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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
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This is an entertaining film version of The Runaways story. I say version because there is another film on this band called "Edgeplay," which complements this movie perfectly. Essentially, "The Runaways" is Joan Jett's and Cherie Currie's version of things. In "Edgeplay," which is a documentary, the rest of the band has its say.
But let's discuss "The Runaways."
Kristen Stewart's portrayal of Jett is phenomenal. She's got the slouchy guitar playing, the gum chewing, the swagger and the foggy voice nailed. Jett is all girl and quite pretty, but she's always had the manner of a boy. Stewart gets it right. She is not just twitchy Bella, for sure.
If you've ever seen the real Kim Fowley (you can on YouTube), you will see that Michael's Shannon's portrayal of him is not at all over the top. In fact, many who knew him would probably say this depiction is too forgiving to the bizarre monster Fowley really was.
Dakota Fanning acquits herself well as Currie, the band's sexpot singer. The movie gives Currie the only family backstory, probably because the movie is based on her memoir "Neon Angel." It would have been interesting to see Jett's back story depicted. The movie might leave you thinking she's a native Californian, but she didn't move there with her family until she was a teenager. She was born in Philadelphia and spent her childhood in Maryland.
Some may question things that happen in this movie. Did they really write "Cherry Bomb" on the spot for Currie's audition? Did Fowley really teach the girls to dodge garbage thrown at them on stage? Did the Japanese really go THAT apesh*t over the band?
Yes to all. Watch "Edgeplay," where these and other facts about the band are discussed by the girls (now women in their forties) themselves in 2004. (The doc is available for instant viewing on Netflix.) This movie was made by Vicki Blue, one of the band's bass players (the actual band went through five bassists, which is why the bass player in "The Runaways" is a fictional creation called "Robin").
I have my gripes with "Edgeplay," mostly about the jittery camera-work, which I guess is supposed to be edgy, but is just pretentious and annoying. But it is the truth behind the "truth." "The Runaways" makes no mention of Currie's abortion while in the band or bass player Jackie Fox's suicide attempt. In "Edgeplay," Fox, now a lawyer, even displays the scar on her wrist. "The Runaways" makes clear that these teenage girls fought. "Edgeplay" gets into why. In the doc, it is also stated openly that some of them were having sex with each other (and it wasn't just Jett and Currie). Hey, it was the Seventies.
Joan Jett declined to participate in "Edgeplay," despite the fact she is portrayed in a mostly positive light as perhaps the most ambitious, talented and level-headed member of the band. I was a bit shocked that at the end of "The Runaways" when you get the obligatory "what happened to them" text on the screen, only Jett, Currie and Fowley are mentioned.
The most shameful omission here is the tragic Sandy West, the band's doggedly devoted drummer and perhaps the best female drummer in the history of rock (well, maybe until the Go Go's Gina Schock arrived). She and Jett essentially started the band, as shown in "The Runaways." Her history after the band broke up is sad. She was reduced to construction work. Her post-band life was one of drug using, drug dealing, guns and jail. She died of cancer in 2006, but in "Edgeplay" you can see her two years before her death discussing the breakup of the band, which clearly broke her heart. She never recovered.
It is also wrong to ignore Lita Ford's post-Runaways modest success as a solo rock artist. She's also the most entertaining interviewee in "Edgeplay."
All in all, I have praise for both movies. Both are candid portrayals of the first all-girl band in rock history, paving the way for the Go Go's, L7, Bikini Kill and, perhaps the most talented of all, Sleater-Kinney, a band that has also broken up, but in a much more friendly way.
You go, girl rockers!
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