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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THE RUNAWAYS chronicles the run of one of the most successful all-girl rock bands of all time. The film is based on "Neon Angel", the autobiography of the band's original lead singer Cherie Currie, and it gives us a glimpse into the world of rock and roll as seen from the perspective of a group of teenage girls on their way to super-stardom. I had heard some good things about the film when it was first making the festival circuit, but I wasn't as impressed when I finally got a chance to see it myself. The cast did an amazing job in their roles but the film wasn't as great as it probably could have been.
The problem with music biopics, particularly for rock stars, is that most rock stars seem to encounter the same problems: sex, drugs, booze, addiction, conflicting personalities, etc. So we get a lot of repetition with each rock star film and RUNAWAYS is no different. Cherie's decline into addiction, the in-band conflicts, the initial excitement of success and the eventual succumbing to the stress and strain of maintaining the lifestyle. It's nothing we haven't seen before in other films, it's just happening to younger characters. It's fine though because the performances are strong enough that it's easy to forget that the material's nothing new. My main problem with the film was that it came across as unstructured. It felt as if the filmmakers had just strung along random interesting events in the Runaways history and it made it feel like the movie was just wandering along. As a result, the movie loses it's momentum after their first major gig and drags through the last half. It begins around the time Cherie begins to lose control which is a shame; I should be concerned for her character, not bored by the meandering storyline.
The film's saving grace is the cast. Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, and Michael Shannon did an amazing job. Kristen Stewart has earned some major credibility with me thanks to this film. I was concerned that a girl famous for her role in the TWILIGHT saga would ruin such an iconic role (Joan Jett) but she did a fantastic job and seemed to embody her perfectly. Dakota Fanning is Cherie and I've always thought of Fanning as one of the most talented young stars in Hollywood. She provides an innocence in Cherie's character at the start that makes the film interesting to watch when her stardom warps and destroys it. Shannon is the group's manager Kim Fowley. Fowley is apparently infamous for his aggressive style, and his training sessions with the Runaways are the best parts of the film.
You can't have a music film without the music that inspired it and the soundtrack to the film is awesome. It's loaded with music from the Runaways and Joan's later solo run. The filmmaker's transport you back to the late 70s with their dedication to the style, from the clothes to the music and the fads. The movie has all the ingredients to make a great bio movie, but the execution prevents it from rising to what it could've been.
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