Mark Reviews Movies

Jem and the Holograms


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Jon M. Chu

Cast: Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott, Aurora Perrineau, Hayley Kiyoko, Ryan Guzman, Juliette Lewis, Molly Ringwald, Nathan Moore, Barnaby Carpenter

MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic material including reckless behavior, brief suggestive content and some language)

Running Time: 1:58

Release Date: 10/23/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 22, 2015

An editor for Rolling Stone wants to put the band on the magazine's cover. She asks the band's manager what their name is. "How about Jem and the Holograms," he suggests. There's no reason for the name in the context of the movie, save for the fact that the cute little robot that the lead singer's dead father built for her has projected a single hologram a few scenes beforehand. Hey, though, it's the name of the band in the 1980s cartoon series upon which Jem and the Holograms is based. When we're already talking about a hologram-projecting robot, who needs any of this to make any sense?

Yes, questioning the origin of the band's name is nitpicking, but this is a movie that cries out for us to pick those nits. It offers little but nostalgia for the fans of that television show (This critic, who is unfamiliar with the source material, assumes, based on a very enthusiastic group of people who sat behind me at the screening). We get the little robot, countless platitudes about believing in oneself, a heist sequence, a scavenger hunt across Los Angeles, a hastily portrayed rise-and-fall-and-reunion plot, random cuts to viral Internet videos in the middle of scenes, a semi-love story, and an uncritical presentation of fame as the only thing that serves as a genuine measure of self-worth.

Also, there's a little bit of music. There's a lot more of the other stuff.

The story focuses on Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples), who lives with her aunt (Molly Ringwald), her sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott), and her aunt's foster daughters Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and Aja (Hayley Kiyoko). The aunt has come across difficult financial strains, and they're about to be evicted from their house in less than a month.

Jerrica is shy and skeptical of a public life online, but her sisters and aunt persuade her to show off her singing and lyric-writing skills in a video. After recording her song under the pseudonym "Jem," she's about to delete it, but Kimber puts it online. It becomes an overnight sensation, leading her and her sisters to sign with a record label run by the unapologetically honest Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis). Her son Rio (Ryan Guzman), who wants the label to return to its roots of artistic integrity, becomes the band's manager.

An important point here is that we don't see the band perform until about the midway point of the movie. In the meantime, there are a few montages of them being dressed up and getting their glam makeup perfected by the record label. That montage offers exactly three shots of any kind of, you know, actual preparation to sing and perform live in front of an audience. Music really isn't this movie's top priority, and as further evidence, before the band even performs three-quarters of a song in front of a crowd, the screenplay by Ryan Landels has already given us the subplot about the robot, which leads the sisters on a hunt to find some kind of message from Jerrica and Kimber's father to the former (Sorry, Kimber, but only Jerrica gets a posthumous pep talk from dad).

To be fair, there's a sequence of the sisters performing a song on the back patio (along with an a cappella performance under a pier), although to be honest, it appears as if they're only lip-syncing a song and pretending to play their instruments. Here's the maddening thing: When the band finally does get up to perform, it is as feeble as that patio scene.

Apparently aware that music means very little to this story about finding oneself through music, director Jon M. Chu doesn't even bother to convince us that these characters are singing or can play any instrument. Peeples has pipes, and she offers some real heart to generic pop songs that don't deserve them.

With the screenplay packing in so many disparate elements, everything is rushed (When Jerrica and the sisters reunite after a break-up, they treat the passing of a couple of hours as if it has been a lifetime of reflection and regret). With a lot of mental stretching, one could say this is a commentary on the Internet Age, in which instant fame can lead almost immediately into obscurity, but it's really the result of a movie that has no idea what it wants to be.

It's not even genuine in its belief in being oneself. Even after the band escapes the clutches of marketing hype and manufactured looks, they're still a phony product—glitz and '80s glamor and terrible lip-and-instrument-syncing and false identities. They're famous, though. That, Jem and the Holograms suggests, is the only thing that matters.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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