Directed by: Floria Sigismondi
Premise: A dramatization of the rise and fall of the 1970 rock band The Runaways.
What Works: The Runaways is a satisfying rock and roll success story. The focus of the film is on the relationship between band members Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, and producer Kim Fowley. Kristen Stewart plays Joan Jett and she gives one of the most mature performances of her career thus far. The same is true of Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie, and Fanning goes to some dark places as the rock and roll lifestyle overtakes her character’s life. Michael Shannon plays producer Kim Fowley, a crass and shrewd music producer who guided the formation of the band, and Shannon gives the most magnetic performance of the film, embodying the psychotic energy of the 1970s rock scene. The Runaways nicely covers the formation of the band and it acknowledges the fact that the public image of The Runaways as well as their musical sound was a carefully stage managed act. And yet, within the somewhat controlled and even contrived parameters of the band, the women involved made some very impressive music. And so the film suggests that even within this environment, artistry and self expression can still find a way of manifesting themselves, and that is a hopeful and even subversive message. The Runaways also nicely connects the rise of the band with the coming of age of the women involved. Their sexual self awareness as well as artistic and business acumen grows together and the film is in a chaotic portrayal of adolescence giving way to womanhood.
What Doesn’t: The storyline of The Runaways is a fairly standard rock and roll success story with the requisite drug use, sex, band infighting, and debauchery. In that sense there isn’t much new here and a lot of the plot is fairly predictable. Also, since the film is focused on the relationship between Joan Jett, Cherie Currie and Kim Fowley, it pushes Sandy West and Lita Ford (played by Stella Maeve and Scout Taylor-Compton, respectively) to the background. This is disappointing, since the success of the band was due to the collective efforts of the talents involved.
DVD extras: Commentary track and a featurette.
Bottom Line: Although it is not quite as good as films like Walk the Line, What’s Love Got to Do With It, or The Doors, The Runaways is a very enjoyable rock-pic. Despite its shortcomings, fans of the band or of classic rock should definitely check this out. The 2004 documentary film Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways would make a nice complement to this dramatization, as it fills in some of the background and significance of the band.
Episode: #316 (November 21, 2010)