Saturday, March 20, 2010
Floria Sigismondi's The Runaways is a pretty confused biopic of the all-girl rock band that formed during the 1970s. It is based on Cherie Currie's memoir Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, but it is Joan Jett who earns an executive producer credit. It doesn't know whether to focus on the individual performers, or the rise and fall of the band as a whole, and as a result, the film's storyline is a pretty uninteresting one, especially if you've seen other rock band biopics in the past. Luckily, The Runaways has a terrific look to it, and good enough performances to draw you in, even when Sigismondi's script is pushing you away.
Jett (Kristen Stewart) is essentially the one who had the shocking idea to start an all-girl rock band. She spends her days strutting around L.A. jamming out on her guitar. She spares all of the loose change she has to buy the perfect leather jacket, and uses her natural swagger to introduce herself to big-time record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). Never one to back away from controversy, Fowley is ecstatic at the idea of headlining an all-girl band, and sees even more dollar signs when he convinces the 15-year-old Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) to become the group's lead singer.
The film never seems sure if it wants to focus more on Jett or Currie, but it is the homelife of the latter that we learn more about. She has an alcoholic father (Brett Cullen) who left home when she was young, and a selfish mother (Tatum O'Neal) who flees to Indonesia to get married. When Cherie and the band eventually begin touring internationally, her relationship with her sister Marie (Riley Keough) is tested. Marie is left at home to take care of her grandparents and unhealthy father, while Cherie is -- at least at the beginning of the film -- having the time of her life.
The band eventually hits it big on the international market, and from what I can tell, they were bigger in Japan than they ever were in the United States. Unfortunately, it is through this sudden fame that the group begins to go through the downfall we're all used to seeing in rock band movies. The drugs are introduced as a bonding activity, but they eventually become a problem, particularly for the young Cherie, who is in way over her head. Of course, there is also the inevitable jealousy that sets in once the lead singer starts showing up on covers of magazines. These scenes are familiar, but the performers make them interesting.
In the film's best performance, Kristen Stewart breathes Joan Jett. She looks every bit like the influential rock star, and I couldn't bring myself to take my eyes off of her. I was disappointed that she wasn't used more. Fanning's Currie is the main player for the most part, and while the actress does a fine job, I just couldn't get as caught up with her character as I did with Stewart's. There is also Michael Shannon, who takes his blaze and flamboyance from Revolutionary Road, and brings it to a rock and roll setting. He's just plain fun to watch.
The film also uses the music as a main character, featuring many recorded performances from both Fanning and Stewart. I like the fact that they sang their own music. Not only does it emphasize the authentic '70s feel to the film, but it makes the band scenes seem livelier, and without that, the film could have easily run into trouble with its pacing.
The main attraction here is Stewart, and I recommend this film for the sole pleasure of seeing this talented actress begin her development into something special. She has an electric screen presence, and I can't get over how awesome she looks in the film. My hat goes off to Costume Designer Carol Beadle for helping create a character with such a memorable look. Part of me wants to see Stewart take another crack at the role a few years done the line, focusing solely on Jett's career after The Runaways. We only see about five minutes of Jett after the band splits, and, not surprisingly, they are some of the best minutes this film has to offer.