In the 24 or so hours since the launch of the brand new global trailer for the upcoming Jem and the Holograms movie, I’ve seen more plays on the phrase “Truly Outrageous” than I can count. It seems like every write-up on the two and a half minute look at a much-anticipated movie has worked in that line synonymous with the Jem franchise. After all, it was repeated over and over again in the show’s original theme song. She was truly, truly, truly outrageous.
With that territory covered, I feel safe in not bothering to be clever right here and instead just putting it all out there: this trailer is crap and the movie is going to be more crap.
Maybe I should give full disclosure on this and at the same time show my age: I grew up on Jem. I was watching Jem as it was premiering new episodes. I had dolls: one of keytar-playing Kimber (my favorite character) and a Glitter and Gold Jem doll with a switch on her back that made her earrings light up. Both came with cassette tapes (ask your parents about these, kids) featuring music from the show. I was Jem obsessed.
I am the first person to roll my eyes when people get hung up on pointless nostalgia. I’ll bluntly say that no matter how awful this Jem and the Holograms movie is, my childhood memories will still exist and still mean as much to me. Nothing can take away what Jem meant to me and taught me.
But I am genuinely hurt and almost feel betrayed by this movie.
The original Jem cartoon series followed the adventures of an all-girl rock band known as Jem and the Holograms who become an almost overnight global sensation. Secretly, Jem is the alter ego of Starlight Records owner and manager Jerrica Benton, who inherited the company from her recently deceased father. She fights to keep control of the company out of the hands of former co-owner Eric Raymond, an unscrupulous businessman who has recently started his own company, Misfits Music. Their main attraction is a manufactured girl band known as The Misfits, known for their angry, anti-authoritarian attitude and music.
Jerrica is able to actually become Jem because of her father’s most brilliant and secret invention: a holographic computer known as Synergy that Jerrica only learns about after her father’s death. Using a pair of star earrings that allow her to access Synergy from anywhere, Jerrica transforms into Jem, usually accompanied by her catchphrase “It’s showtime, Synergy!” She’s also used Synergy’s abilities to create elaborate stage shows for the Holograms and to escape any number of predicaments she finds herself in. However, the full physical transformation and adoption of the Jem persona causes Jerrica to have a series of identity crises, wondering who exactly she really is.
Along with all of this is the “love triangle” between Jerrica, Jem and Rio, Jerrica’s longtime boyfriend. This later becomes more complicated as Jem is pursued romantically by Riot, the lead singer of another major band, the Stingers.
Oh, and there’s the part where Jerrica also inherited Starlight House, a home for foster girls, and is constantly working to ensure that the house is kept open and the girls who live there are kept safe and cared for.
Put all of this together, and you have a rock and roll rivalry drama with science fiction elements and strong stories about sisterhood and looking out for each other.
This movie, on the other hand, is about a group of girls who get famous on YouTube and then fight because they got famous on YouTube.
It’s slightly more complicated than that: there is the Jem persona, but instead of being Jerrica’s own adopted identity it is bestowed on her by an executive at Starlight Records. Rio appears, but not as Jerrica’s boyfriend; instead, he appears to be a Starlight employee introduced to her when they sign. And Jerrica is still questioning the almost Jungian split between herself and Jem and who is the “more real” of the two.
But Synergy, Starlight House, Eric Raymond and, yes, even the Misfits?
I’ve seen a repeated opinion that I share and feel is the perfect summary of the problem here. This isn’t a Jem movie. It is a stereotypical by-the-book teenage band movie with the Jem brand slapped on top of it.
It’s another attempt at making Josie and the Pussycats, which is a shame, because I LIKED Josie and the Pussycats. But just because both series revolve around adventuring all-girl rock bands doesn’t mean they’re the same stories.
It would be somewhat naive for me to be upset at attempts to sell Jem by updating it or changing it. Hey, after all, the series itself was created for the same reasons as G.I. Joe and Transformers: to sell toys. The creator of Jem, Christy Marx, had even worked on both of those shows previously. The issue here isn’t that Hollywood wants to make money from Jem.
It is that Marx herself wasn’t consulted on the movie at all. It was left in the hands of a male writer and director, which isn’t itself a sin but is relatively upsetting. Marx took a marketing scheme and made it mean something to young girls. Hollywood’s taken that marketing scheme and turned it into the most run-of-the-mill cookie cutter film possible.
It also strips a lot of the agency and strength from the character of Jerrica. She’s no longer the head of a major record company who chooses to become a rock star, she’s a teenage girl who must be guided along her career path the whole way: from her sister Kimber going behind her back to reveal her talents to a newly created executive character molding the band’s look and bestowing her with the “Jem” monicker and persona. In the series, Jem was created by Jerrica as an escape: both “girls” were equally a part of the same person and were worn for her own reasons in different situations. In the movie, Jem seems to become an identity forced upon Jerrica, artificially created by committee. Rather than the story of a girl exploring something new and unrealized within her, she’s at the whims of everyone else and even if she discovers the Jem identity inside of her, it’s only because it was given to her, not because she organically built it.
It’s finding yourself while wearing Hot Topic clothes versus buying yourself off a Hot Topic shelf.
Strangely enough, this relates back to the issues with the movie: it feels like an out of touch committee of movie makers trying to give us what they thought was important about Jem based on what’s popular, versus actually doing the hard work of talking to fans to find out what they took away from the series and what it meant to them.
It took me three tries to watch the entire trailer. And I had to pause and walk away in a moment where, as an apparent in-joke throwback to the show, Jem touches her ear and says “It’s showtime, Synergy.”
To every girl who, owned a pair of pink star earrings, real or clip on or stickers, and who at some point reached up to her ear and uttered those words hoping to transform into someone else? Those words mean too much for this kind of truly, truly, truly outrageous bullshit.