This is a review for a film based on a cartoon from 1985.
This is a review for a film geared very specifically at young girls and/or ornery Generation X’ers, written by a demographically un-ideal 29-year-old male.
This is a review for Jem and the Holograms. Jem isn’t excitement, ooh, ooh, but Jem is sort of adventure, Jem is something reasonable. Jem. Glammer and glitter. Fashion and fame. Jem.
John Chu’s candy-colored take on the cult cartoon about a record company manager who moonlights as a space-aged acrylic songstress is cute enough, quick enough, and silly enough to maintain attention and sing to the hearts of certain viewers. This is a property romp, to be certain, but one about individuality, and finding oneself, because in the movie’s eyes we all are special, unique, and deserving. And that’s kind of nice. In the most basic sense, Jem and the Holograms is a tween A Star Is Born, or Pink Rain, or We Are Your Friends with lots of make-up instead of MDMA.
The latest in a series of nostalgic cash grabs (this is a Hasbro property like Transformers and Battleship), Jem plays fast and loose with the source material. This Jem is Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples, possibly the next Zooey Deschanel or Kristen Stewart). She’s not an executive, but rather a shy teen with a guitar, a book of lyrics, and unrealized dreams. Jerrica opens up via video diary, the new Millenial voice narration, describing Facebook walls and metaphors for hiding behind platforms and carefully constructed personae. Pretty heavy-handed stuff, but fine. You get it. Go with it.
In a fit of desperation after learning that her family’s house is about to be taken from them, Jerrica plays her heart song in a pink wig and make-up, under the name Jem. This being a PG-rated commodity, Jem’s video makes it to YouTube after her sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott) snags it, and the thing becomes an overnight viral sensation. Cue the montage with the rapidly increasing view count! Immediately, Jem and her band/sisters are offered a Muppet-like standard rich and famous contract, and are marketed by the wicked record company owner Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis, fabulously on par with the material, conniving and condescending). And to that standard rags-to-riches trope stuff, the movie is inexpensive-looking and fast-moving.
Yet any attempts to fight logic or fidelity are sort of moot the second a purple-and-white robot named Synergy shows up and presents Jem with a treacly Spielbergian adventure involving a hologram of her dead dad. This film doesn’t seem to care about the realities of the music business, and why should it? It’s a cartoon movie, colorful and basic in motivation. Jem and the Holograms seems pleased enough with itself, to the point that audiences may be amused by it as well. The cast is perky and on board, the tone is all over the place but always comprehensible, and Chu injects the film with enough creative nonsense where groans turn to giggles (ironic and otherwise).
Upbeat montage after montage. Outrageous costume design. Songs you might catch yourself humming after the movie. Visual allusions to Lady Gaga and The Velvet Underground (odd in a PG, but okay). Contract negotiations via email are intercut with amateur YouTube video of a drum battle between two teens, loading an obvious but still kind of clever visual metaphor onto a scene. Chu goes for this sort of juxtaposition with web content a lot. And he commits. He commits to using Google Earth for location shots, and even Snapchat confessionals, as part of his whole social media ambience for Jem and the Holograms. It’s a film aimed squarely at plugged-in and hopeful kids, a family film with a spunky robot sidekick and a ton of pink on top, and at least it’s a goofy and giddy one.
If it could get one guy to smirk, then maybe there’s hope for this Jem. And her Holograms.