On Friday, “Jem and the Holograms” — about suburban teen YouTube sensations turned pink-haired pop stars — opens in theaters across the country. And, though rumor has it the movie bears little resemblance to the truly outrageous 1980s cult cartoon series that inspired it, “Jem” does have a few things going for it: Ziggy Stardust-worthy makeup (on fleek), Juliette Lewis as an evil music manager and — most important — girls, rocking out.
Rock ‘n roll has long been a symbol of rebellion, but it’s particularly subversive when played by women. Think of 1970s feminist punk trio The Slits, who were thrown out of more hotels and more feared than any of their male contemporaries, or, on the pop spectrum, Madonna and Miley Cyrus, who have both inspired hand-wringing about the downfall of moral society.
That kind of power to upset and shock people is why directors keep making movies about all-girl bands. They not only have the potential to subvert Hollywood’s — and the larger culture’s — gender norms, combat conformity and indulge in sensationalism (Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning making out in “The Runaways,” the drug-and-orgy hallucinations in O.G. girl-band movie “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”); but they also provide a natural vehicle to explore female friendship and identity (something sorely lacking in most mainstream films). And, besides, it’s exhilarating to watch a group of gals tear it up, whether it’s in the recording studio, on stage, in hotel rooms or out in the larger world.
Whether “Jem” is worthy to join the ranks of such anarchic treasures as “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains” or, even, “Spice World” remains to be seen. But, in honor of its release — and as a tribute to rebel girls everywhere — we have rounded up a few of the best movies celebrating girl power.
At the center of this Roger Ebert-penned sex-and-drug-fueled exploitation flick is the Carrie Nations (née the Kelly Affair), a trio of musical babes who travel to Los Angeles in search of fame. What seems on its face a morality tale (things soon spiral out of control for the gals, as is wont to happen in late ‘60s Hollywood) is actually a balls-out, gonzo satire of celebrity, pop culture and pretty much anything we hold sacred.
One of the best rock movies ever made, “The Stains” features a group of teenagers (including a young Diane Lane and Laura Dern) who can barely play or sing but, in true punk fashion, form a band anyway. Much to the consternation of male rock critics, they begin to use their platform to spread the gospel of feminism, inspiring young girls everywhere to dye their hair, run away from home and form their own bands. Lane’s skunk-like hair and wild face paint still slay, and seem to have inspired “Jem”’s style.
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Though not technically a movie about a rock band, this mad caper about mistaken identities and general hell-raising is about as close to punk’s anarchic spirit as you can get. Plus, its leather-clad heroines — played by Madonna (in her first film role) and Rosanna Arquette — are actually celebrated, instead of chastised, for their antics. Bonus: It introduced Madonna’s megahit “Into the Groove” to the world, which is reason enough for its inclusion here.
Spice World (1997)
Hear us out: This update on the Beatles “Hard Day’s Night,” featuring Scary, Baby, Sporty, Posh and Ginger getting ready for an epic concert in London, is a third-wave feminist romp, showing that these liberated gals can party, cause a sensation and wreak havoc even better than the original Fab Four. Pure fun.
Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Like “Jem,” this film, about a trio of girl rockers, was also based on a cartoon, and though it bombed at the box office, it has become something of a cult classic, remembered for its sly takedown of corporate greed and conformity. The tunes — sung by ‘90s group Letters to Cleo — are catchy, and it stars a wonderfully slimy Alan Cumming as the (slightly inept) villain.
The Runaways (2010)
Kristen Stewart plays a baby Joan Jett in this biopic about her first teen rock band, The Runaways. Part punk, part glam, the group had long dismissed as something of a shock act, due to its young members' provocative antics and innuendo-laden lyrics. Here, the talented ladies get their due.
We Are the Best! (2014)
Two Swedish misfits want to start a punk band, so they recruit a fundamentalist Christian folkie at their school to teach them guitar. The three form an unlikely friendship, and this sweet, delightfully scrappy film chronicles the bumpy road to their first riot-inducing gig, in what looks like a school basement. No fame or glory here, but they don't mind. These girls just wanna have fun.
Follow Raquel on Twitter @RaquelLaneri.