For anyone not aware, Jem and the Holograms was an animated series created by Christy Marx, who worked in developing the show with Hasbro, Marvel Productions and Sunbow Entertainment, a collaboration that also brought Transformers and G.I. Joe. It ran for three seasons from 1985 to 1988, with fandom extending even to this day. It revolved around the character of Jerrica Benton, who is a philanthropist, businesswoman who runs her own record company, Starlight Music, and the leader of the band, Jem and the Holograms. Jem is a persona that Jerrica adopts thanks to a supercomputer built by her deceased father called Synergy, which projects a hologram onto Jerrica, turning into the superstar, Jem. The episodes mostly involved the various hijinks that the band would find themselves into, the struggles of Jerrica handling two different identities and the occasional times when a rival band, The Misfits, tries to kill them.
The recently released film adaptation of the show, is about a group of girls, Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples), Kimber (Stefanie Scott), Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and Aja (Hayley Kiyoko), who live in a small town with Aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald). When a private video of Jerrica singing a song is uploaded to YouTube by Kimber and goes viral, it gets the attention of Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis), owner of Starlight Music. While dealing with the struggles of her newfound fame with her band, she also embarks on a journey to uncover the secrets behind a little robot called Synergy that was built by her deceased father.
So, it looks like Fantastic Four won’t be the only film this year to be called to the slaughter before it was even released. It has gotten so bad that even the director of Jem and the Holograms, Jon Chu, has been receiving death threats from fans of the show. And weirdly enough, my reaction to both films have been fairly similar. I surprisingly didn’t hate Jem and the Holograms, even though I can’t necessarily come to it’s defense as a good film. Jon Chu has talked about how he has been developing this film with producer, Jason Blum (yes, this is a Blumhouse Production, who’da thunk?) for a really long time, yet the film at it’s very core oozes of a film made with purely cynical intentions. As if the filmmakers took a bland screenplay and applied only the broadest and vaguest connections to Jem and the Holograms, only because they may have had the rights to it. It takes the most barebones setup of the show and never uses any of the elements that makes the show so interesting and unique. The biggest change that frustrates me the most is taking away Jerrica’s agency by removing her position as a woman of power, leadership, and reducing her to someone who simply lucks her way into fame. She doesn’t even get to name the band.
There is no doubt that as an adaptation goes, Jem and the Holograms is pretty atrocious. There’s no denying that fans of the show are going to find nothing of value here. However, as a film that stands on it’s own, I found it to be dumb, but harmlessly mediocre. Despite the film reeking of cynicism in it’s origin, I thought the actors were genuinely trying their best with the material. The few moments that actually worked in the film only worked because I bought the actors and their relationships, especially Aubrey Peeples, who brings a likeability and relatability to her character with an ease that shows a lot of promise for any future projects. And Juliette Lewis was a blast to watch, as she plays the record company owner like a Roger Moore-era Bond villain. I thought Alice Brooks’ cinematography was really solid as well. Jon Chu does a few things here and there that do feel inspired, even if they are few and far between. One interesting thing the film does is the way it wholly embraces social media, especially YouTube, in a way that feels realistic and uses it for it’s aesthetics. There are several scenes where there might be a tense moment or argument and the music in those scenes are from seemingly amateur YouTube videos which it occasionally cuts to. It caught me by surprise, and I can say for sure that I’ve never seen anything quite like that. It fits thematically enough to not feel too off-putting. In all honestly, Synergy is what feels most out of place in the entire film.
One thing that befuddled me was the thought that the filmmakers wanted to make a franchise out of this particular take on the brand. Since barely anyone saw the film, not many know that there is a mid-credits scene. Since, no one will probably care, it basically reveals The Misfits, as portrayed by Kesha, Hana Mae Lee, Eiza González and Katie Findlay. It seems like they are going close to the show in having The Misfits be this rival band that is constantly trying to mess with Jem and taking her down. Again, like Synergy, it feels completely out of tone with the otherwise grounded film. It’s not like the sequel is going to happen anyway. Even Blumhouse’s standard low-budget can’t save this from being a complete bomb.
There are a lot of words you can use to describe Jem and the Holograms, but disaster or terrible, is not what I would use. I don’t think the film is terrible, I’ve seen so many this year that are far worse. At worst, the film is dumb, hokey, riddled with clichés and makes the mistake of choosing bland mediocrity over potentially disastrous, yet admirably ambitious in terms of its adaptation choices. The film is solidly constructed from a technical perspective, well acted and has a nice message for it’s target audience. I don’t think it fully (emphasis on the word “fully”) deserve the hatred that it’s been receiving, it’s perfectly harmless and is more likely than not going to be forgotten soon, only to be recollected vaguely as a thing that happened that hardly anyone will barely remember. Instead I will leave you with an enthusiastic recommendation for the 2001 film, Josie and the Pussycats, another adaptation of an old cartoon, except this one is a legitimately smart and witty film that cleverly satirizes the kind of film Jem and the Holograms tried to play straight. 45 / 100