Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart attempt to connect themselves with the words “street cred” in The Runaways, a fun karaoke session of the early years of Joan Jett complete with bad-ass dress-up.
Joan Jett may be the rocking chick who truly changes music but the movie puts far more of its attention on Fanning’s Cherie Currie, played with full-on, thank-God-she’s-not-my-daughter trampiness. I’m sure you could have always Googled “jail bait” and “Dakota Fanning” and come up with plenty of hits but this movie specifically makes that connection.
We meet Joan (Stewart) more or less living on the streets, getting high and trying to improve her ability to rock it out on the guitar. Despite the fact that she’s told by one teacher that girls don’t play electric guitars, she keeps on pushing, ignoring her boyfriend outside a club for a chance to talk to Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), the fantastically strange producer who she thinks might help her break into music.
He sees something in her and hooks her up with girl drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and, when they display enough raw talent to put some substance behind the gimmick of a rough-and-tumble girl band, he helps assemble the rest of the band. But the lead singer — he wants something special there. Someone whose crazy sex appeal — daughter of Iggy Pop and Brigitte Bardot is how it’s explained —will give some scary glamour to the band.
Enter Cherie Currie (Fanning). Her first moments on screen shove the edginess of this whole deal right out in front. We get that she’s a neglected Valley girl — the grimy part of Southern California as it’s shown here — who plays second fiddle to her better-looking older sister. To grab some attention, she cuts her Marcia Brady hair and dresses up like David Bowie for a talent show, earning genuine applause only when she flips the crowd of teenagers the bird.
Kim Fowley likes her dangerous, Ziggy-Stardust-y look and pulls her into the group. She — and to some extent they — aren’t shown as particularly talented, just persistent and the right formula for this time in rock and roll (late 1970s).
Think of a band movie cliché and it’s in here — rough beginnings, meteoric rise, infighting, jealousy, romantic entanglements, band vs. management disputes. Either Jett is throughout a rock or Stewart is just doing her quiet Twilight character but with a leather jacket, but she is often the dark and determined-seeming sidekick to the adolescence-unleashed that is Fanning’s Currie. Not that either of these young actresses do all that much. The hair and clothes and trippy camera work seem to do most of the heavy lifting. What we get is very much a kind of girl-punk diorama. Here’s the scene where they wrote “Cherry Bomb,” here’s Jett working out “I Love Rock N Roll,” don’t those bangs look exactly like the album covers?
Not, I should say, that that is a bad thing. Like a glossy magazine feature that gives us a dozen pictures but very few words, The Runaways doesn’t have much story to offer, but that it offers any at all is appreciated. It’s nice to get this little sliver of post-Supremes, pre-Madonna girl music history. I left the theater wanting more The Runaways, more Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, more Suzi Quatro and more of the angry girl musicians who came along decades after Joan Jett and consider her their queen. (Though, on Rhapsody, they listed successors to The Runaways as The Go-Gos — OK, sure — and Ashlee Simpson, which, shiver, really? Does no one remember Sleater-Kinney or Hole, even, or, hell, any one of my Manic-Panic-ed Doc Marten-wearing high school friends singing into a mirror? Trampy Cherie Currie get-up or no, there’s an edge to The Runaways that transcends modern pop creations.)
Neither Stewart nor Fanning convince me here that they are doing anything spectacular, acting-wise, but both do a decent job of looking like the real-life people they’re bio-pic-ing. Want to have the thrill of jumping around in leather pants while growling out some rock? Can’t sing, play an instrument or fit into leather pants? The Runaways is a solid alternative. B
Rated R for language, drug use and sexual content. Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi (from a book by Cherie Currie), The Runaways is an hour and 45 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Apparition.