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Review: Jem and the Holograms (2015)

Jem and the Holograms (2015)

Directed by: Jon M. Chu

Premise: An adaptation of the 1980s cartoon. A viral video turns shy adolescent singer Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples) into an internet sensation. She and her friends are then recruited by a talent agency and made into a pop band. At the same time, Jerrica follows clues left by her deceased father that may lead her to discover a message he left behind.

What Works: Jem and the Holograms is aimed squarely at the tween crowd. The film was directed by Jon M. Chu, who has also helmed two of the Step Up sequels and a couple of Justin Bieber music documentaries. The film has a handle on today’s youth culture and it connects the character’s rise to fame with social media. The core cast of Jem and the Holograms are all pretty good. Audrey Peeples plays Jerrica, otherwise known by the stage name Jem, and Peeples is an effective lead. She is joined by Stefanie Scott, Aurora Perrineau, and Hayley Kiyoko. The four band members have a believable and enjoyable rapport and the young actresses are very natural as middle class teenagers suddenly thrust into the spotlight. The musical sequences are well staged. Director Chu has a knack for this kind of thing and he captures the energy of live performances.
What Doesn’t: The original Jem television series was a mix of The Monkees and My Little Pony, in that the band members would travel to a new location in each episode and get into adventures, foil the plans of the evil Misfits, and inevitably perform a musical number. Like other movies trading on 1980s nostalgia, it is incumbent on the filmmakers of Jem and the Holograms to appeal to the now middle age audience who grew up watching the original series but the 2015 movie is most likely to alienate those fans. This picture bears little resemblance to its source material. In some ways this feature is intended as a prequel, with a mid-credit coda sequence setting up a sequel that is now unlikely to happen. Jem and the Holograms is an example of the pitfalls of adapting a cartoon into live action. The inherent silliness of Jem was easier to accept in animated form. Live action demands a different level of credibility and the film’s stranger aspects just look ridiculous. The story of Jem and the Holograms has two very different portions that never fit together. The film is primarily a show business story in which a group of young women are plucked from obscurity and thrust into the spotlight and the pressures of fame create friction among the bandmates. The other subplot of Jem and the Holograms is something out of a science fiction movie; Jerrica uses a holographic robot invented by her deceased father to track down clues that he planted years ago. These two subplots never coalesce into a single coherent narrative and the movie fails to do either of them well. The show business story is cliché. The band members are taken under the wing of an unscrupulous talent manager, played by Juliette Lewis, who eventually emerges as the villain. Lewis’ character never behaves in a way that makes sense. Even though Jem is already an internet hit she tries to reformat the group into something else and separate Jerrica from her friends. The crisis and breakup of the band has no impact. These young women don’t share any meaningful character moments and after the breakup they resolve their differences for absolutely no reason. The movie posits that Jem’s fans are so rabid because the band’s music is full of depth and insight but the songs in this movie are just generic pop tunes and the performances don’t come nearly often enough. The sci-fi plotline is intended to set Jerrica on a journey of self-discovery but the idea of her father leaving her these clues is absurd and she doesn’t learn anything about him or about herself in the process.

Bottom Line: Jem and the Holograms is intended to be a feel-good bubblegum story. For tweens who think Twilight is great literature and the music of Taylor Swift is life changing, this may have some appeal. But even adolescent audiences ought to recognize how facile and poorly written this movie is.

Episode: #568 (November 8, 2015)