My only goal going into watch Jem and the Holograms was to have an open mind. The show wasn’t my bag growing up, so I didn’t have the whole “they ruined my childhood!” thing to work through; and I’m so fed up with people sh*tting on entertainment made for young and teenage girls, as if their tastes and interests are inherently frivolous, that I really wanted to like this movie, or at least respect it. I really, really tried.
But it was not enough.
Jem— like its animated ’80s predecessor— is the story of teenaged Jerrica Benton (Nashville’s Aubrey Peeples), who, under the mysterious pseudonym Jem and along with her three sisters, is a pink-haired pop star. The movie starts out with the loosest and the most generic of Hero’s Journey setups. Jerrica’s aunt, the girls’ legal guardian, played by Molly Ringwald as a shining silver lining to this movie, is having money troubles and they’re going to lose their house. The girls— either in an attempt to raise money or maybe just for fun because who can think about their house when there are music and costumes to be played with!— want to make a music video, but Jerrica hates being on camera or in the spotlight (of course). When her youngest sister Kimber secretly uploads one of Jerrica’s songs to YouTube later that night, though, it goes viral and by the time they wake up, “Jem” is a pop sensation, complete with a message in her YouTube inbox from the head of a record label, Starlight Industries, because that’s how the internet works, right?
From there, any semblance of a plot disappears. Molly Ringwald sends her four teenagers off to LA in the custody of Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis, who weirdly and delightfully chewed her way through so much scenery, I’m surprised there was any set left at all for this movie), the head of Starlight. Side note: I’m not sure if at any point they actually said Jerrica’s age, but I’m going to hope she’s 18 (though I really don’t think she is). There’s a LOT that happens in this movie that makes me really want to believe she’s on the higher end of the teenage spectrum.
In addition to her sisters, Jerrica also brings along a tiny robot friend that her father was building before he died. In the original cartoon, this robot, “Synergy,” is the source of Jem’s holograms and her secret identity, but that was apparently too “outrageous” for the movie version, so this Synergy just beeps and wags its little robot ears and “communicates through music.” The movie is half montages of the girls training to become pop stars and half some rambling story line about Jerrica trying to solve a puzzle left for her (in a move that really just seems cruel) by her late father. These two story lines are jammed together in a completely nonsensical manner, which, really, is only fitting for a feature from the director of the Justin Bieber “rockumentary.” The throughline in all of this, is the nonstop beating of our heads with Jerrica’s questioning of who she is. This idea of confusion and self-discovery, of the battling images of Jerrica and Jem, COULD have been a very sweet message, if only it had been fully realized.
The only thing close to an interesting choice in the entire movie (except for every single weird ass movement and expression made by Juliette Lewis) was the way it incorporated kids’ obsession with social media. Not only is it how the characters find fame, but there are actual YouTube videos spliced into the movie, often to provide the soundtrack itself. And of course, there’s Jerrica’s fear that the people who met her through her videos as Jem won’t like her as Jerrica, an exaggerated crisis of real self vs. online persona that tons of kids (and adults) deal with. There are also videos spliced in of Jem’s fans giving Instagram testimonials of how her music has helped them. This idea of young girls using social media to find themselves, both as the stars and as the fans, is an awesome subject for a movie aimed at kids, most of whom are obsessed with their online worlds. But the movie never actually takes that last step in cultivating any sort of message beyond, “Yes, you CAN be as awesome as your Instagram.” There’s no “be yourself;” it pretty much stops at “look how cool social media is.”
I have absolutely no idea who this movie was made for. It’s definitely not for the adults who grew up on the cartoon. For the little I know about the show, this is a boring, shallow, completely un-outrageous Xerox copy. But kids seem wholly uninterested in a remake of a show they’ve never heard of. Still, if you have a daughter under 12, who loves flashy pink costumes, insanely earwormy music, and the internet, she will probably like this movie. And hopefully, she’ll be young enough to not care about the lack of any sort of cohesive message. If you do end up seeing this movie, most likely because of said daughter, you will at least have Molly Ringwald, Juliette Lewis, and a Ryan Hansen cameo to keep you occupied. But be warned, the movie is so poorly cobbled together, it’ll cost you a few brain cells, and you will, guaranteed, have this song stuck in your head for the rest of time.