Jem and the Holograms Review
JEM AND THE “FLASHY , YET VAPID” FLOP
Hasbro Inc. has been in business since 1923 and has become a staple in the market of classic toys and board games. The company has produced such recognizable toy “brands” such as My Little Pony, Nerf, Play-Doh, Scrabble, and Monopoly just to name a few. Over the years, the Hasbro has partnered with movie studios to adapt some of their products into feature films. This includes the Transformer movies, which so far has four films in its film franchise, and G.I. Joe, which currently has two. Now, going deeper into toy brand vaults of Hasbro, director Jon M. Cho and Universal Pictures present the movie Jem and the Holograms, based off of the late 80s cartoon show. Does the movie “rock out” or is it a sappy and failed bubblegum feature?
In the suburbs of California, Jerrica Benton (Aurbrey Peeples) lives with her Aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald) with her sister, Kimber (Stefanie Scott), and her two foster siblings, Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau). While they the share the typical family dynamic of bickering, fighting, and (at the end of the day) loving each other, the four teenagers to love sing, urging the shy Jerrica to perform for the camera as her mysterious alter-ego Jem. When her first song is uploaded by Kimber, Jerrica’s Jem goes viral across the internet as her popularity swells and soon catches the eye of Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis), the owner of Starlight Records. Giving a wardrobe makeover and performance lessons, Jerrica and her sisters get a taste of fame and stardom as Jem hits the road with her LA performances. However, the glorious fame is short-lived, as Erica schemes to secure a solo contract for only Jerrica, forcing her sisters out of Jem’s spotlight. Also weighing heavily on Jerrica’s mind is the miniature robot 51N3RG (or known as “Synergy”), who was created and left behind by her late father, inspiring an scavenger hunt adventure to find all the hidden clues to unlocking the machine’s memory.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I can say that I didn’t watching Jem and the Holograms cartoon series when I was growing up. I actually never heard of it until I heard that this 2015 movie of the same name was been made. To those who don’t know, Jem and the Holograms was a cartoon series that ran for 3 seasons (from 1985-1988), following the musical adventures of Starlight Music company owner Jerrica Benton, here alter-ego Jem as well as Jerrica’s friends (the Holograms) as they battle their rivals bands “The Misfits” and the “The stingers”. Yes, I did do research on Jem and the Holograms before going to see the movie. Although, after seeing the movie Jem and the Holograms, I think I would be better off watching the original cartoon show.
Jon M. Chu, director of Step Up 2: The Streets, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, takes up the mantle of bring the 80s cartoon series to the big screen. Unfortunately, the transition is not what fans of the original Jem and the Holograms were expecting. To somewhat modernize the story, Chu strips away at a lot of nuances from the show and present the movie as Jerrica being discovered as a “internet sensation” and following her rise to stardom. Its intention is there, but with writer Ryan Landels’s screenplay, the movie draws a paper-thin narration (in a very syrupy teen drama kind of way), showcasing Jem and her friends through the stereotypical glory and pitfalls of being pop star. This results in the movie being very predictable as Jem and the Holograms three acts are clearly defined in a viewer’s mind before they even happen. There are some elements from the original show in the movie, but are altered and are more like throwaway cameo winks. In the end, Jerrica’s Jem is more of a “brand” in the movie, pushing the idea of a popstar with musical performances and famdom idoglogy / pyschology rather than a true talented musican.
Even if you don’t look at the movie in comparison to the cartoon show (just as a standalone project), Jem and the Holograms is bland and underwhelming as a story. It spins the classic angst of teen dramas, but is, moreover, riddled with plot holes (both major and minor plots), two dimensional caricatures (more on that below), stupid / idiotic discussions throughout, and just simply contrite from what it wants to tell and wants to be. Even the movie’s timeline seems weird (telling Jerrica’s discovery, downfall, and redemption in the music world) in a thirty day time period. To me, the biggest problem is that the movie wants to tell two different stories in one movie. While the story of Jerrica’s Jem and her rise to stardom is clear focal point of the movie, the more secondary story revolves around Jerrica and her sister involvement with the little robot Synergy. I know the Synergy was a part of the show, but his inclusion the movie version seems odd, especially since his storyline involves Jem and her sisters to run around on a scavenger hunt (usually right before or after a big musical performance). In short, the two storylines in Jem and the Holograms don’t mesh well and feels at odds with one another.
