Starring: Kristin Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Stella Maeve, Scout Taylor-Compton
I grew up with an eye on first-time director Floria Sigismondi's career, though as a photographer and music-video director, not as a feature filmmaker. While I have a lot of respect for her work and style, I didn't have much hope for The Runaways. When I got around to watching it recently, my low expectations were rewarded by a very stylish but sadly bland film.
Based on Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, Cherie Currie's autography, the film follows Currie and Joan Jett from their first awkward attempts at performance to the formation of the Runaways. After learning to play guitar, Jett convinces sleazy producer Kim Fowley (played with aplomb by Michael Shannon) that an all-girl rock group is a marketable scheme. He hooks her up with other cute female rockers and charges her to find a blonde, Bardot-esque singer to complete the group. Jett runs into Currie at a local club, she has a formal addition, and history is made. They go on a shitty US tour, get a record deal, and travel to Japan. Lots of drug use, sex, and teenage angst ensue.
Though it is visually stunning and has a few interesting moments, overall I found the film boring and overly long. I think in part because Cherie Currie seemed to be the main character. She is selfish, spoiled, and bland, which is probably a combination of real life character, a vague screenplay, and vapid acting on the part of Dakota Fanning, who seemed more concerned with strutting her jailbait ass than giving a breakthrough adult performance.
Lots of positive reviews have discussed the film's obsession with excess and the rock'n'roll lifestyle, but it shows us nothing we don't already know. It is predictable and loses all the punk rock air I expect from a film about the formation of the Runaways. It is unfocused and whether this is the fault of the acting or the screenplay, I'm not sure. As I said, I'm a fan of Sigismondi's past work, but writing and directing her first feature was maybe too bold of a move. It seems like an extended music video with some dramatic bits thrown in. The story could have been filmed a lot of different ways, but as a rock biopic, it's just boring. Pretty to look at, but boring. It tells us nothing about the relationships between the girls, how they felt dealing with fame, sex, drugs, tour, etc. The relationship between Currie and Jett is the primary focus, but other than initial camaraderie and some sexual experimentation, I don't know anything about it. And where the hell was Lita Ford?
The Runaways got relatively good reviews, though it under-performed at the box office. Most professional reviewers don't seem to dislike it as much as I did and it received full support from the wonderful Joan Jett, who produced it and coached the actresses. There was a strong performance by Michael Shannon, who provides the only spark or comic relief. Kristen Stewart is actually good as Joan Jett when she's given a chance to be, but she doesn't seem to know what to do with herself for most of the film. With any sort of biographical film or novel my expectation is that a character moves from x to y and learns something by the end. I'm sure these real life people did, but you wouldn't know it from this film. That's not to say that I disapprove of avant-garde biographies, but this film is certainly not in that genre.
I can't recommend The Runaways, though some of you will likely find it to be a guilty pleasure. I'll stick with Velvet Goldmine any day, thanks. Or a number of other films like 24 Hour Party People, What We Do is Secret, or Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. If you want to purchase the film, there's a Sony single disc, but you should rent it first or watch the real Runaways instead. This performance is redone in the film, but I have to say that I prefer this version: