Hot Take: IT’S JEM!!!!!! Well, if you subtract the outrageousness, temper the excitement and adventure, subdue the glamour, glitter, fashion and fame. BUT IT’S JEM!!!!!! No one else is the same… well, except everyone on YouTube who ever had a dream of being a viral sensation. TRULY, IT’S JEM! Oh, and forget the female empowerment of the cartoon Jem, too, because this Jem is very unsure of herself and has a ton of angst. Wait, it’s Josie and the Pussycats in Jem’s outfits and the actual holograms replaced by a metaphor?
Over the summer, I saw Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour. I’m a big fan of Swift’s music and really enjoyed her live. However, there were occasional moments targeting the core of Swift’s fandom — teenage girls — with an emphasis on delivering an inspirational, empowering message. My guess is a lot of young Swift fans walked away from the concert feeling a little inspired by Swift’s message while many of the older, more cynical Swift fans and parents of the screaming Swifties may have rolled their eyes.
The live action version of ’80s cartoon Jem and the Holograms is likely to parallel such a reaction. The film with the same name of the ’80s cartoon and some minor similarities feels like it is targeting the same audience as Swift’s core with a blatant disregard for fans of the cartoon of the same name. It’s hard to say whether this will be good or bad at the box office but it’s a somewhat puzzling approach especially considering some of the liberties the movie version of Jem chooses to take.
What’s even more odd is the way Jem mirrors so many different movies while navigating around it’s supposed inspiration. When Jem (Aubrey Peeples) is alter ego Jerrica Benton, she is more Violet Sanford from Coyote Ugly. Her handling of her alter ego is more Hannah Montana. The narration is a G-rated pre-recorded take on Easy A. Synergy has an E.T. feel (if E.T. were a robot). There’s a little Pitch Perfect, a smidge of The Bodyguard, maybe even a little bit of The Princess Diaries if you look really hard… but not so much the cartoon version of Jem. (Oh, and stick around for the post-credits to see what Jem learned from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, too!)
On it’s own, without the comparisons to the cartoon, this is a perfectly adequate film for optimistic teens who still have hopes and dreams. For fans of the cartoon seeking the magic and outrageousness of their youth, it’s a fairly inadequate borderline offensive reboot. And for the cynical, it’s a hot mess.
That being said, I didn’t hate it… just wish it wasn’t called Jem and the Holograms.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Cast Really Seems to Be Enjoying Themselves
The cast of Jem adds to the mood of the film by really having a good time with the material. The good time had by all may be the only thing about the movie that’s truly contagious.
- If You Like Pop Music, You’ll Enjoy the Movie’s Original Songs
For a few hours following the movie, you might find yourself humming the songs even if you don’t know all of the words yet.
- The Movie Has a Grasp On Social Media
Maybe Jem finds itself off the beaten path when trying to capture the magic of the cartoon but there’s a real investment in updating the film with references to social media. It paves the way for the divergence from the cartoon and works for the movie, even if it’ll likely be very dissatisfying for fans of the cartoon.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Stop Assaulting ’80s Children!
Wasn’t Transformers, G.I. Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles enough? At least there’s some gender equality here as usually the vicious onslaught was focused on the little boys of the ’80s. Now, the little girls get to participate, too.
- Remember All of The Female Empowerment of the Cartoon? Yeah, Screw That!
Of all of the things missing from Jen, the one unforgivable aspect is it’s lack of female empowerment. Jem, the cartoon, was powerful, self-assured and self-reliant for the most part. Apparently, director Jon M. Chu thought it would be helpful to make teenage Jem’s love interest a hunky alpha male who was as much a part of Jem’s inspiration and success as anyone else in the film. In Hollywood, there’s always room for misogyny.
- Another Origin Story?
Thanks to the focus on the origin of Jem, some of the most important elements of the cartoon’s drama were missing. At this point, origin tales feel like lazy cop outs. Thanks to the focus, Jem feels more ordinary than outrageous.