I wanted The Runaways to be thrilling, dangerous… seething with grrrrl power. As someone who was mostly ignorant of the story of the band, maybe I was expecting too much. But come on, we all know how fierce Joan Jett is, so how could I not anticipate a movie about her teen years to have a little growl behind it?
The Runaways were a teenage girl band from the late ‘70s who nicely blended the sounds and moves of glam rock with those of the rising punk movement. According to Kim Fowley, the record exec who essentially got them together, the band was the first all-female act of its kind.
Thanks to the Twilight saga, the film should have a built-in fan base with stars Kristen Stewart as lead guitarist Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as singer Cherie Currie. This couldn’t be further from heroic, celibate vampires, what with the rampant drug use and gay, straight and solo sex the gals are up to in this movie. Hopefully, those wholesome teen audiences won’t be too scandalized.
It’s not that sex and drugs are boring… but they kind of are when they’re seen from the same old angle we’re all familiar with. Naïve rock stars hit it big, set out on demoralizing tours, break up due to chaotic substance abuse and ego trips. Most of the offstage scenarios of this film left me reminiscing about Penny Lane in Almost Famous. This movie wants to tell that same story, but Cameron Crowe was a lot more skilled at creating moving conversations and drama that reflected upon the big stuff: life and rock music. The Runaways lacks any substance that could counteract your feelings of guilt over staring at Dakota Fanning in a garter belt.
Fanning, by the way, is excellent – all of the main performances are. Michael Shannon, who was so fantastic in Revolutionary Road, is again bombastic and vicious as Kim Fowley, but his part could have had so much more depth. We only see a glimpse of him acting as a self-serving puppeteer; we instead just hear the girls explain that’s what he’s doing. Stewart is merely a second fiddle, as Jett’s story is disappointingly left in the background. It’s no surprise that the center of attention here is Currie, since her latest memoir was the basis for the film’s script. Fanning meets the challenge, but she and Stewart are both capable of handling much meatier material.
All in all, the film is worth seeing if you like the songs and the actors, but just know going in that the only edge you’ll find is in the music, not the movie.
The Runaways is currently running in limited release. Opens wide April 9.