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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!
**1/2 out of ****
I became a huge fan of Joan Jett with her first #1 single, I LOVE ROCK N ROLL, back in 1982. For years I remained a devoted follower of her albums, saw her in concert up close at small venues, and even got to meet her in person on a few occasions including getting to go backstage after a gig in 1985. It was only once she'd become popular that I discovered that she was originally in an all-girl rock band called The Runaways. Thus I found myself going back and collecting Runaways records too. So for me, this film was something to look forward to.
As Jett has confirmed in interviews, THE RUNAWAYS is mainly true, but there are some artistic liberties taken. The now-51, black-haired rock veteran stayed on the set so young Kristen Stewart (who portrays a teenaged Joan) could observe her movements and ticks, and also to make sure the story stayed somewhat in the right ballpark. The movie begins in 1975 and chronicles Joan's early years as a die-hard rock and roll chick with a rebellious nature who learns to play guitar and wants to form a hardcore, all-girl rock band ("No guys!" she insists). She stumbles upon the eccentric record producer Kim Fowley (a faithful rendering by Michael Shannon) who likes Jett's cool spunk and determination, but is more struck with the seedy possibilities of exploiting an orgasmic teenage girl band with guitars ("Jail-F'ing-Bait!" he exclaims with glee, pumping his fist). Together, Jett and Fowley seek out other band members. They comb the dark nightclubs where loud vintage '70s music by artists like David Bowie plays, for a blonde girl with just the right look to function as the lead singer for their group. It's there that they discover 15-year-old Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), who's not far removed from her first period and who is desperate to become a singer. The Runaways are formed with Cherie up front possessing no strong rock chops, but getting pushed by Fowley and Jett to vocalize and gyrate like a slut having an orgasm. The girls practice enough to eventually get signed by Mercury Records and take off on a trip to Japan by 1977, which was the only place they struck it big, almost becoming as huge as The Beatles there. As many familiar rock and roll stories go, Currie becomes absorbed in the drug world and ultimately tensions mount within the group.
THE RUNAWAYS was partly based on Currie's autobiography, and in a way she is the focal point of the story. Dakota Fanning does a pretty decent job handling this type of slimy material, considering she was only 15 herself during filming. It's too bad though that her character is just not that interesting and, for me, young Dakota never quite captured the presence of the real Cherie onstage. I'm admittedly more biased toward Joan Jett, but it's Jett's driving persona which is the most compelling ingredient of the film. I was concerned Kristen Stewart might think that sporting a dyed black haircut would be enough to become Joan Jett, but she actually nailed the aggressive nuances of Jett perfectly. Joan is portrayed as the one member in the film who treats the band seriously, loves and breathes the experience, is committed and tireless. It's a small wonder she had such a successful and long-running solo career after the group disbanded. And Kristen's singing just blew me away -- both Stewart and Fanning sang for the movie -- and Stewart sounds exactly like Jett as she belts out part of one of Joan's original early songs, "I Love Playin With Fire". Unfortunately, the movie only gets to see one song rendered in its entirety: "Cherry Bomb" (sung by Dakota), which was considered the band's only "hit", and was co-written by Fowley and Jett, specifically for Cherie to learn and sing. The rest of the soundtrack is pretty good, with background songs by Bowie, Iggy Pop, the Sex Pistols, and even the real Runaways themselves. As someone familiar with the original Runaways recordings, it was fun for me to pick them out in snippets here and there.
The problems I had which kept me from giving the film three stars were that this isn't really anything we haven't seen before, and it's something of a typical cookie cutter rock screenplay with no soul other than the determined presence of Jett. Really unfortunate was that the other three female band members were largely ignored. Not so much drummer Sandy West (who died of lung cancer in 2006); she gets a few lines and respectful moments. But lead guitarist Lita Ford (who had some fleeting success of her own in the '80s) was strategically left out of the action because in real life she and Joan Jett's camp have undergone some personal problems (Ford says Jett's longtime manager Kenny Laguna "disgustingly" offered to buy Ford's life story for a thousand bucks). Reportedly, Lita has threatened to sue if not portrayed accurately in the film. While she is largely disregarded, there are moments in the movie in which Ford (played by Scout Taylor-Compton of Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN) completely comes off as a whining bitch. Most outlandish is that real-life bass player Jackie Fox was completely written out and is now replaced by a totally fictitious character called "Robin" (Fox is a lawyer today, so one may assume the filmmakers weren't taking any chances).
