Jem and the Holograms is a movie based on a cartoon. It was supposed to open in cinemas two days ago. It didn’t. The reason: Abysmal reviews. But there’s one redeeming thing about it – The movie’s director
It’s a rare occurrence for me to not enjoy a movie. Usually, something makes a movie enjoyable. Sometimes, it’s the part one actor plays. Sometimes, it’s the soundtrack. Sometimes, it’s the great camera work. Or any of the other elements that make up a movie. Fact is, I love the medium film. I love how directors and writers play with imagery, imply things with visual or audio cues and all the things that make movies beautiful. Movies inspire. Movies awe. I love movies.
I don’t love Jem and the Holograms. In fact, this was one of the very few movies I had trouble finishing. During the two hours of this movie, I groaned audibly quite often. And then, I said the words I haven’t said all year or even longer when watching a movie: «I am not having a good time watching this.»
The thing is this, I will now rant about the movie a bit and then I will go into what impressed me about this movie, the one redeeming thing. And it has nothing to do with the movie itself per se.
Jem and the Holograms is based on a cartoon from the 1980s titled simply Jem. It was about a girl named Jerrica Benton who, for reasons lost to time, was a great singer but could not perform under her real name so she got herself a computer named Synergy that cast a hologram over her and so she could perform while foiling many a plan by rival band The Misfits. It was 1980s schlock at its finest.
Needless to say, this sort of thing wouldn’t work with audiences of today, despite the fact that the relatively obscure cartoon series has managed to garner a small cult following. And with the relative success and moderate awesomeness of the G.I. Joe and Transformers movies, studio and toymaker Hasbro decided that they needed something aimed at girls.
The modern Jerrica Benton (Audrey Peeples) is a girl from northern-ish California. She’s terminally shy and keeps her singing talent under close wraps. Her mother is out of the picture, her father is dead, so she and her sister live with their aunt and her two adoptive daughters in a house that faces foreclosure. So when Jem’s sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott) uploads a video of the shy teen’s singing to YouTube she goes immediately viral, is hailed as the world’s greatest inspiration to men, women, animals, trees and plush toys everywhere. Within a few days, Jem has a record deal with Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis), moves into a big mansion and has concerts booked at the hottest venue ever in Los Angeles. But along the way, Jerrica and her sisters must solve the mystery of her late father’s inventions: 51n3rgy or Synergy, a little robot looking thing that will not serve any purpose during the entire movie.
You can pretty much recount the rest of the movie from here: Turns out Erica is evil, but she is also incompetent to the extent where a bunch of upstart teenagers can beat her at her own game. Synergy is there to make Jerrica believe in herself and the power of music and in the end, Jerrica kisses the guy.
Director and producer Jon M. Chu of G.I. Joe – Retaliation and Justin Bieber’s Believe fame had five million dollars to make this film and considering that Hollywood sometimes has days where nobody even moves a finger for that amount of money, it’s impressive to see that there’s still movies made on that budget. This is not the one good thing about the movie. That I will cover in a later paragraph.
Considering the price tag of the film, it’s a somewhat respectable effort. It’s hard to tell this low-budget movie apart from a high-budget film that has made all the wrong choices when speaking about the creative process.
Every few minutes, there are social media videos from sites like tumblr or YouTube are on screen and every now and then, the movie switches to the view the camera that Kimber holds, creating a kind of Found Footage film. Even when the movie is not in KimberVision, the camera keeps shaking ever so slightly. It’s ghastly. It makes no sense and it’s painfully obvious after a while that this appears to be a plot to stretch the movie to its almost unbearable two hours of runtime. That thin plot up there? Two hours!
Every song number by Jem has to be in full length of course. This wouldn’t be so bad either, if it wasn’t the most shallow, unexciting and glib pop songs you’ve ever heard. You know radio music? The few pop songs that the radio plays all day long on heavy rotation? The songs in this movie are even more shallow. They’re too shallow for radio. Just let that sink in for a minute.
Worsening the bad music is the fact that the concert sequences are obviously shot as if the music was something completely different. Something that has teeth. While the music sounds like something you’d hear in a Starbucks for people who are too boring even for Starbucks, the concerts are shot as if they’re an avant-garde Lady Gaga-esque spectacle.
All the wrong creative choices.
The One Good Thing
I’m not the only one not liking this film. Reviews on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes call it silly, nonsensical, sadistically boring and bland. They’re not wrong.
Cinemagoers didn’t like the film either. It was the worst opening weekend ever by a major studio sending a movie to over 2000 screens, making Jem and the Holograms a rare legendary box office bomb. It made just 1.2 million US Dollars during its first days and was removed from cinemas two weeks after it started its theatrical run.
In Switzerland, the movie was set to open on December 24th, 2015, but that will never happen. You might end up finding the movie in the bargain bin or on Netflix. It’s not worth seeing.
Then there’s Jon M. Chu, director and producer of the movie. He has apparently tried to get this film made for ten years and he speaks of it with warmth and love. The day after the movie started its run in October, he was to speak in front of other film makers at the Film Independent Forum. He opens his speech with the following words:
I get fans sending me hate mail, I get death threats, I get racist remarks — it’s a really fun business. Reviewers have been harsh, to say it lightly.
Yet he goes on to say some really impressive things such as
From the bottom of my heart and wounded soul, I am so lucky. We all are. Because we have the best job in the world: we are storytellers
What I find is, that I am the same person I was 36 hours ago. I am the same person that grew up in a family that loved to tell stories. I’m still here. And Jem and the Holograms is the same movie I’m proud of making 36 hours ago. I’m still excited for people to discover it, somehow, some way. Ultimately we are not defined by our results; we are defined by the purpose of our pursuits. It’s about the whole journey—the collection of stories that define what you stand for. We are storytellers, in every sense of the word. We’re here because we love it.
This I respect. Jon M. Chu took it like a champ. Obviously hurt, he managed to hold his head high and gained respect from pretty much everyone listening. He stands by his failure. And that’s awesome.
You can watch the entire speech here. Despite the awful film, it’s worth listening to what the director has to say.