This movie seemed doomed from the beginning.
After being chosen for this review because I knew the most about the Jem and the Holograms cartoon (meaning I have seen it in recent memory), I began to observe the incredible pushback it had. Older male critics would hate it for glorifying the selfie generation and its target audience resented it for not being a 1:1 replica of the Jem cartoon from their childhood. This is a shame, because Jem and the Holograms actually turned out to be a charming little movie with a lot to offer. While it may not be an exact replica of the cartoon, it’s a fine adaptation and update with a lot of heart and sincerity to carry it.
This generation’s Jem is also (still?) Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples), a camera-shy teenage girl who lives with her Aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald) and information junkie younger sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott). Faced with losing her home to eviction and struggling with her own stage fright, Jerrica invents the character of “Jem” so she can record herself playing a song while hiding behind a wig and makeup. When Kimber uploads the video to the internet, the same thing happens that always does in movies: It goes instantly viral and catches the attention of a big record executive. This time the villain is Starline Records president Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis). Erica whisks the Benton girls and their foster sisters Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) off to LA for a concert series, assigning them to the care of her son Rio (Ryan Guzman). Once there, Jerrica discovers that her late father’s invention SYNERGY is active and leading her and her sisters on a treasure hunt around the city, looking for hidden messages he left behind.
Story-wise, this movie is kind of a mess. It packs a lot of nonsense into a thin and generic plotline that doesn’t really know what it wants to be or how to make its conflicts make sense. It’s also cheesy as all hell and relies heavily on tired and lazy plot devices. There’s also something strange about a film so entrenched in the theme of “family” that makes the final conflict between mother and son. This is a film with many flaws, the majority of which stem from the source material being a 30-minute toy commercial about a woman who uses a holographic projector to pretend to be Debbie Harry.
But all that seems less important when you factor in the sincerity that this movie has and its love for the audience that doesn’t love it back.
Jem and the Holograms is at its core, about inspiration that comes from art and artists, especially for young people. The film is in love with the idea that creative people can drive others, and also in love with the internet for allowing that to happen. There’s a clever narrative device where scenes are intercut against YouTube and Instagram videos that seems jarring at first, but ultimately culminates in a genuinely moving scene where dozens of young people discuss finding courage and using music to get over fear. Yes, it’s a little heavy-handed, but it works. There’s the same sense of sweetness and optimism pervasive throughout the film, and it’s nice to see in a film aimed at teenage girls.
It also helps that on a technical level, the film is oddly gorgeous, coating prime scenes in neon without being garish. Director Jon Chu and DP Alice Brooks bring appropriate dance movie/music video sensibilities to the film, and they elevate what could have been lackluster or standardized concert scenes. There’s a constant visual energy to the film’s aesthetics, including hair and makeup work that serves as a perfect modernization of the Jem character. Since Jem’s entire reason for being “truly, truly outrageous” is to cover anxiety and stage fright, drawing from Lady Gaga and Sia for looks and pulling from Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepsen for sound seems perfectly obvious and obviously perfect. The music itself is fun and catchy bubblegum pop which is more infectious than it has any right to be, and serve as the driving force responsible for keeping up the film’s tempo.
Yes, Jem and the Holograms has its issues, but its crimes are similar in nature to those of, say, Pitch Perfect. (And this movie is much better looking and less mean-spirited than Pitch Perfect). I usually try to leave box office or critical performance out of reviews, but this film did not deserve the abuse that it got. Look, this is an adaptation and an update. The characters have been changed into teenage girls in 2015 and the music changed to what teen girls in 2015 listen to because they wanted teen girls in 2015 to see it.
For most people, Jem and the Holograms is an enjoyable movie that might be a little dumb. But the clear intent was for this film to build up teenage girls, and it’s difficult enough to be a teenage girl without having everything made specially for you be devalued and mocked. That’s on us, that’s on critics and that’s on society. But to the people who would belittle this film that was trying something new, who would attack it for not being exactly what you remember, in doing so you are actively shaming something that is trying to give others the same feeling you claim to associate so closely with the original. And that, to me, is truly, truly outrageous.Liked This? Share It!