In 2004, one-time Runaway Vicki Blue made a documentary called EDGEPLAY which is worth seeking out for the real dirt about The Runaways. Joan Jett refused to participate in that project, but it's got recollections from Lita Ford, Jackie Fox, and Sandy West. It makes a good companion piece to this film, and doesn't pull punches. I had some fun with THE RUNAWAYS, but it's something of a watered down version of what actually happened and could have been a bit tougher and more dramatic.
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.
"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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! I saw this movie in January at a Sundance event in Madison Wisconsin with Cherie Currie actually in attendance. There's a lot of two things in The Runaways, drugs and sexual references but really what can you expect from a movie about a 70s rock band. For those of you who have read the script in advance only small details change for instance Joan doesn't actually steal the leather jacket in the beginning nothing bigger then that really. The music is amazing of course even if you're not a Runaways fan it's a pretty catchy and weaves itself easily into the story line. You don't see even a glimpse of Bella in Kristen's portrayal of Joan Jett, having seen Joan Jett live, Kristen really captured her essence. Dakota Fanning was noticeably a better actress then Kristen Stewart, Dakota was Cherie and stole the show hands down. When the real Cherie Currie did a Q and A after the movie was over I got to see just how perfectly Dakota mastered even her personality. The movie it did drag at parts but the highlights definitely made up for it. The scene where Joan walks out of her first guitar lesson and Cherie at the talent show are two of my favourite movie moments. I don't know the actual filming lingo for the artistic angels and blurriness for the lack of a better word but it was all used very effectively creating an artistic feel not just another high budget Hollywood film. This movie may bring up a lot of questions about Cherie and Joan's possible romantic relationship during their time in the Runaways but when asked at the Q and A Cherie said it was nothing more than friends experimenting. To address the debate over the whole Kristen Stewart-Twilight audience this movie will attract all I can say as a Twilight fan who was a Runaways fan before Twilight was invented, I think some of the content in the movie will disturb the stereotypical Twilight fan. There's a lot of drug and sexual references made that I think a younger audience like that might not understand for instance Cherie masturbating in the shower to images of Farrha Fawcett (behind a shower curtain of course) or I believe it was Joan pissing on a guitar. Overall it's a good movie not my favourite but still solid, some parts dragged but with all the star power, great music, a pretty crazy story and a lot of heart I think this movie has the potential to top the box office in March.
Just caught a special screening of The Runaways last night at the
Laemmle on Sunset, and it more than exceeded expectations. The leads
(Kristen Stewart, Michael Shannon and Dakota Fanning) do an admirable
job playing the sullen budding rock star, whacked-out manager and
reluctant front girl. At first, it looked as though Stewart was going
to fall back on her woe-is-me (woe-is-us who have to suffer through it)
Bella character in Twilight, but her performance as Joan Jett soon
showed a shyness and vulnerability that made the role three dimensional
and overall enjoyable. Shannon gives a wonderful turn as Kim Fowley,
The Runaways' too-brilliant-for-his-own-good manager and has some of
the best lines in the movie (my friend and I were giddy every time he
opened his mouth). But the real star here is Fanning as the innocent
Cherie Curie, who didn't ask to be a star but was thrust into the
spotlight nevertheless. Watching her downward spiral from innocent
young woman (the film opens with her getting her first period) to
trying to buy a jug of vodka for breakfast is where this movie soars
above others of its ilk. With her big baby blues (wow, those eyes),
Fanning portrays innocence lost more effectively than any other actress
I can remember. She should be considered for many awards for her
performance. Did I mention those eyes?
All in all, The Runaways is a fantastic movie. The direction, though "arty" at times, fits in well with the rock 'n' roll themes. The script is nearly pitch perfect without being preachy or excessive. The performances great. The soundtrack genius (from Bowie to The Stooges to The Sex Pistols - and even a few Runaways songs). But what really adds to the authenticity of the 70's period piece are the costumes and set design, which transport the audience back into a time when women rockers were practically unheard of. Some of the fashion (where did they find all those platform heels?) even takes on a life of its own. Looking forward to watching this little gem again.
Greetings again from the darkness. Getting dragged back to the mid-70's
can be quite fun, especially when the topic is rock 'n roll. Based on
lead singer Cherie Currie's autobiography, this film provides an
overview of the formation, sudden fame, and equally sudden dismantling
of the first all-girl's rock band, The Runaways.
Joan Jett was the heart of the band, but it took oddball music producer Kim Fowley to put the band together and get the recording deal. Fowley may be the most interesting character in this story. Here he is played with force by the very talented Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road).
Instead, the story focuses on Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, mostly Currie, since it is her book! Dakota Fanning plays Cherie Currie as a confused 15 year old with a messed up family life. The family includes a mom, played by Tatum O'Neal, who announces she is getting married and moving to Indonesia. Currie's dad is a very sick alcoholic, so she is an easy recruit for Fowley and Jett. Jett is played balls-out by Kristen Stewart. Yes, Kristen Stewart from Twilight. Here she shows much more of the talent we saw prior to the Twilight series. She captures the fire and spirit of Joan Jett and leaves little doubt she will pursue her dreams despite all obstacles.
