The Runaways 2/4
Apparition Films, Rated R
Less a groundbreaking girl band biopic than a prequel to the as-yet-to-be-conceived Joan Jett story, The Runaways gets the hard rock sound right, but goes soft when tapping into teen temperaments or taking the musical temperature of the era. At the same time, the film puts a wrongheaded, diversionary focus on messed up sidekick Cheri Currie. Whether or not Jett hanging around as executive producer—usually the kiss of death when it comes to objectively fleshing yourself out as a protagonist—had anything to do with that is anyone’s guess.
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Dakota Fanning as fragile Currie and Kristen Stewart’s pre-punk untamed tomboy Jett are bold, edgy impersonations as they disappear into their personas, casting their own self-conscious notions of celebrity aside. The problem is the material is pretty thin and verging on afterschool special derivative, though it’s refreshing to savor Stewart taking time out from playing a clinging female unrequited codependent leaning all over male magnet vampires and werewolves, which has been progressively wearing out its welcome.
Seemingly crafted as a series of dramatic shortcuts that rarely pauses to delve into core personalities, The Runaways is an uneven clash of nicely telegraphed raw sound and timid storytelling. Jett turns up nearly out of nowhere, blasting onto the scene with her ragtag girl band and uncompromising attitude to play music her way in the strictly male rock world. Hooking up with bad news, foul-mouthed grownup tyrant mentor Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), he pairs Jett with lost-and-found waif Currie, sensing in the impressionable 15-year-old a profitable tabloid Lolita sexpot in the making. As he cynically declares: “This isn’t about women’s lib, it’s about women’s libido.”
In fairly quick succession, Currie checks out of a dysfunctional family where her mom dumps her drunk dad and takes off for Indonesia with a new boyfriend. And while Jett waits in the wings between stage numbers to hit on her not-unwelcoming band mate, Currie gets ever deeper into drugs and sexually suggestive magazine layouts before going to bed with her roller skates on after partying hard all night. But by the time everyone figures out they are products being packaged to fill Fowler’s coffers, Jett has retreated to singing to herself in her bathtub and Currie can barely navigate a shopping cart through a supermarket while wearing lingerie and stacked heels in search of vodka, before disappearing into rehab.
More cartoonish and episodic than anything else, when not projecting an extended price-of-fame, pubescent pity party, The Runaways is likely to leave musically uninformed audiences without a clue. For the fans, a documentary with authentic concert footage would have been the more satisfying way to go.