Watching Spice World For the First Time as an Adult -The Toast

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Gabriella Paiella’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.

I had a nice childhood. I didn’t want for much, save for three things that my parents refused to budge on. They were, ordered by the magnitude of associated tantrums that I threw:

1. an Easy-Bake Oven

2. an American Girl Doll

3. a movie ticket to Spice World

I eventually came to understand that my first two white whales were just exorbitantly priced tiny pieces of plastic. But banning Spice World was emblematic of how frustratingly arbitrary my parents’ rules for media consumption were. Spice World was deemed overly inappropriate, while I was parked in front of SNL, Naked Gun (2 ½, 33 ⅓), and every Mel Brooks movie by the age of 6. Apparently shots of Leslie Nielsen in a full-body condom were fine, but an occasional crop top would do irreversible damage.

Though repeatedly watching the Robin Hood: Men In Tights VHS as a child gave me the cultural capital I would need later in life, not watching Spice World robbed me of it when it truly mattered — as a chubby 8-year-old living in cruel, unforgiving suburbia, where everyone else had already seen it. It only took 15+ years for me to realize that I had the capability to watch Spice World if I wanted to. And even better, I’d be doing it is an adult.

For those unfamiliar with the plot or who need a refresher, the film follows the Spice Girls — Posh, Baby, Sporty, Ginger, and Scary — as they’re gearing up for the biggest gig of their career at Albert Hall. (Think: A Hard Day’s Night minus the Beatles, plus tube tops and platform shoes.) But things aren’t as simple as we’d like to think they are in dreamy Spice World. The band is plagued with an overly demanding manager, a nefarious reporter trying to tarnish their reputation, a pesky documentary filmmaker, and two bumbling writers can’t stop pitching idiotic potential screenplays to the Spice Girls’ manager. They also learn that their collective best friend, Nicola, is single and pregnant; as the girls try to make time to be present for the birth of her child, they begin to realize that the demands of fame are starting to encroach on their personal life. (If this band was formed today, there would almost certainly be a Xanax Spice.) Amidst all this strife, there is dancing, lip-syncing, and a fuckton of glitter.

I was never a heavily invested Spice Girls fan, but their personas were undeniably alluring; I was especially captivated by Baby Spice and Posh Spice back in the day. As an awkward, bookish child they distinctly represented a feminine ideal that was appealing to me because it seemed so far off from something I’d ever be able to replicate. Baby was very blonde, Posh very thin, and both were perfectly manicured; whenever we “played” Spice Girls at recess I longed to be them — but so did everybody else. I was fairly indifferent to Ginger and actively shied away from Sporty and Scary (THE BLACK MEMBER WAS CALLED “SCARY,” #NEVERFORGET – Ed.)

Within ten minutes of my screening, I was completely smitten with Sporty Spice, or Mel C. It was the irresistible combination of her slightly brusque accent, her tribal band bicep tattoo, her impeccable ‘90s fashion, and her habit of lifting weights and sneering while the rest of the girls hung out in the tour bus discussing clothes and horoscopes. She was a stone fox who could could seemingly kick anyone’s ass, and I was glad to come to my senses later in life.

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 10.02.59 AMAnd though I was hyper-aware of it, I chose to suspend disbelief about how unrealistic it was that the tour bus interior looked as cavernous as it did when the exterior appeared to be a standard double-decker. Look at me, retaining childhood wonder!

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There were a few other upsides to first seeing Spice World as a cognizant adult, namely the cameos that would’ve flown over my head years ago:

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Richard E. Grant (better known as Jessa’s druggie friend on Girls)

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 10.06.28 AM George Wendt

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Alan Cumming

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Meat Loaf

A scene I particularly loved was the one in which the girls are chatting with their pregnant friend, and imagine a nightmarish flashforward where they’re all overtired mothers.

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I had entirely forgotten about the “girl power” slogan the Spice Girls popularized and was even delighted to see some full-on misandry written into the movie. Most of the men are sinister, hapless, and goofy; even the “good guys” are an unfortunate combination of the latter two.

Or they’re just fully objectified.

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It was, at times, bitingly clever — like when Ginger Spice answers an interview question “is the Pope Catholic?” The girls are viciously attacked on the news for suggesting that the Pope might not be Catholic, a poke at the overblown media hype cycle that’s only gotten worse since 1997.

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The verdict, after so many years of waiting? Spice World…wasn’t great. In fact, it was pretty terrible. I drank an entire bottle of wine during the last 40 minutes and still found it difficult to get through. I understand the lyrics “if you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends” even less than I did 17 years ago. But did I hate it like Roger Ebert hated it? No.

The dialogue is laughably cringe-worthy. There are, inexplicably, aliens thrown in there at one point. But it was relatively harmless, captured the energy and absurdity of pop music phenomenons, and wielded its own light-hearted, albeit slightly clumsy, version of feminism.

I’m satisfied that I fulfilled a childhood dream of mine. Now I’m off to order that Easy-Bake Oven.

Gabriella Paiella lives, works, and tweets in Brooklyn. Yes, her name rhymes.

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