Film: It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world ...

The World of Spice is a scary place - women rule and men serve only as sidekicks, villains and fall guys. It's not a bad place to visit, Ryan Gilbey says, but you wouldn't wanna live there.

There is a genuinely sweet moment in Spiceworld The Movie when the Spice Girls come face to face with a gang of waddling extraterrestrials, only to find that the aliens have made contact not to impart their superior technological wisdom, but to blag tickets for an upcoming gig. This scene will make perfect sense to anyone who has ever been addicted to pop music. If Nelson Mandela can go schoolboy-silly upon meeting the Spice Girls, then why should it be so far-fetched that alien life forms should take a detour to Earth for some cheesy Polaroids with their idols? For their young fans, the group are indivisible from the universe which they inhabit - it's inconceivable to these kids that there should be any living creature that can't whistle the Spice Girl's last single at the drop of a platform sneaker.

When one of the group fields a dumb question with the sarcastic rejoinder "Is the Pope Catholic?" it causes a media frenzy in which the Spice Girls are accused of casting aspersions on the Pontiff's validity. A 12-year- old who knows the height and weight and favourite colour of each Spice Girl but wouldn't recognise the Pope if he appeared on Blind Date won't see the joke. Which is why Spiceworld The Movie functions so effectively as a product. It makes no effort to establish that the Spice Girls rule the world - take that as read.

It's disappointing that the film never progresses beyond this initial boldness, because the script, by Kim Fuller, plays some knowing games. Sporty, Baby, Ginger, Dopey and Sneezy complain about being stereotyped, and at one point Sporty wonders if she can't change her nickname to "Sporty- but-I'm-interested-in-other-things". Yet each time we see them they are actively cultivating their respective images - Baby sucking lollipops, Sporty pumping iron. Far from being too dim to know someone is manipulating them, they exaggerate their own personas for comic effect. Even their double-decker tour bus plays up to a fan's idea of what it must be like to be a pop star, with its swings, scatter cushions and doll's house decor; though it is telling that the exterior of the bus is painted with a huge Union Jack that covers the windows, sealing the group inside a Spiceworld that is more cocoon than empire.

If the two narrative options open to a pop group are to star in a version of their own story, like Madness in Take It Or Leave It, or submerge themselves in wacky surrealism, like the Monkees in Head, then the Spice Girls have chosen to occupy the middle ground. Spiceworld The Movie is set in a tourist brochure London where the Spice Girls are preparing for their first live show, though the film's realism is two-tiered and entirely conditional. Elton John and Bob Geldof play themselves, while Meat Loaf is cast as the group's driver, a reference to his role in the 1980 film Roadie. More confusing is Elvis Costello's appearance as a barman, which is timed to coincide with a character's comment about the fickle nature of fame. The joke doesn't chime because Costello isn't in the pop dumper. Surely one of the Goss Brothers would have been a better choice, and they would certainly have appreciated the work.

The Spice Girls themselves share a flashback which suggests that they were school friends, a fabricated biographical detail, but one which makes blatant the group's decision to rewrite their own history.

Girl Power as promoted by the Spice Girls has always seemed too conveniently malleable - the group themselves award honorary Spice Girl status to any woman they come across. So it's reassuring to find them putting their movie where their mouth is. Romance is consistently squeezed out in favour of exclusively female friendship. Baby rejects a potential suitor on the grounds that her bed is already full up with cuddly toys, while Sporty just talks soccer when confronted with a half-naked Italian model. When men are involved, they are either troublesome, like the cad who deserts his pregnant girlfriend, or timid, like the wimp who is intimidated by Ginger. It's interesting that a group who are largely marketed on their looks should make a film in which their sexuality is defined by how they present themselves, rather than by how men react to them.

The characterisation is certainly crude, but there is some redeeming comic friction in the casting. Kevin Allen, who made Twin Town, turns up as a boorish Italian director; Richard E Grant, as the group's manager, has a scene in which a screenwriter pitches him an idea for a film - a reversal of Grant's own role in The Player; while Stephen Fry, last seen in the dock as Oscar Wilde, gets the film's funniest scene as a judge passing sentence on the Spice Girls for having released a song "that is by no means as kicking as your last single".

The film is generally a very scrappy piece of work, with the washed-out colours of a TV special. The timing is often dismal, but you have to marvel at the film's cold efficiency; there may be no sign of cinematic verve, but every frame pulses with sound business sense. To paraphrase the character played by Jools Holland, Spiceworld The Movie is perfect without actually being any good.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

    Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

    £24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

    Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there