There seems to be a critical consensus online about "Jem and the Holograms," the new movie adaptation of the classic '80s cartoon. And having seen the movie, I'm not going to disagree that there's a lot of sketchy plotting going on, or that the "band trying to make it LA" plot doesn't quite gel with the -- not joking about this -- "robot treasure hunt" plot.
But what a lot of advance viewers are ignoring is that "Jem" is heartfelt, earnest and truly, truly a tribute to the fans of the franchise (you thought I was going to say "outrageous," didn't you?).
I'm going to get pretty heavily into spoilers for the movie from here on out, so turn away if you don't want to know.
I'm Not A "Jem" FanHasbro
I wanted to get this out of the way first, because when discussing around the MTV News office I was asked if the movie is all banking on the nostalgia factor. It's definitely there, but I don't have it. I've seen maaaaaybe an episode or two of the show, love the comic currently coming out from IDW, and once spent a lovely 45 minutes on the phone with "Jem" creator Christy Marx.
But that's it. I know the characters' names, the background of the property, and enough to pick up on the many, many references in the movie; but as far as it pulling on my childhood strings? I've got no strings attached to me, and was still emotionally affected by the movie.
Just imagine what it did to the small group of actual "Jem" fans sitting in the back of the screening I was at who were losing their s--t.
Jon M. Chu Knows How To Film ConcertsUniversal
The director of concert films like "Never Say Never," and the underrated web series "The LXD," Chu kills it on the concert scenes. They're loud, brash, and particularly one set in the middle of the movie is purposefully reminiscent of a Lady Gaga concert. All three of the performances that anchor the film have their own visual style -- and the stuff in between (minus some shaky "found footage" scenes) isn't too shabby, either.
It's A Film About The Internet That Understands The InternetUniversal
Too often, films about computer stuff seem like they're made by people who have never actually used a computer. "Jem" is obsessed with social media, and shockingly, actually uses it exactly right... Not just to propel the story of viral sensation Jem forward, but also in key scenes as musical counterpoint to the action happening in the film.
In fact, and this is going to seem like faint praise, but not once did I wince at any of the use of social media in the film. Spoiler: I usually wince at Internet stuff in movies, a lot. "Jem" is a movie made by people who understand Instagram, YouTube, and how things actually go viral. Credit to not just Chu, but also producers Jason Blum and Scooter Braun who MAY know a thing or two about viral content.
It's a Film About Music That Understands MusicUniversal
Remember that thing about how much I wince at Internet stuff in movies? Amplify that by 1000x when it comes to musicians makin' it movies. We're always told how someone is a musical genius, and then they deliver a bunch of bland garbage that feels like it was created on someone's Casio. I'm not going to say the songs in "Jem" are going to change the world (they're no God Gave Rock 'N' Roll to You II), but they are supremely catchy pop songs that are consistent musically, feeling like they came from the same band -- not a million different writers.
"Youngblood," the lead single, in particular, feels like it wouldn't be out of place in the heyday of "Lizzie McGuire"/"Hannah Montana"; and if this movie came out in the '80s or '90s the soundtrack would have rocketed to #1.
There's A F--king Bizarre Plot With A Robot Treasure HuntUniversal
I'm not going to lie and say what the movie does with Synergy makes any sense. It doesn't. In the show -- and comic -- Synergy is the invention of Jerrica's deceased father, able of creating the hard light holograms that transform Jerrica into Jem. In the movie, 5yn3rgy (I think that's how it's spelled) is an adorable little dancing, musical robot with flapping ears that leads Jerrica and her sisters on a treasure hunt around Los Angeles.
No, I don't know why.
But considering every once in a while the movie cuts to a reaction shot of a dancing robot, and you're like, "Oh yeah! There's a dancing robot in this movie, for some reason!" I went from hating the reinvention, to laughing out loud every single time they cut to it.
Let me emphasize: it is so, so deeply weird. Really weird. But it's the kind of weirdness that is only hate-able by the biggest curmudgeon.
Synergy also leads to the second most heartfelt moment in the movie, which I won't ruin -- but suffice to say it's an incredible, emotional scene that is expertly staged and acted. It doesn't necessarily justify the reinvention, but it does make it worth it.
"Jem" Remembers It's All About The FansUniversal
Also remember where I said I wasn't a fan? Yeah, I'm not, exactly -- but I was an emotional mess at the end of the movie, all because OF the fans. Throughout the movie, there's footage of actual "Jem" fans talking about what the show and its legacy means to them. It's played (mostly) so that you can pretend they're talking about the Jem in the world of the movie, but really they're talking about the cartoon.
And it's cute! It adds some realism to what otherwise is a broad, silly, cartoon-y plot between musical numbers. And then there's a moment where the movie comes back to these fans towards the end, and it totally destroyed me.
Really, spoilers here. But Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples) is trying to decide whether she should reveal she's Jem to the world, and before she goes out on stage she checks Instagram. Because again, this movie gets the Internet, and of course you'd check your Insta timeline to see if people were talking about you before a big show. Except instead of fake videos, we get footage of real fans talking about how seeing "Jem" and her secret allowed them to embrace their true selves in their own lives... And it's beautiful.
It's followed up by fan videos of them dancing that are juxtaposed with the the final musical montage, and it turns from a heartbreaking moment to a joyous one. It really, truly is a celebration of "Jem" fans and fandom in general. And it works.
This probably comes down to Chu's experience with concert films, because that's exactly how these final scenes play out -- and the movie is better for it.
Ultimately, "Jem" is a movie about four sisters who start a band, head to L.A., and immediately become a successful band. That's it. There's some mild problems they face along the way, but really the movie is a pleasant diversion that banks on you having seen this type of movie before, so it can skip quickly through all that "plot" stuff.
Instead, the joys of "Jem" come from the performances, and connection, from an engaging cast; the great musical numbers; and the true celebration of fandom. It's earnest and upbeat -- and in a world dominated by darkness and horror (not just talking about movies here, btw), "Jem" is here to tell you to just follow your dreams, stick by your friends, and everything will be okay. Isn't that kind of great?
...But Also That Sequel TeaseUniversal
Not gonna spoil it here, but for those fans who see the movie and are still missing elements of the original series? There's an awesome extended scene during the mid-credits that sets up a sequel. Who knows if one will actually ever happen, but at least we got this one, small, perfectly cast addition to the universe.