The Runaways is an exceptional bio-film about the all-girl band from the 70’s by the same name. It stars Twilight’s Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as lead singer Cherie Currie. Forget I Am Sam when Fanning was just the starry-eyed 7-year old Lucy Diamond Dawson, this film exposes all the things rebellious teenagers do and parents are even afraid to think about.
At first, it is awkward watching Fanning being pinned up against the wall by an older man and groped and kissed, “Hey, get your hands off her, that’s Tom Cruise’s little girl in War of the Worlds!”, but you soon become numb to the fact that this film is not about innocent teenagers being taken advantage of. This is a true story of the briefly successful all girl rock band, The Runaways – who were 5 naive, but brave girls, breaking into the industry when it was made up of predominately men.
The most striking thing about the film is the frame-by-frame direction by first-time film director Floria Sigismondi. Watching the film you can’t help but think you’re watching one long Madonna music video or perhaps a filmed photo shoot by Steven Meisel. Each frame of the film is completely thought out and stylized, as if it were made for MTV. It’s no surprise though, Italian born Sigismondi directed the videos for Interpol’s Obstacle 1 and David Bowie’s Dead Man Walking. If these videos don’t ring a bell, her most stirring work can be seen in her video for Marilyn Manson’s Beautiful People. And if this still doesn’t ring a bell, her list is long including videos for The Cure, Incubus, Sheryl Crow, Muse, Christina Aguilera and The White Stripes.
Although Stewart and Fanning are perfect for their roles, the standout performance is Michael Shannon. Shannon plays Kim Fowley, their over zealous and crazy neurotic manager. He literally possesses this character with a demon-like quality that makes you hypnotized. Shannon was recently nominated for an Oscar for his standout performance in Revolutionary Road.
The film was also written by Sigismondi and based on the book by Cherie Currie. Dakota Fanning plays Currie in the film and from the first scene you know that this is not the disney-like films we are use to seeing her in. Doing lines of coke through a dollar bill, taking uppers and downers, lesbian love affairs – there was a no holds barred approach in making this film and Fanning’s brutally honest portrayal of Currie makes her an actress that is essentially ahead of her time.
Kristen Stewart is scary in this film. Not scary in the actual sense, but she eerily looks so much like Joan Jett. Some of the angles and entire moments that Sigismondi captured on film were dead on. It’s not just about the makeup and spiky black hair, but the intense eye contact, the way she walks, and the easy-tone of her voice.
Other noteworthy mentions are performances by Riley Keough (Lisa Marie Presley’s daughter) who plays Cherie Currie’s sister and Tatum O’ Neal who plays their mother. Dystfunctional families are a theme in this film as most of the band members come from broken homes. Towards the end of the film, the band becomes tormented by fame and each band member turns on each other. Scout Taylor-Compton portrays Lita Ford, creating the final discord in the band.
Kudos to the production designer, set designer, makeup artist and costume designer who really authenticated this film and put the 1975 stamp on it. It’s like going into a vintage store and wanting to buy everything you see. From the floral telephones to the one piece gas attendant suits, the style of the film was perfectly executed.
The Runaways is a definite biography played out on the big screen. There are no big car chases or complicated plot points that audiences are succumb to. It is the rise and fall of a band that influenced such bands as Hole and The Donnas. Seeing how the hit “Cherry Bomb” was created in a seedy trailer is a bit of history to rock fans. The story is not an original one, as we have all seen the rags to riches story, the rise to success at an early age, but The Runaways is not so much based on story as it is on individual characterization. Each actor brings a unique quality to the screen, forming a solid film and creating a memorable movie experience.
On a concert note – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts will be performing August 11th at the Orange County Fair with special guest Cherie Currie of The Runaways. A reunion long overdue.