A somewhat successful modern update to the outrageous 80s cult classic.
On October 16, 2014, a press release hit the web stating that a Jem and The Holograms movie was in the works. At that time, everyone seemed to be so excited that the animated 80s cult classic was finally making its way to the big screen. This past May, the first trailer for Jem and The Holograms hit the web and fans everywhere were screaming things like “What has Universal done to my beloved Jem?” or “Why does hollywood continue to rape my childhood.” Ever since that trailer hit the web, it seemed like everyone on the web was out to destroy the film without even seeing the final product.
Well the day finally came where I got invited to an early screening followed by a press day for the film. I remember posting that I was at the screening and everyone on my Facebook wished me luck as though I was going to be tortured by the Taliban for 2 hours. I normally avoid getting caught up in the hype or backlash for a film but with Jem it was extremely hard going into this film with an open mind. It felt like for the past 5 months everyone online just had something negative to say about it. With all that being said, I went into the theater and tried to forget the haters and just focus on the film.
Based on the 80’s animated television series, Jem and The Holograms tells the story of Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples) and her sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott) who after the tragic death of their father must live with their Aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald) and her daughters, Shana (Aurora Perinea) and Aja (Hayley Kiyoko). Aunt Bailey is a loving and supportive aunt that only wants the best for the girls but sadly doesn’t really have the income to support their dreams and ambitions. After learning that Aunt Bailey’s home is about to go into foreclosure, the girls decide to create a music video with the great hopes of becoming the next viral video sensation.
While recording the music video, Jerrica gets cold feet and decides not to participate. Later that night while sitting alone in her room, Jerrica puts on makeup and decides to record a song of her own. That very same evening, Kimber asks for her camera and Jerrica hands it to her unknowingly forgetting to delete the video she just recorded. Kimber scrolls through her camera only to find Jerrica’s video and immediately uploads it to YouTube labeling the artist as JEM. Within a matter of days, the video becomes a viral sensation and everyone on social media is begging to know just who JEM really is.
While exiting the theater, I began to wonder why in the world a film like Jem could receive so much initial hate. I completely understand that the film is based on a beloved 80s series but after watching it, a lot of the source material is in this film. What made me wonder even more is the fact that director Jon Chu has been begging to make a Jem and The Hologram film for years before this film was finally green lit. He obviously was a fan of the series and was passionate about the source material. It seemed very clear upon viewing the film that Cho knew that he had to create something that appealed to the show’s loyal fanbase as well a new audience; a task I believe Cho managed to do with this film.
While I am not going to say that I loved this film, I will say the amount of hate this film is getting is unfair and unjustified. Given the source material and budget, Jem is a simple, fun, and entertaining little film. It really seems that everyone hating on it doesn’t understand that a live action campy Jem film like the 80s animated series wouldn’t work in today’s market. I think Cho’s revamped vision of Jem has enough of the heart and soul of the original while adding in new music and social media to make it relatable to this new generation.
If you are a die-hard fan of the show, I really suggest you see the film and form your own opinion. There are some character changes like Juliette Lewis’ character and some added story elements but overall this Jem is a lot like it was in the 80s; only modernized for today’s generation. Most of the plot revolves around the concept of being who you really are, despite the constant distractions like the media, telling you otherwise. While I will agree that the message the film tries to convey is a bit cheesy but when looking at the target audience, it is essentially a good one.
There is no doubt that fans of the original show will probably hate the music in this update but again given that we live in the era of Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, and Katy Perry; the music choices fit. Again as much as I would have loved to hear pop punk songs like the music that was in 2001’s Josie and The Pussycats, I highly doubt that punk rock soundtrack would result in millions of iTunes downloads. With the soundtrack that the producers picked, even if the film bombs, millions will download the soundtrack. I personally really enjoyed the soundtrack but than again I am a fan of a lot of the modern day pop music and the fans of the original show probably aren’t.
One thing that was kind of cool and kind of annoying at the same time was the use of YouTube, Google Maps, and other social media. At first, I felt like it really added something to the story and gave it a unique spin. It also helped to show that the way people become music superstars has completely changed from the 80s to today. However, I do feel that Cho beat the audience over the head with this tactic. There are way too many YouTube clips that include musical montages of people banging on drums to others sharing inspirational stories. I think it worked early on in the film and near the end but throughout the rest of the film it just felt overused and lazy.
In terms of the performances, I thought that Aubrey Peeples really held the film together. While she isn’t in every scene, the film ultimately rests of her to tell this story. Peeples is very charming and likable as Jerrica/Jem with an incredible voice to boot. She has a great on-screen presence that reminded me of Dakota Fanning mixed with Kristen Stewart. The rest of the girls were all fine playing the part but then again this was really Jerrica’s story more than the others so Peeples is without a doubt the standout performer of the film.
In regards to the supporting cast which includes Ryan Guzman, Juliette Lewis, and Molly Ringwald, I felt these roles were pretty hit and miss. Guzman is such a pretty face but when it comes to acting he couldn’t be anymore one dimensional. For those who don’t know him by name, Guzman was the male lead in the Jennifer Lopez crapfest The Boy Next Door. Yes, he’s the “I love your mother’s cookies” guy. I could help but sigh every single time his character Rio came on-screen. It was bad enough that the film tried to force a love story but having Guzman act the way he did made it that much worse.
As for Juliette Lewis, I have never been a huge fan of her work primarily because I always felt like she overacts but in this film, it fit the part. By playing Erica Raymond, Lewis was able to showcase that over the top persona that so many love seem to love about her. I don’t think this was a difficult role to play but a mean-spirited music manager totally fit Lewis. And while it’s always good to see 80’s teen film queen Molly Ringwald on the big screen, her character wasn’t in the film all that much and when she was in it she was just playing your standard mom character. Regardless, it was nice to see a big 80s icon in the film.
Speaking of the 80s for those who are hating on the film as not being loyal to the Jem they grew up on, well there are several cameos that should tickle your fancy. I won’t spoil who or where they are but keep an eye out since several key players of the original Jem series do make an appearance throughout the film. Also, keep in mind that this is the first of several films played for Jem so while everything about this first film might not win you over, there is one hell of a mid-credits scene that made me anxiously hope that this film makes its budget back so we could see a Jem and the Holograms part two.
All in all, Jem and The Holograms isn’t a great film but it never pretends to be one. If you take it for what it is or see it from the perspective of the audience that its geared to; its a fun little film with some fun music and a good message. I really hope that the haters can look past the marketing and still give the film a shot because I would be very curious to see what Cho and company would be able to do with the sequel. I guess only time will truly tell.
MovieManMenzel’s final rating for Jem and the Holograms is a 6 out of 10.