Jerrica Benton is convinced that everyone has a secret identity these days. And why wouldn’t she be? In this social media-focused world, the personas people post online rarely represent who they really are. In fact, Jerrica would tell you that Facebook gives people a “wall” not so much as a place to post the truth, but as something to hide behind.
That may sound pretty insightful for your average 18-year-old. But this particular one has a secret identity of her own to wrestle with lately, and time to think about it. All thanks to her sister Kimber.
You see, Jerrica has never been a self-promoting sort. Rather, she’s always been a quiet girl who likes to write introspective songs about her life’s struggles. Songs that help her think through things and chart her journey into womanhood.
Kimber, on the other hand, lives a life that’s an open e-book. She’s always got a camera pointed at her own face, capturing and posting every single incredibly important nothing that might happen to her or any of her family members.
Then, one fateful day, Kimber posts one of Jerrica’s tunes. It’s a song that the quieter sibling couldn’t even bring herself to record without masquerading as an alter ego called Jem.
Before you can squeak out “water-skiing squirrel,” the Jem video goes viral. Everybody’s watching it and everybody wants to know who this sweet-singing loner named Jem could possibly be. She’s so thoughtful! So talented! And even in a mop-like pink wig you can tell she’s it and that’s that. In fact, there’s such a clamor from online Jem-lovers that soon the music business comes calling with cooing offers.
Jerrica has a decision to make. The money offered has appeal, certainly. Not for herself, but for her aunt, a beloved guardian who took Jerrica and Kimber in when their dad died. Aunt Bailey is a selfless soul who’s now facing bankruptcy and foreclosure. And Jerrica realizes that with a signature or two she might be able to change all that.
But can a small-town girl find the right balance between being the normal everyday teen she wants to be and living out her secret identity? Especially when that identity is a rock star named Jem?
Jerrica is indeed a thoughtful young woman. She longs to help her family. She wrestles with the negative influences of fame. She takes steps to complete her deceased dad’s work on a special invention. And she even bows to music mogul Erica Raymond’s contract manipulations in order to help her aunt.
Interestingly, all of Jerrica’s siblings—sister Kimber and stepsisters Aja and Shana—have that same kind of “family first” attitude. After a conflict causes a rift between them, the girls all unite to voice their love and make their apologies. Kimber tells her sisters, “A home is a place where you’re surrounded by people who you love and who love you regardless.” We see that Aunt Bailey has created that environment in their home—spurring the girls to smooth out their rough patches and encouraging Jerrica to move forward without regrets.
In videos, we see Dad voice his love for Jerrica. He encourages her to create her own destiny and face the future without fear. He says that Jerrica and Kimber are his greatest creations. And he tells them, “Time with family, with the ones you love most, there’s nothing more valuable than that.”
We see a number of YouTube “testimonials” that reinforce the idea that every person has something to give to others and something of value to find in themselves. Jerrica’s songs support that idea as well. And there’s also caution given here when it comes to our digitally social and celebrity focused culture. Someone comments that paparazzi photos “live longer than vampires.” And contrary to what you might think goes on at most record company headquarters, when first arriving at Starlight Music, the girls are told that the “house rules” demand no drinking, no smoking and no venturing out after curfew.
A demo album is titled “Valet of the Damned”
From a distance we see Aja making out with her boyfriend. Jerrica walks in on Erica’s teen son, Rio, when he’s covered only by a towel. Then she watches him (admiring his physique) as he dresses. (He’s always covered from the waist down.) Jerrica wears a rather skimpy tank top to bed. The girls wear bikinis, lounging around a pool.
Three uses of “a–” and one or two of “h—.” One use each of “frickin'” and “jeez.” “Oh my god” gets blurted out a handful of times.
The film seems to laud the coolness and even the negative aspects of fame early on. (As noted above, though, it ultimately suggests other priorities are superior.) Aja has a habit of stealing things, and we see her do it. (She talks at one point about not wanting to go back to “juvie.”) Erica lies to the girls and to her son. The girls break through a locked gate at a pier and then run away from the police. And I should note that it’s not the only time breaking and entering factors into this story. There are a couple of other instances, as well, of the girls being disobedient and/or disrespectful.
Someone includes a “poop” emoji in a text.
Based on the popular 1980s cartoon, this musical movie, quite frankly, doesn’t really leave me wanting to sing its praise. The updated-for-the-social-media-generation script is oddly uneven, sometimes feeling like it was cribbed a little too directly from that old cartoon. The story is packed with one-dimensional characters, illogical situations and unexplained plot holes.
And it also serves as a fairly cushy home to disrespectful teens, casual theft and a bit of repercussion-free breaking and entering.
Even the pic’s broad self-empowerment message could be misconstrued to support a variety of misdeeds or immoral lifestyle choices if looked at with the just the wrong teen squint.
Still, there are few gems to be found in Jem and the Holograms. Its rags-to-riches viral star is a far more appealing role model than, say, a rebellious Cyrus or Bieber real-life counterpart. And her film does pack some nice statements about standing by loved ones and making familial sacrifices. Hey, there are even some bouncy tunes worth tapping a toe or two to.
Four or five stars would be seriously pushing things here. But I guess it’s a flick that’s probably worth at least a Facebook “like.”
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.