Overall, the script comes up short and provides us little more than headlines and a quick glimpse. Would have expected much more on talented guitarist Lita Ford, who continues to work today. For a quick intro to the story of The Runaways, this one is fine. Just don't expect much depth.
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?
Oh yes, 'The Runaways' is a good movie. Also for those who aren't aware
that it's about the first all-female group in history of rock.
The plot narrows itself down to Kim Fowley (manager), Cherie Currie (lead singer) and Joan Jett (rythm-guitarist). Which is not wrong, but makes that you miss out on a lot of other interesting historical facts about this great Californian rock-band.
About lead-guitarist Lita Ford, for instance. She and Jett were the only band-members able to continue their career in rock-music after the Runaways split up.
About bass-player Jackie Fox, who left the band out of frustration for getting badly paid. Fox became a lawyer in the American music business instead.
The great thing about the Runaways is the magnificent cooperation between their two renowned guitarists Joan Jett and Lita Ford. Between Jett's earsplitting rhythms and Ford's virtuoso lead. This cooperation really earned 'The Runaways' a place in rock history.
Further 'The Runaways' were the first all-female rock-group at a time when people didn't even think about such a thing. And they also played their rock in a period when pop-music's trend was very soft, greatly influenced by 'The Eagles'.
By the way, this film hardly contains any 'Runaways'-music. For this you'd better turn to internet or to a CD. To 'The Runaways live in Japan', for instance, a CD recording their live-concert from 1977 in Japan. At that time 'The Runaways' peaked in a country where they were hugely popular.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Musician biopics are, with very few exceptions, all the same movie:
Musician works hard and becomes star. Musician's life falls apart
because of drugs, sex, ego, or some combination thereof. Musician finds
sudden professional and personal fulfillment and everything is rosy.
The Runaways in real life have the potential to tell a number of different stories: There's the story of the band's relationship with Svengali-like producer Kim Fowley as his marketing tactics drive the band to stardom but also help to stand in the way of the band's credibility. There's the story of Joan Jett as her band falls apart while on the verge of a breakthrough and she responds by forming her own band that made her a bigger star than she could have imagined just a few years later. There's the story of Joan Jett and Kim Fowley's vision that an all-female rock band could work and Jett's incredible perseverance to make it happen. And any of these stories could be told without too many changes to the facts.
Yet, "The Runaways" tells none of these stories. Instead, it tells the normal musician biopic story about Cherie Currie with the added "attraction" of a drawn-out build up to a bizarre sort of lesbian sex scene (if it can even be called that) between its two stars and plays fast and loose with the facts to allow that story to be the center of everything. It adds in pieces of the Kim Fowley relationship with the band and references Joan Jett's later success, but the heart of the film is Cherie Currie's story. The film also makes the odd choice of pushing Lita Ford way into the background when the truth is that her undeniable abilities as a guitarist were the band's only real element that added credibility.
The characters are so dull that little can be said of the acting, but Dakota Fanning handles the toughest role of Cherie Currie quite well, even if she is nowhere near sexy enough for Currie as written (which I think is an exaggeration of reality). Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Kristen Stewart, whose performance as Joan Jett leaves much to be desired. She spends the entire movie with the same half-drugged-out look on her face and walks too stiffly and hunched, like someone self-conscious and unsure of herself while her dialogue and the story instead give the impression of someone who has guts and confidence (as is true of Joan Jett in real life). Michael Shannon's performance as Kim Fowley is bordering on over the top, but that also seems appropriate given the character. No one else really has a role to speak of.
The film doesn't really have a continuous visual style other than its love of short shots, often cutting between two or three shots in a scene that would probably be better served by being done in one shot. The real problem with this editing is that it seems as though it is done for the sole purpose of increasing Stewart's and Fanning's screen time, as anytime someone else starts to appear on screen we get a cut to a new angle so that it's again focused on only one of them, often with no logic as to why. The settings lead to a number of scenes with unusual lighting, filled with high contrasts and bright colors, but it never seems to have any dramatic purpose (save the oddly well-lit bathroom in the middle of the dark club where Jett first sees Currie).
All told, it's a pretty poor film that squanders a rich subject matter. It almost feels like the work of a fan who thinks every element is so interesting that it has to be mentioned but picks the wrong thing to say is the central element. There are a number of ways this could have been an interesting film, but none of them really got followed, which is a shame.
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