THE BEGINNING

Andrew Anderson revisits The Spice Girls’ cinematic legacy, and notes that Spice World was a total laugh, and actually pretty good

spiceworld

SPICE WORLD (1997)
It is easy to forget just how big the Spice Girls were; from our vantage point of twenty-years later they can sometimes seem – to use nineties parlance – a bit naff. But consider this: their first six singles went to number one, they each made millions of pounds every year from merchandising alone (setting a new standard for how a band could be branded) while radio, TV and press followed their lives with obsessive detail. As a result, the Spice Girls became household names in a way that no band had been since the Beatles. Then, like the Beatles, at the peak of their powers they made a film: Spice World.

In the eyes of most people that is where the similarity ends. While people heap praise on the knockabout nature of A Hard Day’s Night – and it is a good film – the traditional thing to do is give Spice World a critical kicking. On Rotten Tomatoes it scores 29 per cent; on Metacrtic 32 per cent; while a quick Google of the term ‘Spice World’ turns up millions of results that can be summarised in four words: this film is shit.

However, I am not going to do that because a) my editor wouldn’t be pleased with a four word feature and b) because Spice World is – wait for it – actually a good film.

Now, let me put some politician speak on you here and first say we need to define what ‘good’ means (stick with me on this). Just as you wouldn’t judge a school nativity play by the same critical standards as a full theatre production, so we shouldn’t be pitching Spice World against Apocalypse Now. Instead, we should judge it to the same standard as A Hard Day’s Night… so, let’s do that.

We open on the band performing ‘Too Much’ on Top of the Pops. It’s not the greatest Spice Girls song, but it is does have a certain sway, and the obligatory warbling bit at the end from Mel C. No, the Spice Girls might not be a musical match for Lennon-McCartney – though contrary to popular belief, the girls did write most of their own lyrics and melodies – but numbers like ‘Spice Up Your Life’, ‘Stop’ and ‘Viva Forever’ (all featured in this film) are about a million times more memorable than anything from the equivalent boy bands of the era.

We then plunge headlong into the world of the Spice Girls, riding the wave of fame in a Union Jack-covered bus. To celebrate and cement their status, the band’s manager, Clifford (Richard E Grant in a suit so garish it would make Jonathan Ross think twice), has booked them for the biggest gig of their career, which will be broadcast live all over the world.

Meanwhile evil media tycoon Kevin McMaxford (played to over-the-top Aussie perfection by Barry Humphries) wants to spoil the party, and sends out his satanic paparazzi photographer Damien (Richard O’Brien) to get the dirt on the Spice Girls. Combining the arsehole-arrogance of Rupert Murdoch and the you’d-piss-in-his-face-if-you-weren’t-so-sure-he’d-enjoy-it-ness of Piers Morgan, McMaxford’s negative energy makes the perfect foil for the girls’ upbeat attitude.

As the McMaxford-led media backlash begins the Spice Girls start questioning the merits of fame, reminiscing about a simpler time when all they had to do was sing. However, unlike the Monkees’ film Head, this existential crisis is never turned in on themselves: the Spice Girls are self-aware, but not self-critical – probably the film’s single major failing.

As I was sat on my sofa watching Spice World, one thought kept flashing through my mind: the nineties were cool! Whether we’re talking Emma Bunton’s platform trainers, Halliwell’s mini dresses or the bright red parka worn by Alan Cummings, it all just seems to fit. These, we must remember, were the dying days of a unified media; a time when almost everyone saw the world through four and a half TV stations, a dozen newspapers and the pages of Melody Maker or the NME; a time before the world fractured into a million memes, trends and niches.

The Spice Girls also do a great job of sending up their own over-the-top images, whether that is Mel C wistfully looking out of window while cuddling a football, Victoria tottering through an army assault course in high-heels or Mel B being…well, Mel B, which is pretty funny and/or terrifying. There are plenty of good one-liners, too, like when McMaxford hires Damien and describes him as ‘the man who got the Teletubbies having a poo.’

Another thing Spice World has going for it is a veritable deluge of guest appearances. Even if you don’t like the Spice Girls’ music, even if you find the bit where they meet aliens lame, you can still play count the cameos and, if you turn it into a drinking game, there is a good change you’ll suffer irreversible liver damage. Some notable ones not already mentioned include Meat Loaf as their bus driver, who at one point says: ‘I would do anything for the girls…but I won’t do that’; Stephen Fry as an out-of-touch judge; and Michael Barrymore – the ultimate nineties man – as an army drill sergeant.

Without giving the end away, the whole story suddenly ties together very quickly and cleverly in a fashion that – dare I say it – might almost be described as post-modern, and the film leaves you feeling that all is well in Spice World. Of course, that really wasn’t the case: Geri Halliwell left the group shortly after Spice World’s release, the cool nineties became the crap noughties and before we knew where we were Tony Blair suddenly turned into the world’s biggest bell-end.

In conclusion, Spice World is as cool, comic and clever as A Hard Day’s Night; a film the nineties should be proud of. It’s got great guest appearances, a ton of memorable tunes and never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously. So, here’s to Spice World: not as crap as everyone says it is (and actually quite good).

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