The Runaways (aka: Neon Angels) is based on lead-singer Cherie Currie's book 'Neon Angel' - a reflection of her experiences as a rock star, but also delivering a strong anti-drug warning to teens and others. David Bowie's "Space Oddity" serves as a metaphor for the narrative-- a slow countdown, a surreal but spectacular rise to fame, then alienation and burnout - a long long way from home.
The film opens in the year 1975, with 15-year-old Cherie (Dakota Fanning) and her older sister, Marie Currie (Riley Keough), as Cherie has just got her first period. Marie's boyfriend, Derek (Brendan Sexton III), picks up the sisters from Marie's job at the local fast food place, "Pup n' Fries" and Marie announces to him that Cherie has gotten her period. Angry at her sister for telling, she informs Derek that Marie is not wearing any underwear. Later, Cherie is seen cutting her hair in a shag and putting on face makeup in an attempt to create a look resembling David Bowie on the cover of Aladdin Sane (the cover is shown on her wall as a poster).
Meanwhile, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) is a teenage rock star wannabe who is seen huffing some joints with her girlfriend. Joan tells her friend that she wishes to become a famous rock star as her own escape from her lonely life.
Cherie is later seen lip-syncing David Bowie's 'Lady Grinning Soul' at her high school talent show and is the target of boos and jeers, as well as paper balls and other objects thrown at her on stage. At the end of the song, Cherie reacts by defiantly "flipping the bird" (giving both her middle fingers) to the boorish crowd, but she wins the talent show anyway.
Sometime later, Joan Jett is making out with a guy outside a nightclub when she sees record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). Joan approaches him and talks about starting an all-girl rock band. Kim is interested and introduces Joan to Sandy West (Stella Maeve), a drummer. Joan and Sandy become fast friends and start jamming when Kim suggests that they recruit a hot blonde in the vein of Brigitte Bardot.
At the club that same night, Kim and Joan look for hot blondes to be a their lead singer and discover Cherie. They ask if she wants to be in a band and she accepts. Then they tell her to come to auditions in a trailer park in the valley.
Cherie learns the cover song of Suzi Quatro's "Fever" and goes to audition, however they're disappointed at the song. Instead, Kim kicks Cherie out of the trailer and with Joan, thinks of a song for Cherie to audition for, thus writing "Cherry Bomb" on the spur of the moment. Cherie sings it and, after improving, is part of the band. Kim also brings in two new members whom are assistant guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) and bass player Robin (Alia Shawkat).
One year later in 1976, after moving in with her aunt because her selfish and irresponsible actress mother has moved to Indonesia, Cherie travels to her first gig with the band as they go on the road as 'The Runaways' with Kim as their manager, who scams money from their gigs for himself. A few months later, the group gets signed to Mercury Records and starts recording an album. Soon, both Cherie and Joan fall victim to the rock and roll scene with popping pills, to smoking dope, snorting cocaine, and drinking heavily as their tours become more frequent and the band's popularity increases.
Another year later, due to the album's success, the Runaways travel to Japan to play a concert. Cherie causes quite a scene when she opens up the group's tour by performing on-stage wearing only a corset. After their first show, Cherie gets a phone call from her sister saying their their alcoholic father is sick, but Cherie takes no interest in it.
After another performance, Lita angrily throws magazines at Cherie that have pictures of her on the cover doing some exotic poses for a local Japanese magazine, something Cherie thought was for the whole band. After an argument with Lita, Cherie, Joan, and Sandy, a group of crazy Japanese fans break through a window and chase the girls out of the building. Afterward, Cherie overdoses in the hotel, collapses in an elevator and is sent to the hospital. Upon arrival home, Cherie's alcoholic father is passed out on his bed. Cherie takes his painkillers and her actions are seen by Marie.
While at a recording studio recording their next album, Cherie has a nervous breakdown and refuses to play, followed by Lita trash-talking her and Joan defending Cherie. After a very heated argument, Cherie quits the band and leaves, leaving Lita, Joan, Robin, and Sandy looking on. Joan breaks down, throwing chairs and beer bottles against the glass. Cherie returns home while Joan continues playing and starts her own band, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
Eight months later. Cherie hits rock bottom when she collapses in a phone booth in a deserted supermarket parking lot after trying to buy some cheap liquor for herself. At the hospital, Marie visits her and tells her to get her stuff straight. Cherie goes into a rehab facility to try to get clean.
In the final scene, set another year later, Cherie is working at a job at a local bakery trying to get her life back on track when she hears Joan's cover of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" on the radio and calls the station, where Joan is visiting for interviews. After an awkward phone conversation between Joan, Cherie, and even the radio host, Rodney Bingenheimer (Keir O'Donnell), Cherie says her goodbyes and continues working, smiling when Joan's next song, "Crimson and Clover", comes on the radio.