Nowhere in the film rule book does it require a girl empowerment movie to be cheesy. Cliche I suppose, but not cheesy. But I can’t hate on Jem and the Holograms for trying. If you’re not familiar with the source material, this movie actually stays fairly true to the spirit of the original ’80s cartoon–laughable dialogue and all.
In the film Jem (Aubrey Peeples, Rage) and her sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott, Insidious: Chapter 3) are sent to live with their Aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald) and their two foster sisters after their father passes away. Before he died he was working on Synergy–a mysterious robot device that he never completed. The girls, minus Jem, all play music for fun at the house. Jem has stage fright and, despite her sisters’ mediocre attempts, doesn’t want anyone to hear her songs or her voice. So one night she records herself singing in her bedroom with the door cracked–not a quiet performance, but one sung at full volume. So cue the sister standing outside of Jem’s room secretly listening. That night Kimber uploads the video to YouTube behind Jem’s back and somehow it receives thousands of plays before morning and Jem gets an offer from famed record mogul Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis). While Lewis’ presence immediately increases the entertainment value of the movie, it doesn’t diminish the ridiculousness of the premise. Raymond agrees to sign Jem to the label. She also agrees to sign Jem’s sisters as her backup band without hearing them play a single note.
The notion of overnight success is highly embellished here. The song that Jem sings in the video is the weakest one in the whole film, and with the excess of amateur singers on YouTube, what makes her’s standout above the rest to garner her national news coverage? It’s trying to inspire, I get it. I just think that these unrealistic results that kids witness in film, and mostly television, is raising their expectations along with their disappointments. It’s an argument for another time, but Disney is doing plenty to accomplish these results. We don’t need it elsewhere.
Sure, the movie’s trying to send a message to young girls, which is fine, and it gets that message across easily, but it does so with too much conviction. Promoting empowerment for women is perfectly fine, however, it would have been nicer if they didn’t alienate everyone else in the process. After the girls move to Los Angeles, Jem discovers that the Synergy robot her dad created is coming to life and that he left pieces for her all over the city so that she could finish Synergy. The pieces include messages directed towards Jem in order to help her achieve her goals, which he had no inkling of when he died because she was 6. It’s a surprise Kimber doesn’t have mad jealousy issues since everything their father left behind is directed towards Jem specifically. In fact, the entire time it’s barely stated that Kimber and her father even knew each other. Also, the girls’ mother is literally never mentioned even once in this movie. I guess she was unloved.
Oh, and throughout the whole film is Raymond’s son, Rio (Ryan Guzman, The Boy Next Door), who is in charge of keeping an eye on the girls around the clock. He’s present in almost every scene following his introduction into the movie. He’s even there when it’s most unnecessary for him to be. He and Jem’s infatuation-turned-relationship is forced upon us the entire time. His overuse for the target demographic’s approval is evident. It gets to the point where the audience is unanimously recognizing this and laughing each time the character appears on screen. For instance, there’s a pretty emotional scene where Jem is watching an old video that her father records for her before he dies. She’s crying and the audience is possibly realizing their investment in her character. But instead of Jem’s sister being present, sharing the experience with her, Rio is there to comfort her. We begin to forget that he’s there until after the video when he goes up to her and rubs her back–presumably to get a happy sigh out of its naive and artless audience. They could have used that moment to really build upon the sisters’ relationship, but instead sacrificed that in order to get a cheap reaction.
Another thing, the film runs a little long–almost 2 hours. There’s a scene where Jem makes her sisters mad and they break-up. Then literally 3 minutes of screen time pass and they’re back together again, which I suppose may make slightly more sense if the film was about 25% shorter. Despite my scathing feedback, the film doesn’t do everything wrong. It soars high in the sound department. The songs are catchy and the filmmakers do something really creative by using viral YouTube videos as background score throughout various scenes.
But at its most enjoyable, we are constantly reminded that Jem and the Holograms takes itself too seriously and is too cool for its own good. The dialogue is so self-aware that it just adds to the film’s impracticality. Despite a couple of good bits and some scene stealers by Lewis, it’s mostly broad humor set to indulge young girls, and it’s obvious. It does very little to appease parents bringing their kids to the show, when they’re the ones who best remember the source material and are perhaps most excited about this adaptation. The best scene is during the end credits, which brings the darker side from the original show and shoots a nice wink towards fans.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
The music is good and the film has its entertaining moments, but overall Jem and the Holograms panders its target demographic a bit too much for it to be glorified by anyone else. It means well and I credit it for staying fairly true to its source, but it may have served better as a Disney Channel movie.