker haha), I do still maintain that there was something special about the '90s. I genuinely don't think a phenomenon (there is no other word) like the Spice Girls could exist now: a group that transcends their target audience to become part of the zeitgeist. Even your granny knew who the Spice Girls were, thanks to Top of the Pops and tabloids. I can't really imagine anyone's granny knowing who Little Mix are. The '90s was the last time that sort of pan appeal could occur and so, with such cultural cache and multi-platform merchandising potential, it was only right that the girl (power) group got their own movie in 1997.

Except calling Spice World a movie is an act of kindness. Taking A Hard Day's Night as it's cue, but without its charm or inventiveness, Spice World is a series of sketches really and they all more or less fall flat on their face. In fact there's only one I laughed at and it was the one that saw a teenage boy come round from his coma at the prospect of Geri getting her tits out. In contrast, the absolute worst is seeing Michael Barrymore (ask your mum and dad) stealing Victor Spinetti's Sergeant Major routine from The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour to zero comedy effect. Which reminds me, watching this a staggering twenty-one years later, it's surprising just how many people involved ended up in scandal: Barrymore, the Spice Girls rendition of Leader of the Gang (I Am) by oft-convicted paedophile Gary Glitter, and Andy Coulson, then a music writer with The S*n, who has since done time for his part in News International's disgusting phone hacking practices.  

Now I'm not about to fall into the usual trap of many a misanthropic bloke and say that the Spice Girls were crap and I didn't see their appeal. Their music wasn't for me, but I could tell a good polished tune when I heard one (2 Become 1 has some great classy production on it, and Too Much which opens the film is another one I'm partial too) and could see why they were a success: they were fresh and eye-catching, they were good at what they did and the deliberate individual characteristics they presented meant that they each appealed to someone in their audience - and no doubt these characters and looks appealed on another level to some of the many blokes who weren't necessarily fans of the music*.  

But the fact remains that Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger and Posh were singers, not actors and it shows.  Sure they could get by doing a bit of chat and having a laugh on kids TV or steal the limelight in front of the press at some function or other, but a film is a stretch for them and it appears that the filmmakers were wholly aware of this fact. Latching onto the aforementioned sense of character appeal, the script plays safe by adhering to the very same stereotypes it goes on to complain about in a rather meta way, so Victoria is a fashion obsessed pain in the arse, Mel C can only talk about football, Emma is childish, Geri is a boring know-all and Mel B is...well, Mel B. This ensures that the girls are never stretched beyond their limited capabilities, and leaves the real work of pushing the story along to Richard E Grant, who sports some magnificent sideburns as their harassed manager Clifton, and the aforementioned Rushbrook as their PA. Naoko Mori pops up as their old friend and mum-to-be Nicola to suggest that there was some life for our heroines before the demands of the big time and, along the same lines, there's even a sweet flashback sequence involving Bill Patterson, but strangely it goes absolutely nowhere in the context of the movie. Also helping to spin this gossamer thread out is the glut of blink and you'll miss 'em cameos that bouy things genially along. Some are great (Elvis Costello, Cathy 'Duffy off Casualty' Shipton as a nurse, Jennifer Saunders playing a slightly milder version of Edina Monsoon, Stephen Fry) and some aren't, but let's thank our stars that Frank Bruno was axed from the role of Dennis the bus driver and the casting coup of the century occurred: Mr Loaf himself, Meat to his mates. But best of all perhaps is the chance to watch Roger Moore bop along to Spice Up Your Life in the film's finale!  

Not a great film by any means and quite cringeworthy at times, but it's harmless inoffensive fun that achieves everything it no doubt set out to do and entertained fans, so in that regard it's surely a success. Besides, cringeworthy, harmless, inoffensive and fun are words that could sum the Spice Girls up, and watching Spice World now is almost like travelling back in time to the '90s - and who wouldn't want to do that?

*if anyone's wondering, I personally saw the appeal of Ginger Spice the most at the time. I know, I know.

1 comment:

  1. I remember chaperoning Carys, the 12 year old daughter of one of my best friends, and taking her to see Spice World at the Odeon. Yes, it was lame. Yes, it was tacky. But it was 1997 and we didn't care.