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Family Movie Review: Jem and the Holograms (PG)

JemAndTheHolograms ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG        Length: 118 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 10+. This adaptation of the same-named cartoon focuses on older teenagers forming a group together and becoming singing sensations; main characters have fathers who died that they bond over, there is some language and an insensitive joke about homeless people, implied romantic tension between two characters, and a few kisses. What is problematic about that, though, is that the age of one character is never specified but is around high school and certainly younger than 18, and the other is described as “college,” so there could be a large age gap there that makes the relationship questionable.

‘Jem and the Holograms’ tries to be an inspirational, all-inclusive message about being yourself, but its stereotypical platitudes are exactly the kind of empty advice that means absolutely nothing. The film feels false from beginning to end.

By Roxana Hadadi

Don’t worry too much: “Jem and the Holograms” does lip service to its 1980s cartoon source content. There are magical earrings, impressive wigs, and a robot named Synergy. But how all the pieces of the cartoon are assembled here, into one generic be-yourself message, is totally unremarkable. This update of “Jem and the Holograms” wants to be inspirational to everyone, but it’s all a bunch of barely tolerable bombast and fluff.

The film focuses on Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples), a teenager living with her younger sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott, of “Insidious: Chapter 3”) and foster sisters Aja (Hayley Kiyoko, of “Insidious: Chapter 3”) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald). The girls all love each other and are best friends, but Jerrica is intensively private, a songwriter who doesn’t enjoy goofing around in YouTube videos like the others.

But one night, she records herself singing a ballad about loneliness that Kimber ends up putting on YouTube, and the video by Jerrica’s mysterious alter ego, Jem, goes viral. The next morning, their social media accounts are blowing up, the news is desperate to find out who the girl with the pink wig is, and she already has thousands of fans. Enter Starlight CEO Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis, of “Due Date”), who offers Jerrica a record deal and a three-show series of concerts in Los Angeles. She wants Jerrica as a solo act, but she won’t go without her sisters – and so a band is born.

Leaving their small town and Aunt Bailey behind, the foursome arrive in Los Angeles for an intense three days of practicing and performing, with the Starlight intern Rio (Ryan Guzman, of “Step Up All In”) tasked with watching over them. But the girls have other ideas, like using a robot Jerrica’s dead father built for her, Synergy, to figure out final message he left for her. And yet there’s also the responsibility of Jerrica’s alternate identity, Jem, who keeps gathering fans – and potentially meaning big bucks for Erica.

As she’s pulled in so many directions, what does Jerrica really want? And how do all the various subplots – Jem/Jerrica’s identity, her growing attraction to Rio, Rio’s vision for Starlight, the tension between the four sisters, the Synergy robot – combine into making Jerrica who she is?

What is most frustrating about “Jem and the Holograms” is how much we’re supposed to believe in so little time. The film operates on a “showed it once, that’s enough” mentality, so one scene of the girls singing means they have what it takes to be a group, one video by Jem online means she’s an international celebrity, one cruel interaction with Erica means that she’s a soulless corporate villain, one hangout session with Rio means he’s her true love, one bad business deal means that Jerrica and her sisters are torn apart forever, and so on. The plot moves so unnecessarily quickly that it becomes practically impossible to take anyone’s emotions seriously, or to believe that Jem/Jerrica would mean so much to so many people in the span of three days.

Frustrating, too, is the film’s use of YouTube videos as background content, plus its use of handheld footage and Jerrica’s confessional-style videos. That’s all meant to make the film seem more authentic, raw, and real, but as fan after fan sobs onscreen about how much Jem means to them – a character they’ve only been aware of for 72 hours – it feels overwhelmingly false.

“Jem and the Holograms” demands of its fans not nostalgia, but a firm belief in the idea that you are special, talented, and unique just because you say you are, not because you prove it or work for it. That kind of lazy entitlement is what makes “Jem and the Holograms” not empowering, but pandering, and how it sells its “we are all butterflies” message feels less like a way to embolden people than a way to sell merchandise.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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