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Jem and the Holograms (2015)
~Review by Grawlix (December 2017)
I’m not embarrassed to admit, now, that I watched my share of Jem and the Holograms when I was a kid. Even at a young age I was probably more of an animation fan than average. Holiday specials, prime time premiers, whatever, I’d watch it, regardless of its purported target audience. Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony (the 80’s series. I take no responsibility for the current Brony phenomenon) She-Ra, it didn’t matter, as long as it was animated. Maybe not something I’d go broadcasting in the 5th grade schoolyard, but now, a few decades later, I think I’m safe. Besides, even back then I was aware that Jem was a property of Hasbro, purveyors of my beloved GI Joe and Transformers toys, as their attempt to unseat Barbie from the fashion doll throne (No such luck there), and hey, a rising tide lifts all boats, right? So, yeah, I watched Jem on TV and was at least mildly curious when the live action film was announced.
But almost immediately the troubling rumors started. Original creator, Christy Marx, wasn’t involved? The budget was cut? Reshoots? Youtube? For crying out loud, if there’s one thing (and only one thing) worse than movie studios strip mining my childhood, it’s studios doing it half-assed. Well, screw it. I watched Transformers. I plowed through both GI Joe live-actions. I owned it to Jem to at least take a look.
Well, I asked for it.
There are two facets to the Jem movie. The first is its (very) rough attempt to adapt the TV show. After their father dies, Jerrica Benton and her little sister Kimber move in with her aunt and her two foster daughters, Shayna and Aja. The four of them are Girls Together Outrageously (see what I did there?), who one day decide to make a silly music video. Inspired by this, Jerrica later decides to make her own video of her singing an original song, her shyness prompting her to conceal her features. Intending to simply delete the video afterwards, is falls into Kimber’s hands, who instead posts it to Youtube where it becomes an overnight sensation. This quickly leads to interest from Erica Raymond and her Starlight Music company. Jem wants all her friends in the band together, but Starlight wants Jem as a solo act. This puts a strain on her family ties, but she also needs the money because her aunt’s house is in foreclosure. And all the while, Jerrica feels alienated by the fame of her larger than life Jem persona because nobody knows the real person behind it.
This facet of the movie tries very hard to be a tween version of 2001’s Rock Star, another story about a nobody catapulted to instant mega-stardom, and the pitfalls and general chaos of the music industry. The problem is that the movie manages to undermine itself at every step. For one thing, the events of the movie take place over less than thirty days. Now, I’ve heard that millennials like things on an accelerated pace, but even Bieber fever (which clearly inspired Jem’s story) took more than a month to develop. This timetable also kills what little drama is generated from the band breaking up since they were barely together three weeks to begin with.
The movie also has mixed messages about the industry, itself. Erica Raymond is played by Juliette Lewis channeling Courtney Love by way of Cruella DeVille. Her theme music makes it clear that she’s the heavy, and she plays all her scenes as a ruthless corporate ice queen, but almost everything she says makes perfect, if callus, sense. When she explains that she could get anyone to play the Jem character after she owns the rights, it’s not a threat, it’s the truth. And when she explains how the money a solo Jem could make would be able ease all of her family’s financial problems and set them up for life, and that should trump a few hurt feelings, she’s giving solid advice. Besides, it was a video of a solo Jem performance that got them all where they were in the first place.
Then there’s a scene where a character laments all the autotuned non-talent in the industry, spurring the girls to launch into an a cappella four-part harmony that sounded pitch corrected to me. At least it’s the actual actresses doing the singing, according to the movie’s soundtrack.
Look, I realize this is a PG movie; we’re not going to get some kind of Amy Winehouse style disintegration. But if Jem wanted to send some kind of message, it could’ve at least been consistent about it.
The second facet of the movie is its function as a big, wet, sloppy kiss to the cheek of social media. A noticeable chunk of the running time is taken up with clips from YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat. Whenever we have to change locations, Google Earth, complete with logo, appears on screen. Sometimes it’s viral video clips intercut with the action and providing the soundtrack. These parts of the movie are, put simply, are trash – blatant, shameless pandering, no doubt spawned from some executive memo to make sure to include whatever it is the kids are into these days. If I wanted to watch a major media company mining the internet for content, I’d just watch Tosh.0. (Disclaimer: I don’t watch Tosh.0) Even more insulting, towards the end of the movie there’s a series of clips of people lovingly talking about what Jem means to them. Many of them are wearing Jem merchandise, and it became increasingly clear that they were, in fact, talking about what the original Jem and the Holograms animated show meant to them. The fact that these heartfelt expressions were appropriated for use in this turkey of a film is a slap in the face to them, and every other Jem fan out there.
So, is there anything else from the original show in the movie? Well, Synergy is there, kind of, as an annoying, foot-tall mascot that speaks in beatbox and looks like the result of a drunken tryst between EVE and Gizmoduck. Synergy drives a scavenger hunt subplot that, if memory serves, was worked into the movie via reshoots.
The Misfits appear, briefly, mid-closing credits. Pizzazz is played by Kesha (formerly Ke$ha) in a bitterly ironic cameo.
Christy Marx appears in her own cameo and probably wishes she didn’t.
So, to summarize: There’s little in the way of excitement or adventure. There is glamour and (a lot of) glitter, gaudy fashion and internet fame. The music’s forgettable. Jem is her nickname. She’s similar to a lot of others. Where are the Misfits (the Misfits)? We didn’t get ‘em. I am truly outraged. Jem. <sigh>.
Show’s over, Synergy. Indeed.
Final Score: F
A parasitic necrophage feasting on the corpse of a once beloved franchise. Universal was right to try to slip this abomination under the radar, but they should’ve done the decent thing and just not made it at all.
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