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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Jem and the Holograms movie review: rock ’n’ roll fantasy

Jem and the Holograms red light

Utterly implausible on every level, and ultimately rather insulting: a bit of glitter and lots of hugs are the sum total of its “girl power.”
I’m “biast” (pro): desperate for stories about women

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not seen the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

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.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Jem and the Holograms for its representation of girls and women.

red light 2 stars

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Jem and the Holograms (2015)
US/Can release: Oct 23 2015
UK/Ire release: Feb 12 2016

MPAA: rated PG for thematic material including reckless behavior, brief suggestive content and some language
BBFC: rated PG (infrequent mild bad language)

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • the original show is awesome; this film is certainly a disappointment

  • Dally

    Hmm.. I suspected you’d like this film a lot more than you did. Despite its cliches (what movies nowadays aren’t) it still has a fair amount of redeeming qualities, there should be more films like this and Pitch Perfect in my opinion.

  • Bluejay

    I didn’t follow the cartoon, but apparently in that show Jem OWNED her record label… AND was a philanthropist who ran a foster home for girls. I know films shouldn’t be judged against their source material, but it sure looks like the filmmakers ditched a lot of elements that gave Jem significant agency and would have made an even more powerful feminist statement.


  • Candice

    Yup, and the fact that they are wholesome girls with drive and individual character traits that define them — rather than a bunch of sluts sleeping with men in the industry to advance their positions.

  • Danielm80

    Wow, you’ve managed to create a version of feminism that’s completely intertwined with slut-shaming. It’s oddly beautiful, like watching someone make a Moebius strip.

  • Octavia

    If it is passing itself off as part of an already established franchise, it absolutely should be judged by how close it resembles the source material.

    In this case, Chu’s Jem has almost zero resemblance, other then the title and some character names, to the 80’s Jem.

    It probably would have been much better received if he had just stuck to calling it ‘Famous’, rather then trying to pass it off a Jem and the Holograms.

  • What are the redeeming qualities?

  • Wow.

  • Dally

    Neither the plot, nor script are particularly compelling or fresh, but man, a film this good at representing women, and the tough choices women make, (and consequences women face making the choices) is depicted fairly enough to warrant a (slight) recommendation, it’s progressive, sweet, and earnest. Also, it’s a film primarily about music, and I appreciated the fabulous set-designs of the concert scenes despite the film’s incredibly low budget,

  • I can’t get behind that idea. A good story is always going to be the primary requirement of a movie. We shouldn’t have to hold our noses and give shitty movies a pass because they represent women well. I’ve said the same thing about movies with black casts: audiences shouldn’t be so desperate to see faces like their own onscreen that they have to throw out all other considerations in order to enjoy a film. We all deserve well-told stories.

  • Bluejay

    It’s worth noting that MaryAnn acknowledges the film DOES represent women well, here:


    Whether a film represents women well, and whether a film is actually good art, are two important but separate issues.

  • RamonMendozaGA

    You nailed my biggest problem with this new film (which I haven’t seen). I am a big fan of the ’80s cartoon. But in it, Jerrica Benton was a determined if unsure young woman who put it all on the line in order to keep a roof over the heads of her foster girls at Starlite House. Becoming Jem was a necessary by-product of that larger goal.

    Now Jem is just an insecure teen who becomes YouTube famous? And one of the most compelling aspects of the original material — that Jem was a holographically created entity — is nowhere to be found? Why even give it the same name?

    I understand the irony that I find a girl in a wig more implausible than a hologram-projecting supercomputer, but one of those makes for a far more compelling story.

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