JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS
DIRECTED BY Jon M. Chu
STARS Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott
The film is an adaptation of the successful animated series from the 1980s, and let's pause to note that the word "adaptation" is used here in the absolutely loosest sense. In the end, the movie is an adaptation of the cartoon about as much as Steven Spielberg's Jaws was an adaptation of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights.
The series was about music company owner Jerrica Benton and how she used a computer known as Synergy to project holographic disguises around herself and thus perform incognito as a pop-rock star known as Jem. A production of the same outfit behind the G.I. Joe and Transformers toons, Jem and the Holograms, created by Christy Marx, remains popular because it provided a strong female character — a CEO, no less! — who succeeded on her own terms. Tellingly, Marx had no involvement whatsoever with the decisions behind the new live-action film, and apparently neither did anyone who had ever seen even a single episode of the show.
My own knowledge of the series is extremely limited, so those wanting to know how the film succeeds in comparison to its predecessor had best look elsewhere. Look to my wife, a huge Jem fan back in the day — after watching the trailer, she flatly stated, "Yeah, I'm not going with you to see that." Or look to my friend who did attend the screening, only to morosely declare afterward that she was "tired of seeing [her] childhood dug up and destroyed." Or look at Twitter comments like "Only thing truly outrageous about JemTheMovie is that it's not Jem. At least Michael Bay remembered Transformers had transforming robots" (ouch) or "Makes you appreciate The Smurfs" (ouch!).
So away from the show and as a motion picture in its own right, how is Jem and the Holograms? In a word: Awful. In this interpretation, Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples, alternating between Zooey Deschanel and Kristen Stewart impersonations) is not a powerful and confidant boss but rather a fragile and shy teenager living with her biological sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott), her adoptive sisters Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and Aja (Hayley Kiyoko), and her Aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald). They're about to lose their house to foreclosure, but before 99 Homes' Michael Shannon can show up on their doorstep to claim possession, Kimber decides to upload to YouTube a video of Jerrica mumbling a song she wrote. This sort of stuff finds its way onto the Internet about every 1.4 seconds and is viewed on average by 12 people, but Jerrica's song strikes such a chord across the nation that it's viewed by millions and "Liked" by thousands (and "Disliked" by only five people! LOLOL, as the kids say).
The fervor catches the attention of Starlight Music head Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis), who nabs Jerrica (and her siblings as backup) but insists that her true identity remain a secret. Thrust into the spotlight, Jerrica becomes a star under her alter ego of Jem, but soon she's worried that "the real me" will get overshadowed by her stage persona. In other words, Hollywood has made yet another banal drama about the price of fame, this one more dreary than most. In the process, it also pushes the message that education, hard work and perseverance are for suckers and the best way to make it big is to randomly post something on the Internet and pray that everyone adores it to the point that it will make you millions. In the immortal words of the parole board chairman in Raising Arizona: "OK then!"
There are holograms, but not the imaginative sort seen in the series, the ones that provided Jem with all manner of disguises. Here, the disguises are basically colorful wigs and lots of makeup, requiring no more thought or imagination than a visit to a Salvation Army clothes rack. Instead, the holograms come into play when the little robot Synergy — yes, this movie has a robot — projects old footage of the pre-teen Jerrica (Isabella Kay Rice) and her late father (Barnaby Carpenter). Synergy likes to dance and even does a few double takes, making it perhaps the most annoying celluloid robot since that infernal Bubo in 1981's Clash of the Titans or that insufferable Twiki from TV's late-70s show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. In a film packed with creatively bankrupt ideas, Synergy might be the worst of all.
The late going finds the filmmakers attempting to add some heft by turning the picture into a version of Dan Savage's It Gets Better videos, but it rings hollow. And Jerrica's declaration to her fans that "I'm Jem! You're Jem! We're all Jem!" is especially risible, and I half-wished the sequence would be interrupted by Kirk Douglas declaring "I'm Spartacus!" — or, in a pinch, the Monty Python lads declaring, "I'm Brian!"
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