Family and fame square off in Jem and the Holograms

by Bob Brown
Posted 10/27/15, 10:05 am

If Jem and the Holograms were sealed in its canister and buried in a time capsule, it would present an interesting plum for future anthropologists. Scientists digging up dirt on the past certainly would wonder what late 20th century disaster caused widespread fatherlessness and broken families. Why did dads go the way of the dinosaur?

Jem (Aubrey Peeples), 18, lives with her younger sister, Kimber (Stefanie Scott), unmarried aunt (Molly Ringwald), and her aunt’s two foster daughters. Jem barely remembers her father, who died 10 years earlier. Even Rio (Ryan Guzman), the antagonist-turned-love interest, knows of his deceased father only through a will.

But Jem does maintain a connection to her late father, who was an inventor. She keeps a 2-foot-tall robot he built for her. Non-functional for a decade, Synergy suddenly powers up. The robot wheels around and reacts to its environment with human-like consciousness. (Although consistent with the 1980s animated television show on which the film is based, this hokey plot device cheapens an otherwise realistic drama.)

Synergy accompanies the four girls on a search through Los Angeles for pieces of hardware Jem’s father hid under park benches and in other locations. When Jem plugs the hardware into Synergy, the robot projects holographic messages—not pleas for help from Leia to Obi-Wan, but esteem-building communiqués from Jem’s father.

The shy Jem needs the encouragement to follow her dreams when a surreptitiously recorded video of her singing and playing guitar goes viral. Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis), a recording company CEO, sees the video and brings Jem and her sisters in for musical rehearsals, fashion upgrades, and a three-stop concert tour. The four young actresses actually sing many of the film’s songs, but unfortunately, they spend a fair bit of time parading around in fleshy outfits. Jem faces a dilemma when Erica wants to sign her but dismiss her sisters.

It would be easy to bash Jem (rated PG for reckless behavior, not-so-brief suggestive content, and some language) for its constant, feel-good messaging: “Be the best version of yourself that you can be,” etc. A compassionate father, however, might take a different approach. He understands many of today’s young women are in deep trouble, navigating a landscape cratered by the sexual revolution meteor. He would gently warn his daughters this movie inflames envy for things that don’t last—pretty clothes and empty adulation. But he would also applaud the director’s attempt, however flawed, to make family the new Hollywood ending.

Bob Brown

Bob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course.

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