The Runaways

(2010) director Floria Sigismondi
viewed: 07/ 24/10

The Runaways is a biopic of the Joan Jett-led all-girl rock group from the 1970’s, adapted from the biography of singer Cheri Currie and told from her perspective.  The film stars Dakota Fanning as Currie and Kristen Stewart as Jett, and is a good excuse for lots of tight jeans, shag hairstyles, heavy make-up, and stumble-worthy platform heels.  It’s also a good chance for underaged sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll all to the tune of proto-grrrl power.

Stewart is pretty spot-on as Joan Jett and seems to have more fun in this movie than any other movie that I’ve seen her in (Adventureland (2009), New Moon (2009), or Twilight (2008)).  Fanning, though, is a little bit of a freakshow here, in that painful area that we all go through between childhood and adulthood, a little skinny womanchild trying desperately to be an adult.  Now, that is her character’s predicament as well, getting her first period in the opening shot of the film.  She’s 15 and having just seen her grow up a bit from a 10 year old in War of the Worlds (2005) through to another gawky young girl role in Push (2009), there is that painful awkwardness fully present in this film that is both hers and the Currie’s.

Actually, as the film opens, Currie and her older sister are such total jailbait little girls, putting on their make-up in a restaurant bathroom, trying so hard to be cool.  The film captures that air of boredom and desperation of being young and wanting to be something else so bad.  And really, the film shines the brightest through the first 45 minutes or so, as these girls, including the skinny little tough gal Jett, try to find their footings, get some respect, and be the daring, stylish rebels that they will become.

And through the early part of the film, this whole thing is a pretty fun ride.  They are introduced to one another by producer Kim Fowley (amusingly portrayed by Michael Shannon), and with a lot of coddling and cajoling, are trained to rock out and channel their piss and their vinegar.  The core of the group is quite good.  I also really liked Stella Maeve as drummer Sandy West, who stood out even in her small role.

But as the girls gain success, start taking lots of drugs, tour in Japan, the whole film starts becoming a series of montages, played out to the tunes of the Runaways and other contemporary and influential musicians of the day.  And within the montages of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, getting hazier and hazier, I assume, to portray the mindsets and perspectives of the further and further drug-addled Currie, the whole thing loses its track as a story.

I guess that the film truncates the story rather significantly for narrative purposes, having Currie drop out of the band and then the band breaking up.  At the end of the film, Currie is working in a shop of some sort, while Jett has gone on to great success with her cover of “I Love Rock’n’Roll” and has moved toward greater stardom and rock goddessness.  The film sort of emphasizes, or seems to, a romantic and sexual relationship between Currie and Jett, which Currie’s quitting of the band seemed to signify as their break-up.  I’d read, I thought, that the film didn’t really delve into Jett’s sexual orientation, but it certainly seemed to in my perception.

It’s a better film than the rock biopic about the Germs, What We Do Is Secret (2007) and quite a bit less depressing than the recent one about Joy Division, Control (2007).  It’s a shame that the whole thing gets off track so early because I really kind of enjoyed the first part of the film.  The awkwardness of teenagehood, the desire to rock out, to be more than they are, boozing, huffing, sleeping around…it’s all very rock’n’roll.

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