‘Jem and the Holograms’: Film Review: Bad for Dads, Perfect for Tween Daughters

October 27, 2015 Updated: November 2, 2015

Living near Manhattan’s Times Square for 20 years will tend to jack one’s cynicism. However, as a counterbalance, what one often encounters in Times Square are middle-schoolers, on class trips.

One forgets tweens have things like choir practice. They often like to unabashedly break out into song. They think this is normal. Three-part harmony. Boys too. It’s very cute. It’s nice to be reminded that sometimes childhood is just childhood, and not all children are jaded.

So probably ages up to 15 will enjoy “Jem and the Holograms,” but the older tweens and teens will make a show of not liking it. My guess is, if you take a bevy of early tweens (8 and 9 year-old girls) they’ll be over the moon. Popcorn and giggling and squealing. Go dad go.

Meet the Band

Based on a popular 1980’s cartoon, this is a tween chick-flick about girls-in-a-band, like “The Runaways,” “Josie and the Pussycats,” and many others.

By the time Jerrica wakes up next morning, Jem’s gone viral-Elvis.

“Nashville” (TV) actress Aubrey Peeples plays Jerrica Benton (singer/songwriter). She and sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott, keyboards) are orphans, taken in by their Aunt Bailey (1980s teen-film queen, Molly Ringwald).

(L–R) Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples) says goodbye to Aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald) in "Jem and the Holograms". (Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures/© 2015 Universal Studios)
(L–R) Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples) says goodbye to Aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald) in “Jem and the Holograms”. (Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures/© 2015 Universal Studios)

Aunt Bailey is also foster parent to two “ethnically ambiguous” girls, Shana (Aurora Perrineau, drums-bass), and Aja (Hayley Kiyoki, lead guitar).

Hayley Kiyoko as Aja in "Jem and the Holograms". (Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures/© 2015 Universal Studios)
Hayley Kiyoko as Aja in “Jem and the Holograms”. (Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures/© 2015 Universal Studios)

She Writes the Songs

Well, that Jerrica (Peeples is reminiscent of an early-career Lindsay Lohan) she’s got talent, and everyone knows it but her. One night, while fiddling around with a white wig, pink make-up, scribbled lyrics, and a guitar—a selfie-demo happens. Jerrica tells her cyber-audience her name is “Jem” (as in, “diamond-in-the-rough).

Tech-savvy little sis Kimber, eavesdropping, approves, later snags and uploads that video, and by the time Jerrica wakes up next morning, Jem’s gone viral-Elvis.

Stefanie Scott as Kimber in "Jem and the Holograms". (Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures/© 2015 Universal Studios)
Stefanie Scott as Kimber in “Jem and the Holograms”. (Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures/© 2015 Universal Studios)

“The mystery! We must meet her!” Her lyrics speak to suicidal teens everywhere. There are many YouTube confessionals along the lines of, “I wanted to kill myself and then I heard your song.” Little girls might find this very nice.

But Erica wants Jerrica to sign solo and ditch her sisters! The nerve!

Warp Speed Synopsis

The sisters form a band and get discovered by famous record company mogul Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis) and sign with Starlight Music! Erica’s appropriately megalomaniacal and a little bit scary and ruthless, and a little bit stupid, and slightly over the top.

The band jumps in the Bentley, move to a McMansion in L.A., and are chaperoned by Rio (Ryan Guzman, “The Boy Next Door”) who functions somewhat like Paul Rudd’s character in “Clueless.”

Ryan Guzman as Rio in "Jem and the Holograms". (Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures/© 2015 Universal Studios)
Ryan Guzman as Rio in “Jem and the Holograms”. (Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures/© 2015 Universal Studios)

But when you’ve got four teen girls, there’s gonna be sneaking out at night! But before we talk about that, we gotta talk about …

Daddy and the Puppy-bot

Now, Jerrica’s dad was an inventor-man. He made her all kinds of fun stuff before he died, including a tiny bot named Synergy that looks like a cross between a puppy and Wall-E’s girlfriend, EVE.

Jerrica’s had the bot for years, but when they steal the car keys and go joy-riding, some signal or other triggers Synergy to start projecting images that… wait for it… are clues to a giant scavenger hunt! Clues to life! Yay! Clapping and bouncing!

Divide and Conquer

But Erica wants Jerrica to sign solo and ditch her sisters! The nerve! Jerrica/Jem’ll not do it. But it could save their dastardly housing foreclosure situation! So she goes for it! But then her sisters ditch her! Oh no! There will be sniffling, you’ll need to hand out tissues.

(L–R) Jem (Aubrey Peeples) gets advice from Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis) in "Jem and the Holograms". (Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures/© 2015 Universal Studios)
(L–R) Jem (Aubrey Peeples) gets advice from Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis) in “Jem and the Holograms”. (Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures/© 2015 Universal Studios)

Will the sisters reunite in happy harmony? Will it suddenly turn into a heist flick where Rio and the girls break into Starlight Music’s offices and crack the safe to swipe the papers to nix the contract that stood in the house that Erica built?

Hmm… that stealing bit is ethically questionable. So are Guzman’s ripped-abs when he towels off after a shower. That’s because he’s kind of like the girls guardian, but all of a sudden there’re these abs, and later he’s kissing Jerrica. Which makes Jerrica’s character seem to morph up 5 years in the span of 3 months.  

Still, it’s fairly harmless, considering kids can ogle triple-x pornography, on smart-phones, in the girl’s bathroom, in 5th grade, if there’s enough peer pressure—and nowadays, there usually is.

What’s the Message, Really?

It’s quite simple. It’s about honoring your talent, speaking your truth, trusting yourself, being true to friends and family, and if you do all that, your work will inspire others to not slit their wrists or jump off overpasses.

One eyebrow-raising message is that dad (who is somehow disturbingly like Tom Hanks) only paid attention to one daughter. Like, completely. He only left nice things behind for Jerrica.

But maybe that’s a good thing. Psychologists now tell us favorites are a fact of parenthood, and not all kids are equal in the eyes of parents, as harsh as that might seem. Kids need to know this. Thinking they should all get equal shares sets them up to espouse communism.

(L–R)  Aja (Hayley Kiyoko), Jem (Aubrey Peeples) and Kimber (Stefanie Scott) in "Jem and the Holograms". As a small-town girl catapults from underground video sensation to global superstar, she and her three sisters begin a one-in-a-million journey of discovering that some talents are too special to keep hidden. (Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures/© 2015 Universal Studios)
(L–R) Aja (Hayley Kiyoko), Jem (Aubrey Peeples) and Kimber (Stefanie Scott) in “Jem and the Holograms”. As a small-town girl catapults from underground video sensation to global superstar, she and her three sisters begin a one-in-a-million journey of discovering that some talents are too special to keep hidden. (Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures/© 2015 Universal Studios)

The only egregiously saccharine thing is the aforementioned breaking out into happy Mariah Carrey-stylings influenced, song. It can happen at any time (it’s a musical). Not being a musicals-kinda-guy (I like UFC) I still refuse to say this is a bad movie. This might be a really, really bad movie for dads. But your pre-tween girls might think it’s the best thing they’ve seen in, like, their whole lives.

‘Jem and the Holograms’
Director: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott, Aurora Perrineau, Hayley Kiyoko, Molly Ringwald, Juliette Lewis, Ryan Guzman
Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes
Release date: October 23
Rated PG
3 tween stars out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch