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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
A New York Times review of the film quotes Joan Jett as saying that when she listened to the first tape of Kristen Stewart singing one of her songs, she thought it was a mistake and that it was actually her. See more »
The Dodge Charger shown at the beginning of the movie has a license plate beginning with the number 3 (which was not issued until several years later). See more »
grungy and formulaic, nothing special and yet worthwhile for its niche
On occasion, the atmosphere of watching a movie at a theater in a certain circumstance adds to the ambiance. Case in point, The Runaways: I saw it at my local cineplex, where, unbeknownst to me since I last ventured into a particular screen, the one where The Runaways played on (good old theater 8), the sound had gotten a little worse. It was crackly, though one could still hear voices and sound fx and music reasonably well, and on the side of the frames of the 2:35:1 aspect ratio, there was some black fizzle or something. For a more prestige picture or big blockbuster, it might have been a hindrance. For the case of The Runaways, it was just about perfect. This mid-1970's trip through a kick-you-in-the-ball girl rock group complimented the flaws in the stereo-sound and the picture, and it was like listening/watching a worn vinyl LP. This coupled with the attitude of the performances, and some of the songs featured, made it like a near Grindhouse event.
That the movie itself is less than great was to be expected. This is one of those rise-fall rock and roll band stories, one you know well if you've seen at least two or three by now (pick your delicious poison, be it The Doors or even Dreamgirls - 'The Fabulous Stains' from the early 80's wouldn't be far off either). And it also has a distinction of being a rise-fall story for a band that was around for only a few years, a less-than-revolutionary girl version of The Sex Pistols, who all wanted to rock but came from different backgrounds and were beat down before they could fully develop rock star egos by a grubby manager/producer.
For the Runaways, we mostly get the stories of Cheri Currie (Dakota Fanning) and Joan Jett (Kirsten Steward). Many will know the latter, since she's made several big hit rock singles, but some in the audience (unless you're already a big Runaway fan or fan of the movie Foxes) won't know who Cheri Currie was. Perhaps that was the appeal for the director, first-timer Flori Sigismondi, that we get a view into the lead singer and how she's actually got a family and a place she's coming from, as opposed to Joan Jett who (by the appearance from the film) just came off the streets and immediately had to play guitar or die or go to prison. Certainly that, too, has a bit of the cliché to it (un-attentive mother, alcoholic father, same old same old), but the filmmaker is able to straddle the line between Currie, Jett and producer Kim Fowley (unmistakably hammy Michael Shannon, maybe too hammy in some scenes).
Here's the thing that works for the film though: as a real gritty rock movie, as a saga of characters rolling around LA (sometimes right under the Hollywood sign), getting wasted, trashing hotel rooms, getting into madness, being rockers who can stand up to those "men" that Fowley says don't want to see girls on stage. Subsequently in the story in the film, he exploits them for all he can, usually when they aren't noticing until it really affects their appearance as rock and rollers as opposed to beauty queens (or, of course, Currie as one). Again, some of these story elements are familiar, but this is not what makes the film so appealing - I didn't go to the Runaways to get a super-insightful script, save for a few little nuggets (i.e. they trained in a trailer!).
I went to the Runaways to see rock and roll and rock as it blasted away without care back in the 1970's, albeit shown here as a brew of glam (Bowie) and punk (Pistols) and eventually with Jett and the Blackhearts as a straight up rock and roll band, and that's what I got. I was heavily impressed by the performances of Fanning- who can be legitimately sexy and make it both right for her character and uncomfortable for an audience member to see it in the flesh (and boy it is fleshy!)- and Stewart, who flexes her chops while on leave from the Twilight camp. As mentioned, Shannon is a little too over the top, as he was in Revolutionary Road, but that in and of itself is kind of a marvel, as he isn't taking it seriously, but still has a good time. And the music... ah, for the right fan at the right time, it's blissful to hear and the be blown away by even a movie version of The Runaways, who make one want to rush out and buy any song they recorded. Who knew a revealing, raw-cum-conventional bio-pic would be their best advertisement in years?
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