Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Jem and the Holograms": I Can't Quite Hate It

In Theaters on October 23, 2015

Just to be as upfront as possible, I was never a fan of the classic Jem cartoon.  It was before my time and not really my style.  Yet I don’t find it at all surprising the Universal and Hasbro have teamed up to try and revitalize the franchise in cinematic form, essentially aiming to become the Pitch Perfect for the under-14 crowd.  So, how does Jem and the Holograms measure up?  Well… I didn’t hate it…

Jerrica Benton is a teenager who lives with her aunt, her sister Kimber, and her foster sisters Aja and Shana.  She is camera shy and generally doesn’t enjoy the spotlight.  In a spontaneous need for an outlet, Jerrica records a video of herself singing in low-light and makeup under the pseudonym Jem, which Kimber then uploads to the internet without her knowledge.  This causes the world to take notice, giving her internet celebrity status overnight.  Record executive Erica Raymond swoops in and vies to make Jem into a star.  With her sisters by her side, Jerrica must overcome her reluctance to be in the spotlight and share her talents, all while balancing pressures to go solo and a quest from her late father to complete a robot.

That last sentence should raise an eyebrow, because it is precisely demonstrative of exactly how much of a mess this film’s screenplay is.  One minute it is a decided coming-of-age story, yet another it is a story of mega-stardom leading to betrayal, and yet another it is a mild sci-fi mystery adventure.  I understand that the original cartoon could at times be all these things, but the movie is never all of these things at once, but rather trades its hat whenever it runs out of narrative drive.  This not only leads to strange tonal transitions, but it also makes for some of the most contrived narrative pacing I have ever seen.  Events happen purely because the script says so, not because of any logical consequence of character actions or plot revelations.  It’s lazy and unnecessarily forced.

And yet, despite all that, I didn’t hate this movie.  I think this is mostly due to the fact that the production clearly seems heartfelt, even if its execution is laughably faulty at times.  Director Jon Chu reportedly received a smaller budget in consideration for his ability to retain greater creative control, which despite making the film look pretty darn cheap, adds a lot of personality that I don’t think otherwise would have been there.  A good example is the use of YouTube artists as the background score for various scenes, which, while slightly overused, is an interesting idea and acts as a pretty neat callback to Jerrica’s in-narrative roots.  And Aubrey Peeples as Jerrica/Jem is actually worthy of emotional investment; despite how asinine the material she has to work with is, Peeples clearly has the potential to be a leading lady in bigger and better films.

Kids will probably like Jem and the Holograms.  It’s emotionally relatable and slightly silly, and the generic pop that peppers the film’s musical scenes isn’t terrible, just mildly forgettable.  But for the adults watching along, it’s probably going to be a bit of a snore-fest.  Unless you are willing to make your own fun and mock just how ridiculous the film can be in its attempts at drama, this is a movie that does little to amuse a more sophisticated audience.  But despite all that, I can’t bring myself to hate this movie.  The few things it does right make it at least bearable.

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