I grew up with Jem and the Holograms. The truly outrageous animated rock star was my first real exposure to the world of pop music. As a child she was my hero, she could do anything and become anyone she wanted and as a gay kid living in Montana, I could relate to someone who had to have a secret identity in order to do the things she wanted. As an adult, Jem inspired me in my career as a singer / songwriter, and I have also been fortunate to have interacted with some of those involved with the original series. I'm also lucky enough to call Samantha Newark, the original speaking voice of Jem, a friend. So, when Hollywood announced a live-action film I ran the gamut of emotions. I knew the film, which was directed by Jon Chu and written by Ryan Landels, was not going to resurrect my old friend with her melodramatic love triangles and over the top adventures and while I would've liked to see that, I was prepared to welcome this new group of Holograms into my life. After all, it's always fun to make new friends, right?
Is the film an award winning critical masterpiece? No, but that's okay, neither was the original series. It was a campy and fun fantasy meant to transport children into a dazzling world of glamor, glitter, fashion, and fame. The film is the same way, only not quite so over-the-top. It's fun and the actors behind the characters I have come to view almost like family members are not only incredibly talented, but embody the heart of what each one of their animated counterparts stood for at their core. They capture the spirit of what made the characters in the cartoon so memorable, and they do so beautifully.
Aubrey Peeples is Jerrica Benton, the quiet and shy young woman who just wants to help her family. She becomes Jem, not only to overcome her stage fright, but also to save her home and keep her family together (which is why Jerrica became Jem in the animated series). Stefanie Scott is her younger sister, Kimber, the energetic firecracker who just wants her sister to step out of her shell and be more outrageous, like her (just like in the series). Hayley Kiyoko brings the character of Aja to life with a fun-loving wild-child performance worthy of the blue haired guitar goddess. Aurora Perrineau is stunning as the stylish yet sensitive Shana, who, like Jerrica, just wants to help. Ryan Guzman is every bit as handsome as the animated Rio, but without being a short-fused drama Queen. Though Eric Raymond, the show main protagonist has been gender-bent, Juliet Lewis is the perfect villain as Erica straddles the line between cool and conniving and campy cuteness with ease.
The hate the film is getting is ridiculous and completely unwarented. To be honest, there's no way they could've made the eighties cartoon into a feature film and come even close to staying within the budget they were given. To compare, while the Transforms (another hasbro property) was given a budget of around $150 million, Jem was given $5. Chu had originally pitched a script that more closely resembled the original, but it was rejected. I'm not saying the director cut corners to make his film, I'm saying he did the best he could with what he was given, and he did so brilliantly. Though Synergy is not a holographic maternal-figure, she is included, and the storyline involving her is actually cute and well done. No, there are none of the original songs used in the film, but, that's okay, the music used is great.
To be sure, there are several nods to the original series and even cameos by Jem's creator, Christy Marx, Samantha Newark, and Britta Phillips, the singing voice who in a touching scene just before Peeples goes out onstage to perform the band's first single "Youngblood", tells her "You got this." It was a handing of the baton, the original and still truly outrageous Jem giving this new Hollywood Jem permission to shine, and Peeples did so with grace and brilliance. Sensitive and strong, bold and beautiful, she's the perfect personification of a live-action Jem.
Don't believe the negativity, go and see the film for yourself. Like it or hate it as you will, but at least give it a chance. The film stays true to Jem's truly outrageousness, the music is great, and the story is solid. Also, the secret scene featuring Ke$ha as Pizzazz is enough to make you want to demand a sequel. So go, don't let this film writher and die just because it's not the Jem you remember. Every generation needs a Jem, we had ours, let this one shine.