Most of us know who Joan Jett is, right? Surely you’ve at least heard the name. Well, in case you didn’t know, she started out in an all-girl rock group, which was the first of its kind. The story of this group is told in the film “The Runaways” which wasted little time coming to DVD.
The film begins by following Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), a fifteen year girl who is enamored with David Bowie’s style and bored with her small-town life. Conversely, there is Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) a girl who loves trouble, has a rudimentary knowledge of how to play guitar and also has ambitions of her own.
One night, outside of a club, Jett comes across record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). Jett has an idea to form an all-girl rock group. The trouble is, she doesn’t have any girls to fit the bill. Kim has connections and introduces Jett to drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve). They play together and connect, but something is missing. They decide they need an attractive blond to front the band. Cherie is found at a club and without so much as a demonstration of her vocal skills, is asked to try out for the band based upon her looks.
When her audition is less than stellar, Kim hastily writes a song specifically for Cherie called “Cherry Bomb” that she nails. Now that the band is fully-formed (also featuring guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) and bassist Robin (Alia Shawkat) who is actually a composite character) they begin to play a few gigs. It doesn’t take long for them to get signed to a record deal and world tour.
With this newfound success, come new temptations. All of the rock star trappings are represented: sex, drugs, and intra-band jealousy. Cherrie has the hardest time of all, developing a nasty addiction to pills and carrying the knowledge of her father struggling with alcoholism at home.
Do the Runaways get their act together and have a long, illustrious career together or are they doomed to be a footnote in history?
If this sounds like well-worn territory for the genre, you’re not alone. One of the biggest problems with “The Runaways” is the fact that it doesn’t really take us down any paths we haven’t already been down before.
When things do unfold, they do so at a ridiculous pace. One moment, the band is playing in someone’s living room, the next, we get a montage of magazine articles and brief images to show they are creating a buzz. What seems like a few minutes later, they are signed and going to Japan. The narrative is thrust forward in such a rushed manner that it seems like the filmmakers wanted to skim over every possible point without really delving into any detail. It’s almost like director Floria Sigismondi was only experienced in directing four minute music videos. Hmm.
Another problem, while the film is named after the band, 99.99999% of the focus is on Cherie and Joan. This isn’t the worst thing in the world because they are the two most compelling characters, but the other band members are unceremoniously shoved deep into the background. Sandy has a few sentences at the beginning and Lita contributes a few important words toward the end but they only really exist to fill space and make the band technically complete. The end of the film doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that Lita Ford went on to a successful solo career.
The characters that are allowed to speak do admirable jobs. This is the first time we’ve seen Miss. Fanning in an adult role. It’s unsettling at times, mostly because we’ve seen this girl grow up on screen, but also because she’s still underage. With that said, it’s much better that she was cast than some established actress in her late 20’s trying to act like a fifteen year old.
Kristen Stewart doesn’t have much trouble playing a disaffected youth who is bored with her surroundings. That’s her bread and butter. For the role, she added a bit of swagger and attitude which is necessary. Michael Shannon conjures up an amusingly manic and eccentric performance as the manager who by some definitions exploits the girls and by others, guides them to success. His character is probably the most complex of all because it’s a challenge to figure out whether to call him a lecherous opportunist or an oddball visionary.
Special features include: feature commentary, a making of featurette and a needlessly simplistic overview of The Runaways’ influence.
So if you’re a fan of rock music, “The Runaways” is worth a glance. It also offers some good evidence of growth among some young actresses that we’ll be seeing around for quite some time. The execution may be extremely uneven, but even with all of its flaws, the film is still watchable.
Rated R 107 minutes 2010
“The Runaways” will be available to rent/purchase in Allentown, the Lehigh Valley and beyond.