Review: Jem and the Holograms (the Movie)

So this is full of spoilers. But…after seeing some of the nasty reviews I have to wonder if some of the reviewers saw the same movie that I did.

First, I am a huge, huge, huge Jem and the Holograms fan. As a kid it was one of the few female-led shows that was on television. And? The Jem crew solved their problems without violence or guns. They worked things out. But they never shied away from a challenge either. They were fearless, they were fun.

They were also preachy and always, always, saccharine nice, because it was the 80s. If I had to watch a heroine like that today I think I’d have fallen asleep.

But in every way, the new movie actually adhered to the spirit of the show I loved as a child, and in fact, having watched both of them very recently, did a great job of updating itself until I loved the movie  more than the show.

Note, I’m not the only one who feels this way. So does the original voice actor who played Jem in the first place.

In particular, I read one Forbes review which made me wonder if the reviewer had even seen the same movie as I did. And I actually want to refute that one point by point.

“The film took a source material that is over-the-top colorful and over-the-top exciting, filled with larger-than-life characters and musically-charged action sequences where Jem and her friends had to both be kick-ass rock stars and kick-ass crime fighters at the same time, and made a toned-down, muted, and overly patronizing “young girl gets in over her head due to fame and artistic success and forgets what matters” fable that basically penalized its young heroes for wanting and achieving success and power.”

That is so patently not what happened.

Jem is not penalized for wanting and achieving success and power–at all. She fails to communicate with her family because she is trying to take care of them, but in fact, the end of the movie is the very beginning of her career, and the Hologram’s careers. She does not forget what  matters even once. She is pressured into signing a bad deal in the hopes that she’ll save her home and her family. She makes that move with complete and total agency.

The reviewer also used the phrase “a bunch of attractive young women singing their hearts out and fighting off business rivals and outright criminals” to describe the original show. Wellll…guess what Jem does? She goes and fights off a business rival. In her quest to solve her father’s riddle she and the Holograms work with Rio to break into the safe at Starlight Music. In so doing, she discovers the will of Rio’s father, which gives him control of the company–and gives her the out she needs to be true to herself, her music, her family AND the success she actually wants. It was in fact a classic Jem moment.

In fact, if Scott Mendelson, the reviewer in the Forbes article had taken a look at the source material he would find that the plot of the movie actually followed the plot of the first few episodes of season 1 very closely. In the original cartoon Jerrica is running a home for foster kids along with Kimber, Aja, and Shana. It’s going broke. She needs cash. And she’s lost control of her company to Eric Raymond. (The movie’s villain, Erica Raymond, basically acts exactly like Eric did–which made her a great villain).

Fortunately, they find Synergy, launch Jem and the Holograms, play a concert and save the day. A few seasons later the band briefly breaks up because Jem is getting all of the attention and being treated like a solo act–and Jem is letting herself be treated like a solo act. She has to get out there and fix it. I was able to sit through the film going: “Yep, that happened, that happened, that happened…”

They could have kept Jem as a grown up with a foster kid house of course, but honestly? I could not take Jem seriously as a grown up today. In the 80s? Sure. The way Jem acted and dressed in the 80s was age appropriate. Big hair, colored hair, sparkly clothes…tons of rock stars were doing that. Today, mostly Lady Gaga does it. In fact, in the “Can’t Go Back to the Way it Was” sequence my daughter remarked Jem suddenly did look like Lady Gaga.

“But the proverbial powers-that-be saw this source material, itself as action packed and as exciting as She-Ra or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and chose to make a story where a young girl could only embrace her own talent and power after getting approval from her dead dad and her older male love interest.”

Um…no.

First, she was going to do what she was going to do. Rio was skeptical at first. Jem calls him on his bullshit with gentle good humor and continues to pursue her success with or without her. When he says, outright, that he’s sick of his mother pulling out no-talent hacks she and the band deliver a performance to knock his socks off. He admits he’s wrong. But boyfriend approval? Not at all. She does go to him for advice. That’s. Um. What you do when you have a significant other. They listen. He built her up. That was it.

Daddy approval? A father’s inspiration and love isn’t “oh, you can’t do anything without male approval.” It was a final message from a dying father–which is exactly what Synergy was in the original cartoon, by the way.

There’s only one thing I can agree with this reviewer on: it did not get the marketing, the budget, and the attention it deserved. In fact, I saw negative reviews and bitches about the fact that social  media, online presence, and identity issues would be a part of the film before the film was made–odd, to me, since the original was also about identity issues. Jerrica regularly got jealous of Jem. Jerrica in fact enlists Synergy’s help in a later episode to create a third identity named Jessica. When Rio is interested in Jessica too she realizes that he sees her heart and loves her for who she is. So sure, if you’re going to sabotage a film before it even comes out, yeah, it’s going to have a hard time succeeding.

Critics seem vested in saying how lame this whole girl thing was, as if anything with teen girls in it must by its very nature be lame. Eww! Teens! Instagram! Boyfriends! Ewww! Acting this way is in itself misogynist.

It’s like Hollywood is setting it up to fail so they don’t have to worry so much about female-led movies…”Oh, well, see, Jem didn’t do well so…”

Give me a break. This movie passed the Bechdel test in every way, followed the original plot in a way that was updated and believable for the 21st century, had the classic Jem music sequence insert, nicely inserted real life YouTubers in a way that really worked for me, and had my daughter and I dancing in the aisles. It played like a YA film…which was, in fact, what it was.

If you’re a Jem fan, I suggest you go see the film yourself, and make your own decision. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

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