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In 1975, San Fernando Valley teen Joan Larkin reinvents herself as Joan Jett, a guitarist who wants to form an all-girl punk band. She pitches the idea to a sleazy manager, Kim Fowley, who pairs her with a drummer and then searches for a face: he finds Cherie Currie, at age 15, the perfect jailbait image for his purpose; by luck, she can sing. Two others round out the band, The Runaways. Fowley books a tour, signs them to Mercury Records, and packs them off to crowds in Japan. Seeds of conflict sprout early: Fowley puts Cherie front and center in the publicity, she's soon strung out on drugs and vodka, and jealousies arise. Without adult supervision, where can Joan and Cherie end up? Written by
Inappropriate and in your face. The way any movie about The Runaways should be.
"You hear that? That's the sound of hormones raging."
The Runaways is at the opposite end of the spectrum from most recent music biopics. Where movies like Ray and Walk the Line aim for emotional resonance and creating a connection between an iconic figure and the audience, The Runaways is about style, dramatics, and looking good. Which is pretty in line with what the band was about. The sobriety of those movies I previously mentioned wouldn't have worked for such a hyper- kinetic story as this one. Sure, the movie slows down a bit when the crash and burn sets in, but the focus on style, sound and imagery is never really replaced by anything else. And I mean that as a compliment.
Michael Shannon didn't really work for me as Kim Fowley, but the movie wasn't really about him, anyway. The five girls playing the group seemed to have an inappropriate amount of fun with their roles, and who wouldn't? You can't help but be impressed by their performances, they play and act like a real band. But no doubt about it, this is Kristin Stewart's (Joan Jett) and and Dakota Fanning's (Cherie Currie) show. They don't let you forget it. Not many actresses their age would have the talent and the balls to take something like this on. They do it, and do it right. I left the movie with a healthy amount of respect for both of them.
The entire movie plays out like a music video about all the things you would be mortified of seeing your teenage daughter doing, but of course, would make her cool to do. Which makes sense, as the director (Floria Sigismondi) is best known for directing music videos. The cinematography gleefully sells the same excess, ego, and intoxication that the Runaways' image did. All the band's songs that are woven throughout the movie keep it moving at a super-charged pace.
You have to tailor the tone of a film to its subject matter, in order for it to be successful. The Runaways is the true(ish), female version of sex, drugs, and rock & roll, and I couldn't help but really enjoy every bawdy and inappropriate minute of it. Get in a Runaways frame of mind, or don't even bother with this one.
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