Jon M. Chu’s (Step Up 2, Never Say Never) Jem and the Holograms is a soulless reworking of the colorful and lively animated show, carelessly tossing out practically everything that made the original a fun staple of 80s fandom – for boys and girls alike. This bastardized Jem is a painfully modern take on the show with a heinous disregard to its source material, an adaptation INO (in name only) that rips out its glamrock 80s heart and stomps on it repeatedly. The only truly, truly outrageous thing is that such a cinematic travesty exists in the first place.
Jerrica/Jem (Aubrey Peeples) is one of four adopted sisters living with Aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald), a kindly woman who’s in danger of losing her home. Jerrica is entirely too timid to help her sisters out with their crazy band. No, she’s a damaged soul, perpetually melancholy, and desperately missing her father after his untimely death. Naturally, she’s a perfect candidate to play and record a song, despite claiming she doesn’t like being in front of a camera, which is supposed to be a solemn window right into her heart.
Kimber (Stefanie Scott), Jerrica’s biological sister, uploads the video online and – in a stroke of Justin Beiber magic – she goes from simple YouTube star to having an inexplicable established fan base in no time flat with just a single song released online. Her meteoric rise to viral fame grabs the attention of Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis), head of Starlight Enterprises, who wisely reaches out and signs the up-and-comer while the iron is still virally hot.
For her industry debut Jerrica takes on the personality of Jem (nickname given to her by her father) to hide her true identity from the world. But things get complicated with Jem and Erica, with corporate music chicanery rearing its ugly head, with Jem quickly learning she’s just a replaceable cog in the scheme of things.
To say Jem and the Holograms takes liberty with its shared namesake requires a leap in logic and wordplay that defines physics; it’s a hollowed out carcass, scooped of its life essence and begging to be put out of its misery. It’s also boring, an offense all its own, with little sense of any pizzazz (pun intended) that should come with the subject matter.
There’s no real ‘holograms’ here, as Synergy, the holographic computer that helped the original – and superior – Jem to become her glamrock alter-ego in the original series has been reduced, like everything else in this film, to a scavenger-hunt project now called (ugh) S1N3RGY. I know, I know…
Jem beats you over the head with its nearly two-hour running time and to go on detailing every little change would be torture to actual fans of the show. Even as a casual viewer, I found plenty to be offended about. The tone of the original Jem series is completely stripped away, going from lively, colorful, totally 80s rocking good time to what’s supposed to be a more “realistic” view of the record industry, stardom, and the current online phenomena. It’s generic in its attempt at realism, disconnected and eschewing fun at all cost. No one watched Jem for its realism or supposed heart; that the film so desperately tries to force such trappings down your gullet misses the point entirely.
What’s worse is that the film is actually about YouTube and how easy it is to be famous. The film is sprinkled with viral videos of talentless hopefuls trying to make it big for their 15 minutes of fame. In reality, these videos celebrating “Jem” are a ruse; the director solicited online fans of the original animated series to gush over how much the show meant to their lives, only to have them shamelessly grafted onto this lifeless imitation instead. The result is a mishmash of low-fi YouTube clips extending the running time well past the breaking point in its misguided attempt to showcase the ‘importance’ of viral fame to naive kids. Keep that lo-res forgettable crap off the cinema screens!
Another grave offense, as a music lover, is that the characters keep speaking about Jem’s music and how “real” it is and – more deplorably – how her trite lyrics are meaningful and “from the heart”. In reality, her music sounds exactly like every other generic pop star out there, fresh off the conveyor belt of pop music production and entirely forgettable. That the story features an executive like Erica becoming interested in such noise from a marketing position is proof Jem’s only real value is marketing.
Without a shred of irony Jem wears a Velvet Underground shirt, despite what she plays sounding nothing like that great band’s psychedelic and raw garage music. I could practically feel Lou Reed rolling in his grave, pleading for the misery of Jem to stop.
Jem/Jerrica is, after all, little more than a packaged product; anyone can be Jem, Erica reminds her. That her vulnerability can be packaged and sold to the masses isn’t shocking, especially if you’ve seen the Katy Perry: Park of Me documentary, where so-called “weird teens” profess how they’ve been saved by their pop icons on video, and how their music has helped them through bad times. These teens are part of the problem and what they need is a musical education and above all a parental role model instead of making videos to celebrities. I don’t think a pop song ever saved me from anything
Jem and the Holograms is the type of film that embarrasses everyone involved; fans of the 80s animated series, movie fans, and especially those who thought anyone would be tricked by this shameless, soul-sucking imitation. It’s astounding that Hasbro allowed this to ever be released, given how popular Transformers and even GI-JOE have been. Here is a film that illustrates and reminds us of everything that is wrong with the film industry, and social-media, in one nasty little package. I’m betting Jem fans are smarter than this wretched film gives them credit for and we can all move on from this unpleasantness before long.