Sundance Review: The Runaways

Here’s something interesting that I learned tonight, following the Sundance press screening of The Runaways. Pedophilia is being sexually attracted to a pre-adolescent. This is about age 13 and younger. Being sexually attracted to someone who is mid to late-adolescent (ages 15-19) is called Ephebophilia. I would like to thank CHUD’s Devin Faraci for that little tidbit, as it comes in handy when trying to describe the experience of seeing The Runaways. It is a movie that — like the band upon which it is based — challenges you at every turn not to be sexually stimulated by a bunch of adolescent girls. Namely, now 15-year old Dakota Fanning.

Fanning stars as Cherie Currie, the lead singer of the all-girl rock band that tore the world a new one back in the late 70s. She saunters around on screen in her underwear, just as the real life Currie titillated a generation of young men. She strips down, delivers the progression of Currie from sweet little girl with a tough look to bonafied, drug-addled cherry bomb. And along the way, we buy it all. Why? Because Fanning’s performance is mature, emotive and as dynamic as we’ve seen from any young actress in the past 5-years. And yes, she even makes out with Kristen Stewart on screen, extensively. It’s disturbingly sexy. Once again, there will be Ephebophilia for the men in the audience.

Speaking of Stewart, she plays Joan Jett, the lead guitarist and perhaps most enduring member of The Runaways. From the start, Jett was an intense, aggressive gal who wanted nothing more than to rock out in ways that girls weren’t supposed to do. Stewart captures the intensity perfectly, but never completely immerses herself in the character. She’s aggressive, sexual and all things rock-n-roll. And that’s enough to carry the film alongside Fanning. Or so you might think.

Also added to the mix is Michael Shannon, who is insanely good as eccentric producer Kim Fowley. He’s the insane, egomaniacal long lost brother of (1970s) David Bowie, and he takes it to the limit. Or at least, the limits for which this movie would allow.

Which is what brings me to the first problem with The Runaways. It’s the VH1 version of the story the band. Sure, there is enough drug use and girls kissing girls to have the Twilight mom’s double thinking their daughters participation in opening weekend. And there’s enough nudity and overt cursing to secure an R-rating with this cut. But it feels watered down. The record shows that Fowley was criminally overwhelming and eccentric, and that the girls went further off the deep end of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll movement than is depicted. Even though a lot of that did make it into the film.

That leads me to problem number two. The movie is too adult, too edgy. I found myself questioning who would see this movie? Will mothers take their young daughters out to see this movie if it lands the aforementioned (and deserved) R-rating? This wouldn’t be bad, as young girls in this day and age could use a little Runaways music in their lives. And they already go crazy for Kristen Stewart. But is seeing her snort coke off of Dakota Fanning’s hand and have all-girl threesomes what they want to see? I have my doubts.

It’s an interesting discussion, that which I’ve had in the preceding paragraphs. But it’s ultimately one that doesn’t matter. Mostly because the second and third acts of this movie are a complete mess. What begins as a sexually charged, energetic rock love story featuring two actresses pouring their souls into two icon characters grinds to a halt as the story progresses beyond the formation of the band. To put it lightly, the final 60 minutes of this movie is a series of aggressively loud, overly stylized and (somehow) uninspired sequences chronicling the fall of the band. It’s uninspired because it lacks narrative fluidity — it feels choppy. This choppiness dispels all of the emotional weight that could have been had in the film’s final moments. Instead of rocking all the way, The Runaways crawls to a haphazard stop. It’s not quite the epic finish that the real life Runaways experienced. But then again, this exploitative, oddly safe (yes, those two opposing ideas exist in one film) piece of work doesn’t exactly capture their spirit, either.

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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