The Runaways chronicles the rise and fall of the all girl rock/punk band, The Runaways (go figure). Created by a, then teenage, Joan Jett, and headlined by an even younger Cherie Currie, The Runaways experienced a fast ascent to stardom, only to come crashing down just as quickly, due to, not surprisingly, drugs, sex, alcohol, the pressure, the stress, and blah blah blah. Now, I get that you can't really make a good story about a band without incorporating at least some of these elements into the finished product. I mean, it'd be really boring if we just saw a movie about a band that rose to stardom, and stayed there, didn't dabble in illegal substances, and were all around model citizens. That being said, I'm annoyed that The Runaways didn't bring anything new to the formula. It's the standard rock biopic. Nothing more, nothing less. Granted, it is a very well told version of the same story, but, at the end of the day, it is still the same story.
Kristen Stewart plays the hard rocking, hard partying, hard assed, Joan Jett. If The Runaways gets anything right, it is further confirming to the world what I've been preaching all along. Kristen Stewart is a good actress, even a great one, when she works with good material. She needs to break out of her Bella Swan cage, and then we will really start the see the beast lurking beneath the surface. She is so friggin' good in this movie, conveying all the anger and rebellion that everyone involved with rock music at the time was feeling. It's a shame, though. Stewart has been pegged as the star throughout the promotion of the film, but, this is misleading. Dakota Fanning, as Cherie Currie, is the real lead, and it's a shame, because Fanning is not up to the task. I admire the studio for going with someone closer to the real Currie's age at the time, but Fanning is out of her league. She had to be sexed way up for this role, and you can tell she's uncomfortable. Sure, she's already been raped on screen in the abomination that was Houndog, and dealt with much more adult things in her roles then most child stars. But, she just isn't ready to be strutting around a stage in lingerie, growling out the lyrics to 'Cherry Bomb', or snorting cocaine with Stewart in an airplane bathroom, and then proceeding to go to bed with her. She's good, to be sure, but, had she a couple more years of experience on her hands, it would have been so much better. The last role worth mentioning is Michael Shannon, who is simply amazing as the eccentric and outlandish Kim Fowly, The Runaway's producer. He provides some of the movie's biggest laughs, and some of it's weirdest moments, as when he talks with Joan on the phone, upside down, for no reason at all. He steals every scene he's in. Performances, across the board are very good, with Stewart and Shannon as the star players. Fanning is good, and better then she's ever been, but, like I said, she's just not ready for this type of role yet.
Director Floria Sigismondi, a former music video director, is frenetic with her camera, and bombastic with her style. When there isn't any music playing, her colors are muted. When music is playing, they are bright and vibrant. Her background as a music video director for the likes of David Bowie shines through during the concert scenes, and she's just as capable in the talky scenes. Her experience in this world gives her a unique perspective, and she does a fine job communicating this to her actors. There's a very authentic feeling to The Runaways. If you're not familiar with that time, you'll get a good sense of it after watching this movie, and if you do have a general knowledge of that time, then this movie will only add to it. Sigismondi's only glaring flaw is, I hate to say it, the casting of Dakota Fanning. Not only is Fanning not ready for this type of role, Sigismondi has, quite simply, hamstrung herself by casting a minor. Due to Fanning being underage, she can't do some of the things that a role like this would normally call for. Forget the fact that she can't shed her clothes. She can't engage in the same, emotionally mature material that someone older could. Granted, for a minor, it's a very mature role, but Sigismondi would have gotten so much more out of the character had she cast someone with more artistic space to maneuver. Apart from this, she shows herself to be quite capable as a feature director, and I look forward to seeing what she has in store for us in the future.
The Runaways is strong, with a great sense of the time in which it is set, solid performances, and some great music to boot. A cliched story and an uncomfortable lead hold the movie back from achieving true greatness, but it's a solid piece of rock history that will keep you interested until it's predictable end. Cue the drums. Bring in the guitar! Vocals, go! Let there be rock!!! B