Jem and the Holograms is, to be honest, a ploy to make money and sell Hasbro toys. It’s also a surprisingly sweet and sincere tale of an overnight success (literally) and the problems that arise with fame – and a story of a family at a crisis point.
Jerica (Aubrey Peeples), Kimber (Stephanie Scott), Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) who may bicker but always find their way back to harmony by singing. The crisis is that Bailey – Jerica and Kimber’s aunt and Shana and Aja’s foster mom – is facing enough of a drop-off in business at her shop that the family is about to lose their home. The overnight success comes from a video Jerica (calling herself Jem) makes of a song she wrote and her sister Kimber posts on online – to massive response (interspersed throughout the film are clips of various YouTube stars just to show how such a thing could actually happen).
Enter Starbrite Enterprises, boss and top A&R person, Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis), who sees the video and persuades the girls to come to Los Angeles and do three pop-up shows. She whips them off to LA, gets them makeovers and their first show goes down a treat – which is when she pulls Jerica aside and tells her that Starbrite wants her and not her sisters. Starbrite, she says, owns Jem and if Jerica doesn’t sign a solo contract, she’ll be replaced and her family will lose their home.
The girls’ handler/watchdog, Rio (Ryan Guzman), decides to help them.
Then there’s Synergy – a cute little robot that looks like nothing so much as E.V.E. from Wall-E. She is the last project of Jerica and Kimber’s dad – an inventor named Emmett (Barnaby Carpenter) – and not quite finished. The girls go on a scavenger hunt to find her missing parts (with Rio’s help) – a hunt that plays into revelations that lead to our happy ending.
Hasbro’s motive for getting Jem & the Holograms made might have been more business than anything else, but writer Ryan Landels and director John M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) obviously didn’t get the memo. Together they’ve created a straightforward, unironic feel good film that may be a few minutes too long, but otherwise is an old-fashioned story about learning to be yourself and making your own way.
The music is better than a lot of what passes for pop today, and the cast delivers all the right emotional notes – with special mention of Lewis’ glossily serpentine villainy and Ringwald’s down-to-earth Aunt Bailey.
Okay. There is one other problem – a tag that sets up a sequel that will probably never happen. Outside of that, Jem and the Holograms is utterly without guile and has not a mean bone in its body. It’s smarter than I was expecting, too, though not as subversive as the toon (which featured an all-girl, racially diverse band as the leads, just as a start).
At two hours long, it might have been edited down by ten minutes and been stronger, but it’s still a pretty solid afternoon/evening’s entertainment.
Final Grade: B