jem

[photo: Universal Pictures]

Jem and the Holograms both truly and outrageously hits and misses in its intended purpose of resurrecting the animated, pink-haired pop princess. The potential to be an extremely awful adaptation of the nostalgia-packed ‘80s cartoon Jem is ever-present, but the film has palatable elements that redeem it.

Director Jon M. Chu infuses a millennial strain into this beloved, kitschy classic that offers a docu-drama approach to the Jem origin story. While the film starts out strong, with interesting characters and the infusion of ’80s teen queen Molly Ringwald as the mother figure to Jem and her surrogate sisters, it quickly falls flat when shifting to Jem’s rise to fame.

Star cameos abound and Juliette Lewis, as the villainous Erica Benton, head of Starlight Music, adds some marginal weight and conflict. Still, it’s not enough to pull this film out of tragically mirroring the 2001 Josie and the Pussycats adaptation.

The story quickly becomes banal with a hint of MTV’s Behind the Music and too much improbable cliché for a film so obsessed with infusing a reality-based, multi-media component.

Between the YouTube videos of real-life Jem fans, various uploads of drum battles, and parking lot step showcases, Jem and the Holograms becomes fodder for family television. No conflict is too complex, or insurmountable, and everyone has a sixth sense for showing up where a character has randomly gone to be alone. It’s a movie where the villains are as predictable as the storyline and in the end, good must triumph and evil is exiled or at least humiliated into submission, because that’s how things are written to sell.

While some may resent the absence of the magical element of Synergy, a giant synthesizer in the original cartoon who transforms Jem and the Holograms into rock stars, it wouldn’t have been so annoying if the screen version of Synergy served a greater purpose. Synergy is now a tiny toy robot built by Jem’s deceased father to send her on scavenger hunts for missing elements of the machine, which then imparts sappy messages from beyond the grave.

Audrey Peeples, who plays Jerrica Benton, the viral sensation and face behind the mysterious Jem, is reminiscent of a less angst-y Kristen Stewart. She has the vocal prowess that gives legitimacy to the character and her soulful singing and musical talent is part of what holds interest and water in a script that quickly reveals its shortcomings. Stefanie Scott as Kimber, the Internet-obsessed little sister of Jerrica, embodies perfectly the annoying and nosy, yet caring to a fault, younger sibling role. Scott, along with Jem’s motley band of familial comrades, have genuine vocal talent that shine beyond the mediocre plot.

Though this version of Jem struggles with her fame, it would be short-sighted to consider her feeble or meek. She stands up for her family, takes charge on stage and is headstrong, while still having a sense of humility, which is endearing. On the other hand, the exaggerated tornado of business acumen and steamrolling tactics of Erica Raymond (Juliet Lewis) may define powerful women for some, but it is in fact a corruption of power born out of deep insecurity. Still, Lewis’s iniquitous role is one of the only instances of engaging conflict throughout the film. Jem’s persistent inner conflict with her fame, talent and family crisis takes a monotonous back seat.

The nostalgia crowd may not favor the Jem reboot, but this could easily become a beloved hit for tween audiences. It’s a film that’s easy to digest, has palatable music, pretty, fun, young characters and speaks to the pre-teen crowd on a social media infused level they have grown up in and are all too familiar with.