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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 pills and vodka, and jealousies arise. Without adult supervision, where can Joan and Cherie end up? Written by
I've been a Runaways fan since 1976, so I had been anticipating this film for a long time. Having read Cherie Currie's book, Neon Angel, on which the film is very loosely based, I was pretty familiar with the broad outlines of the story. As with any film adaptation of a book, I knew they would leave some things out and streamline other things, and I also suspected the film wouldn't be as dark as the book, which turned out to be true.
What the film really nailed was the relationship between the Runaways and their sleazy manager/producer Kim Fowley. Michael Shannon does a fabulous job playing this over-the-top character. His expletive-filled rants are simultaneously hilarious and cringe-worthy.
The stars, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, are both excellent as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, respectively. Stewart displays Jett's consuming passion for rock and roll and her desire to work hard to be a star. Fanning does a very good job balancing Currie's conflicting desires (to be a rock star and be with her family). It's no secret that the film doesn't spend much time with the other three members of the band. I have no problem with that, since Jett and Currie are, for me, the most interesting and most talented members.
The film does a great job showing the band performing. Stewart and Fanning clearly worked hard to be believable as rockers, and it paid off. You see the progression of both characters from neophytes to seasoned performers, and it works. Another aspect is the struggle by the Runaways to be taken seriously. There were very few hard-rocking ladies in 1976, so they faced a lot of skepticism. The film shows this very well.
The music is very good. The new versions of Runaways songs are good, although Fanning sounds nothing like Currie. The period songs are a nice selection, from David Bowie to Gary Glitter to the Stooges. The filmmakers nailed the look of the period as well. The clothes, hair, furniture, etc., are just right.
Overall, this is an excellent film. I highly recommend it.
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