October 23, 2015
In the new film Jem and the Holograms, a young fan uses social media to say that she likes Jem’s song better than “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen. To which Jem responds, “Really?! Wow.” That line pretty much captures the overall feel of the movie.
Based on a ‘80s cartoon and produced by Hasbro, Marvel Productions and Sunbow Productions, Jem was a major sensation. Recently, it’s been revived by new fans online where episodes are live tweeted. And now we have a major motion picture that involves intercuts of YouTube footage showing musical performances along with fans of the show’s message of finding your voice and not being afraid to be yourself.
Jerrica Benton/Jem (played by Aubrey Peeples from TV’s Nashville) is a girl in search of herself after the death of her beloved father. She lives with her sisters, Kimber (Stefanie Scott), Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and her dad’s sister, Aunt Bailey, played by ‘80s darling Molly Ringwald. An unsuspecting Jerrica is surprised to learn she’s become “internet famous” after Kimber uploads a video of her singing as Jem. She gets an offer from Erica Raymond (a devilish Juliette Lewis in a gender bender role), head of Starlight Enterprises, to headline three shows in Los Angeles. Misadventures ensue as Jem, the girls, 51n3rg.y (Synergy the robot) and Starlight intern/resident heartthrob, Rio (The Boy Next Door’s Ryan Guzman), follow the clues to discover her destiny.
Interesting casting choice there for Shana, the lone black girl in the cartoon akin to a Whitney Houston type. Not sure if here she’s meant to be an amalgamation of the Shana and Carmen characters or if production is continuing the Hollywood trend of casting racially ambiguous young women to portray African-Americans in order to appeal to a “global” market. However, there’s no mistaking the talent of the actresses when the music drops. The music is the real star of the movie, very pop with just enough edge for preteens to want to dance to it. In one sequence, Jem even gives a performance that would very much reminds of Lady Gaga or Sia.
The absence of the Misfits is strongly felt. Without their pouty angst to act as a foil to the Holograms, you get a very basic rags-to-riches tale with not enough bite. Erica Raymond serves as the one-dimensional villain, advising her reluctant rock star to forgo “Jerrica” and her family in order to achieve fame. The hunger for stardom online, or “IRL”, is definitely something to which this new generation can relate, especially since celebrities are made more from their number of followers than actual talent.
Paulo Coehlo wrote in the The Alchemist, “And, when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.” While the need to make something accessible to a newer audience is completely understandable, it’s also frustrating to watch the razing of great childhood memories. If you were born in time to see the original run of this cartoon, you might consider watching it again on Netflix and avoiding this movie.
Star Rating: 1 out of 5 stars