The movie examines how Jerrica and her sisters have inspired many of their adoring fans by expressing “individuality” and “being themselves”, while also examining the real-life idea of using social media (YouTube) as a tool for people to connect with others and embrace it with an identity (whether truthful or secretive) Again, while Chu’s intentions are well-placed (and I think it’s a really good idea to show this), the movie’s message comes across as transparent as a hologram image rather than concretely sincere. They even use people to proclaiming their thanks, love, and adulation for the band (a handful of real-life celebrities get in on the act), but it ultimately fails because the movie doesn’t show its audience (the viewers) on what makes Jem and her sisters so laudable. Additionally, while trying to coincide with YouTube idea, the movie also tries to showcase other YouTube videos of amateur musician sensations by interjecting them to dramatic scenes. It’s a nice touch at first, but then becomes tedious as Chu and his editors Jillian Twigger Moul and Michael Trent seem to overuse the tactic, making the celebrated idea feel unwelcomed by the second or third time.
The main cast of Jem and the Holograms is a talented bunch that’s comprised of youth individuals, including Aubrey Peeples (Jerrica), Stefanie Scott (Kimber), Hayley Kiyko (Aja), and Aurora Perrineau (Shana). Sadly, the four girls are given the roles with not much character development beyond their introduction characteristics; acting more like stereotypical caricatures than anything. At the very at least, each one brings their own zest and charisma to their respective character, but it doesn’t help elevate an in-depth look into their on-screen personas. The same thing can be said with actor Ryan Guzman, Jem’s road manager and love interest. He as charm and is good looking, but that’s pretty much it (even his sub-plot story is weak and never fully examined). Perhaps the best performance in the movie comes from actress Juliette Lewis (most recent in the television show Secrets & Lies) as the sleazy owner of Starlight Music Erica Raymond. Yes, she’s an “over the top” villain in the movie, but Lewis chews threw her scenes with glee. Lastly, former 80’s teen star Molly Ringwald (I did not even recognize her) does good job in her minor role as Jerrica’s quirky and parental figure Aunt Bailey.
If there are positives to the movie, it’s that Jem and the Holograms has very good costumes usage for its characters. Jem and her sisters’ on-stage outfits are vibrant, colorful, and are totally “out there” (similar to what Kate Perry or Lady Gaga would wear at a musical performances). As for the musical performances themselves, they’re pretty good (nothing great), but offer three catchy bubblegum pop songs that will have some racing to download online. And yes, I will admit that I was one of the people who did that. What can I say, they’re catchy.
It’s obvious that Jem and the Holograms is aimed at and speaks to the millennial generation. However, while its wholesome intentions are well-placed, it’s attached to a campy (and sappy) movie that’s hard to know what it wants to be; a musical origin story, a scavenger hunt movie, or a teen drama. The costumes are great, the music is definitely catchy, and Jem’s rise to stardom is vaguely interesting (despite being a cliché of sorts), but it’s a shallow feature with some two-dimensional characters and a thinly written storyline. Personally, the movie was just “so-so” and felt like it belonged on the small screen (a TV movie) rather than on the big screen. Those looking for something “truly outrageous”, something akin to the 80’s cartoon show, will be disappointed as the movie will probably only spark an interest in its targeted “tween” demographic. Director John M. Chu’s Jem and the Holograms is flashy, yet vapid and will probably fade away into obscurity just like the rising pop stars of yesteryear.