For a movie about badass chicks playing rock ‘n’ roll, getting high, and having sex, The Runaways is surprisingly forgettable. It’s not bad, it’s just not particularly inspirational, and certainly not as cutting edge as the band it’s profiling.
For those of you who don’t know, The Runaways is based on lead singer Cherie Currie’s memoir “Neon Angel” and chronicles the rise and fall of the first girl band to break through rock’s glass ceiling in the 1970s.
If you’ve ever seen another rise and fall music biopic you already know what happens: a young rock band overcomes early struggles (and in this case blatant sexism) to achieve some mild success, but eventually falls apart due to jealousy, internal conflicts and a sleazy manager who puts his own greed ahead of what’s best for the band. Other than the fact that they’re teenage girls, The Runaways could be about any band that rose too quickly, lost its innocence, and fell apart.
Despite the fact that it adheres way too closely to the too much too soon template of just about every other rock biopic out there, The Runaways does have some redeeming qualities. First time feature director Floria Sigismondi (known to the world for directing avant-garde videos for musicians like Marilyn Manson, The White Stripes, and The Cure) has created a nearly perfect representation of a time and place in music history, capturing all of the sleaze and innocence of the era. She’s also managed to extract some pretty decent performances from her young cast, particularly dazed nymphet Dakota Fanning and brooding woman-child Kristen Stewart.
Sigismondi has delivered a multi-layered perspective on these girls who, according to the movie, were more than just kids who wanted to rock out and ended up as victims of their circumstances – as Sigismondi outlines it, they knowingly gave in to a little exploitation in exchange for the liberty of their freedom of self-expression. In this representation, Fanning’s Currie is the little girl lost; the innocent soul caught up in a world of lurid excess. Stewart’s Jett is the determined backbone of the group, desperate for people to take her and the work seriously. Both sacrifice whatever they have to in order to make it. The movie both advocates for girl power and comments on the unlikelihood of it being enough, as Currie ends up relying heavily on her jailbait-style sexuality to get her where she wants to go, and Jett has to put up with it if she wants to see her band succeed. Don’t get too excited though, the much-hyped sexuality that permeates the film is pretty tame. It’s the fact that most of it comes form a 15-year-old that makes it noteworthy (and a tad uncomfortable).
Unfortunately what gets lost in all of this hoopla is what should be the central theme of the movie – The Runaways says very little about The Runaways. The historical importance of the band is hinted at, but it never delves too deep into what The Runaways did for rock or for the female musicians who came after. Nor does it say too much about the 70s rock scene that hasn’t been said before (ad nauseum).
So while The Runaways has likely succeeded (or will succeed) in exposing new, young viewers to the band and given its stars a platform to showcase their never-before-seen talents, it hasn’t offered much of case for its own existence. There’s just too little to set it apart from all the other rock biopics out there. While The Runaways succeeded in separating themselves from all the other bands out there, sadly, the movie can’t say the same.
The Upside: Surprisingly good performances from Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning.
The Downside: Doesn’t say anything we didn’t already learn in Satisfaction.
On the Side: Kristen Stewart does such a good job of channeling Joan Jett that supposedly when Jett first heard a recording of Stewart singing one of her songs she thought she was listening to herself.