Jem and the Holograms

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<i>Jem and the Holograms</i>

Jem and the Holograms is a movie about a robot ghost giving a too-long soliloquy about family and dreams and gifts, hollow grams of sentiment barely disguising the fact that he is plainly just saying the theme of the movie. Unnecessarily, because the theme of the movie has already been said aloud 20,000 times by the point Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples) finds this message from her dead dad, said those 20,000 times either by Jerrica herself, the movie’s other characters, or by random people in inserted webcam confessionals that stretch the length of Jem and the Holograms to two hours.

You will be shocked by that length, I promise you, because Jem and the Holograms is a feature-length deliberation on whiplash. It’s a tone-poem about unearned character beats. Jem and the Holograms are four sisters—Jerrica, Kimber (Stefanie Scott), Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau)—who form a band who become famous on day one, sign with a label on day two, have their first show on day three, break up before their second show on day four, and get back together before their final show on day five. In that week (or “month,” the movie asserts, as if that timeframe makes any more sense) they somehow perfect and record four songs—none of which sound like they come from the same band—and every single one of their billions of diehard fans already knows them by heart.

Jem and the Holograms is also a feature-length love letter to YouTube. It loves YouTube so much it should probably marry it. It writes YouTube over and over on the back cover of its notebook and is sad that the word “YouTube” has no “i” to dot with a “?.” There are several scenes, like when Jerrica and music exec Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis) negotiate Jem’s contract over YouTube’s instant messaging—which is how that works, by the way; lawyers are for squares—that are overlaid with actual, real world YouTube videos. In this scene, it’s two guys having a drum solo battle. Because drum solos are like negotiations, I guess.

Or maybe Jem and the Holograms is a movie about how Jerrica Benton interprets and expresses emotion in the form of YouTube videos. Mostly videos about percussion of some sort, because that works better for editing, but also the heart beats how the heart beats, and who are we to think it’s weird that Jerrica Benton’s heart beats like school kids practicing step routines? I recorded myself tapping my fingers impatiently during this movie; I’m going to upload it tonight. I can’t wait until that’s the video that plays in the sequel when Jerrica is impatiently waiting for her Hot Pocket to come out of the microwave or something.

Scratch that, because Jem and the Holograms is clearly a paid message from the Hair Colorists Lobby. People in the movie make a big deal about Jem having pink hair. Real people and real actors in YouTube videos talk about how Jem made it okay for them to dye their hair bright colors. Just in case you missed the message: It’s OK to have pink hair, guys. I saw that once in a YouTube video that was randomly inserted next to another YouTube video that featured a young gay teen talking about being bullied at school; both videos were featured in a movie about how “Jem” is actually all of us. I was so inspired that I uploaded my own YouTube video about how hamfisted comparisons are totally cool if the point is that your fictional lead character has become so inspiring in the five days she’s been famous that all bigotry in the world has been erased.

By the way, Jem and the Holograms is also a movie about how YouTube is a sad place where lonely people make vlogs about how lonely they are until Jem showed up and sang a song with the lyrics “we can be alone together” in it. She’s like cultural Prozac. Which is not a joke, mind, so much as a thing the movie is literally trying to say. FYI, Jem and the Holograms is also a movie about teenage outcasts wearing expensive and unattainable clothing even before they sign a record deal that allows them to buy even more expensive and unattainable clothing, because I think that’s the reward of being true to yourself and using your gifts, just like Robot Ghost Dad said. He said it with a tear in his eye, so it must be really, really true.

Jem and the Holograms is a movie about a band that could not give a shit about the actual mechanics of being in a band. Kimber, Aja and Shana do sort of have their cartoon-canon talents shoehorned in. Well, fashion designer Shana does. Kimber seems more like Video, though I guess the movie also says she writes songs, and Aja still doesn’t really have a clearly defined role. Either way, these talents don’t really matter in the context of the plot, by which I mean at no point does the fact that Shana is a fashion designer matter. So maybe Jem and the Holograms is an avant-garde treatment of Chekov’s gun? Like, it introduces a bunch of guns that never go off. Also, Jem and the Holograms is a movie about people holding instruments while music plays around them.

Jem and the Holograms is a movie about sisterhood, which is cool, and to be honest it nails a kind of easy, natural interaction between its four characters, which is one saving grace, because the movie looks pretty cheap. So of course later on Erica extorts Jerrica into signing a solo contract—for no reason that is clear, mind; this is right after the band’s first ever performance, and even Erica says they nailed it—and Jerrica’s sisters are hurt and mad but then the band gets back together the very next night because Jem and the Holograms is a movie about being who you want to be. I think. Robot Ghost Dad also says it is about never fearing the unknown—and also never fearing silly looking robots who have holograms, but not like actual holograms that are cool.

Jem and the Holograms is a movie that exists entirely because the super-fiiine-looking Ryan Guzman lost a bet and had to try to naturalistically say “glamour and glitter, fashion and fame” in the midst of an otherwise pretty great scene where Jerrica and Rio (Guzman) riff on the in-joke that 1985 Rio was dating Jerrica and Jem in the cartoon and Jerrica often got jealous of herself. Spoiler: he doesn’t succeed at the naturalistic part. It’s okay though because he had his shirt off right before this, so Jerrica and I both forgave him.

Jem and the Holograms is, at least whenever Erica is onscreen, one of the better shade-throwing sessions I’ve ever witnessed. The problem is that Erica Raymond is tonally different than everything else in the film, which is exacerbated by the fact that the funniest, most fun character is also the villain. The other problem is that Jem and the Holograms is a movie that really, truly, truly, outrageously hopes you’ve seen other movies about bands so that you can fill in the blanks on why Erica is a villain—and also everything else—because it’s too busy with clothing montages to do that work. It’s also a movie that hopes you don’t mind that when new Starlight CEO Rio ousts his mother from the company it doesn’t really make sense. But seriously, audience, it does have a climax to get to where Jem and the Holograms unite lonely outcasts across the world through the power of song, so could you please stop nitpicking the fact that this movie doesn’t actually have a plot? And also doesn’t have shit all for Molly Ringwald to do?

Jem and the Holograms is, thankfully, not a movie that ends with Jerrica taking off her wig and makeup, which I was deathly afraid it would be. At the same time, it is a film where Jerrica tells us we—and by “we” I mean social outcasts, I guess—are all Jem. Which I guess means we are all musically talented superstars who happen to be dating the CEO of a major record label. Which is nice, I guess, but why is 2015 Jem less powerful than 1985 Jem? Like, I’d still rather be 1985 Jem; she was a star, but she was also CEO.

Director: Jon M. Chu
Writer: Ryan Landeis
Starring: Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott, Hayley Kiyoko, Aurora Perrineau, Juliette Lewis, Ryan Guzman, Molly Ringwald
Release Date: October 23, 2015

Mark Abraham sometimes teaches history in Toronto, is sometimes an Editor at Cokemachineglow, was at one time the co-founder of The Damper, and is always a Bedazzler aficionado. You can follow him on Twitter.