Well, shoot. I really wanted to like this flick. Not that I have any investment in the 1980s cartoon it’s based on: I’ve never even seen it, and honestly, I don’t even remember it. But this is a movie about a bunch of young women — women who are very different from one another and interested in different sorts of things, and some of them are even not white! — being cool and having fun and forming a band and making music. Alas, Jem and the Holograms is utterly implausible on every level, including its primary one, as tween wish-fulfillment fantasy.
Shy musician Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples: Rage) is appalled when her sister, Kimber (Stefanie Scott: Insidious: Chapter 3, Wreck-It Ralph), who lives on social media, uploads a video of Jerrica singing a song of her own composition. But when it becomes a huge viral hit — which seems unlikely; it’s a pretty bland song — a record company comes calling and (even more unlikely) offers them a deal, which Jerrica agrees to accept so they can save the family home, which is far from the least clichéd aspect of the plot here. Over the course of a mere few days, Jerrica and Kimber and their adoptive sisters and new bandmates Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and Aja (Hayley Kiyoko: Insidious: Chapter 3) will engage in kooky dress-up montages as they attempt to find their “look,” ride the roller coaster of sudden fame, and endure an emotionally trying breakup of the band followed instantly by a tearful reunion. At literally the same time as several years’ worth of rock ’n’ roll drama is unfolding, the girls are on a treasure hunt left by Jerrica and Kimber’s dead nerd-tinkerer dad (Barnaby Carpenter, in old videos) to complete the little robot he left behind, which is, annoyingly, ultimately a pointless subplot. I imagine fans of the animated series will be even more annoyed, because the little robot has absolutely nothing to do with how still-shy Jerrica hides her identity behind its holograms, as she does in the cartoon.
Here, instead, a bit of face makeup and a wig is supposed to render Jerrica unrecognizable (it doesn’t); global fame is achieved almost literally overnight on the basis of a couple of flavorless tunes; and “Jem,” Jerrica’s “secret identity,” somehow becomes an inspiration to the sad and the lonely around the planet. I didn’t believe a moment of it. There’s no humor here, although clearly director Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and screenwriter Ryan Landels believe they are being constantly amusing, and Molly Ringwald and Juliette Lewis (Kelly & Cal, Due Date) are complete wasted as, respectively, the girls’ aunt and the slightly villainous music exec. A bit of glitter and lots of hugs are the sum total of “girl power” here. It’s rather insulting.