THE RUNAWAYS (Floria Sigismondi, 2010)
The rise and fall of an all-girl rock band in the mid-'70s gets the big screen treatment in THE RUNAWAYS. Band members range in age from thirteen to sixteen and include Kristin Stewart as guitarist Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as lead singer Cherie Currie.
At the time the idea of hard rocking girls was not taken seriously, but the group's manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) finds the key to success in emphasizing their jailbait appeal, especially with Cherie. The Runaways get a record deal with Mercury and go on a tour of Japan, but personally and professionally, the girls aren't prepared for the temptations before them.
THE RUNAWAYS doesn't take the traditional biopic route. Rather than checking off all the important events on the band's timeline, the film gets caught up in the rush of youth, rebellion, and rock and roll. It pulses on the energy of surging hormones and living in the moment. That raw, uninhibited feel serves the music and the characters well, but after the buzz wears off, it's easy to see how lacking it all was for those living like this and is for those of us watching a recreation that's about as deep and insightful as a photo shoot.
Fanning brings vulnerability to her role as an underage sex kitten. Stewart carries her character with low key integrity. Both struggle, though, to round out their parts beyond assuming rock star poses. To the contrary, Shannon gustily takes to playing the sleazeball manager. It's a weird, funny, and scary performance that embodies the worst beliefs about people in the entertainment industry.
The Runaways may have gone along with Fowley's design of the band, but undoubtedly they were exploited in the process. It may have been nearly impossible to avoid doing the same in telling their story. Still, it's no accident that THE RUNAWAYS teases and delivers the possibility of young starlets gone wild. The film might be intended as a cautionary tale, but that tends to get lost amid the lurid thrills and tacked-on happy ending.