Movie Review: The Runaways

The Runaways
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Starring Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Stella Maeve, Scout Taylor-Compton, Michael Shannon
Rated R
Release date(s) January 24, 2010 (SFF)
March 19, 2010 (limited)
April 9, 2010 (wide)

The Runaways is a film is based on lead singer Cherie Currie’s memoir, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway and it does a pretty good job of showing us what life was like for a teenage Runaway.

For those uninitiated (like myself before seeing the film) The Runaways were a 1970s rock band that broke musical taboos with their all-girl lineup. While I was watching the film I was thinking about how those same taboos, to a large extent, still exist in today’s musical world. In 2006, I remember Beyoncé Knowles making a huge fuss when she introduced her all-female tour band Suga Mama, which includes bassists, drummers, guitarists, horn players, keyboardists and percussionists. I would’ve thought 35 years would be enough time to break down those male barriers in pop/rock music, but I guess not.

The film is written and directed by Floria Sigismondi, a fashion photographer largely known for her music video direction. Sigismondi does a good job for a first time director but there wasn’t anything special or distinctive about her style. Kristen Stewart stars as Joan Jett (also one of the film’s executive producers), Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie, Stella Maeve as Sandy West, Scout Taylor-Compton as Lita Ford, and Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley. Alia Shawkat plays the band’s bassist, a fictional character named Robin, created as a result of legal issues preventing the portrayal of bassist Jackie Fox.

The plot begins with Joan Jett but quickly becomes her and Cherie’s story. We see them rise from rebellious L.A. street kids to rock stars of the now legendary group that paved the way for future generations of girl bands. Unfortnuately, being teenagers in the 70’s, they soon fall under the Svengali-like influence of rock impresario, Kim Fowley who turns the group into an outrageous success and a family of misfits. With its tough-chick image and raw talent, the band quickly earns a name for itself “” and so do its two leads: Joan is the band’s pure rock’ n’ roll heart, while Cherie, with her Bowie-Bardot looks, is the sex kitten.

From there we see the typical trappings of a rock and roll lifestyle – sexual experimentation, drug use, and creative differences which ultimately lead to the bands downfall. At this point in my life I’ve seen enough bio-pics to know exactly what was going to happen even with no prior knowledge of the real life story, which made these scenes not as exciting for me. I also feel like Dakota Fanning is specifically taking on sexually explicit roles (Anyone see Hounddog?) to distance herself from her child star image, but it feels like a kid acting out against her strict parents and not like a believable performance.

The music of the film is great, I actually wasn’t familiar with any of The Runaways work prior. Being more familiar with Joan Jett’s work after she left The Runaways, it was a great introduction for me and its inspired me to seek out more of their music on iTunes.

I really enjoyed the first act of the film where we follow the rise of the group, which was never a huge draw here in the United States but did see massive success in Japan. We do get to see the Japanese love affair with the band and being a lover of all things Japanese, I really loved those scenes. Unfortunately after that the film lost my interest until the very end where the film gave you updates on all the bands members. I think I might have enjoyed a straight up documentary with the actual story more instead of a hollywood drama filled bio-pic.

Viewers expecting an in-depth biopic will be disappointed, but The Runaways is a nice slice of the 1970’s with some strong performances from Michael Shannon and Kristen Stewart.

The Geek: The Runaways/Joan Jett’s music.

The Weak: Pretty standard bio-pic that doesn’t go in-depth into the real story.

Vactor’s Verdict: A 2.5 Out Of 5

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